Quote of the DayMarch 1, 2011
Dawson Turn-AroundMarch 2, 2011
Washington Post columnist Ezra Klein explains his conviction that teachers’ unions are to blame for the fact that pending lay-offs based on “last-hired-first-fired” will turn “a crisis into a catastrophe:”
The prospect of firing tens of thousands of teachers is bad enough. But, as a chilling report from the New Teacher Project explains, about 40 percent of the nation’s teachers work in states where their contracts don’t allow administrators to take performance into account when making layoffs. That is to say, they cannot try to lay off the bad teachers while saving the good ones. Instead, they’re forced to use the “last-hired-first-fired” mechanism. The newest teachers get the pink slip, no matter how good they are. This will turn a crisis into a catastrophe. And let’s be clear, it’s the fault of the teachers unions.
That’s not just a problem for schools, children, taxpayers and teachers. It’s also a problem for the labor movement as a whole. Americans don’t care what most unions are up to. But Americans do care, a lot, about what their child’s teacher is up to. And if they think that teachers unions – which are public-employee unions, for the record – are standing in the way of good schools and good teachers, then their verdict will be much worse than “not an institution of the future.” They will see unions as hurting our future – and their children.”
In other words, the political calculations of leaders of teacher unions like NJEA will not only hurt schools and kids, but also undermine the authority of all labor unions. For counterpoint, Dianne Ravitch, guest-posting on a Washington Post blog, Valerie Strauss’ “Answer Sheet” (chuckle for the day: Andy Rotherham at Eduwonk describes Strauss as “the bloggy equivalent of Mikey” because “she’ll publish anything!) mourns that
The corporate reformers have done a good job of persuading the media that our public schools are failing because they are overrun by bad teachers, and these bad teachers have lifetime tenure because of their powerful unions. (See the corporate reform film, “Waiting for Superman”). I’m sorry to say that Race to the Top, Education Secretary Arne Duncan, and the Gates Foundation have stirred up a frenzy of anti-teacher sentiment that hurts even our very best teachers, by their much-publicized search for “bad teachers.”
Both Klein and Ravitch are touching the hot button of late: whether teacher tenure has devolved into a system of non-accountability, one that hurts both students and effective teachers, or whether it’s a fair system that merely provides due process. They pose separate villains: for Klein, it’s the labor unions, clinging to an antiquated system in spite of America’s desperate need for effective classroom teachers. For Ravitch, it’s the “corporate reformers,” the “edu-entrepeuneurs,” the Gates and Zuckerbergs and Broads who deviously scheme to drain profits from a virginal education system. If Ravitch were a movie director she’d recast “Goldfinger” so that education reformers play the title character, out to obliterate the world economy, and teacher unions are Fort Knox, targeted for a nuclear bomb. (In this scenario, Dr. Ravitch must be James Bond. Not sure who plays the role of Pussy Galore.)
For a more measured analysis, check out today’s column in the Star-Ledger by Kathleen Nugent, NJ state director of Democrats for Education Reform:
Just as New Jersey set the standard in the 20th century by passing the first tenure law in 1909, we once again have the opportunity to lead the nation by developing a system that treats teachers as professionals and recognizes the critical impact of their work. Effectiveness must be the core criteria for gaining and retaining teacher tenure.
America’s ready — certainly New Jersey is — to treat teachers like professionals and base continued employment on proficiency. One day we’ll look back and wonder why we allowed a system centered on adult job security at the expense of student growth to last as long as it has. For now, teacher unions and legislators are better off disregarding simplistic attacks on both parties and working together to formulate a fair system for supporting our fine teachers and courteously ousting poor performers.