Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Teacher Union Myths: Part I

    "Five Myths About Teachers Unions," an article in The Washington Post, included some interesting ideas.


The myths, according to the article, are:
  1. Teachers unions are to blame for low test scores and high dropout rates.
  2. Teachers unions are similar to private-sector unions.
  3. Teachers unions support only liberal Democrats.
  4. Teachers unions fight any kind of reform.
  5. What's good for teachers is good for students.
A number of insightful points are made by writers Rotherham and Hannaway.  Among them...

"There is abundant evidence that school districts don't do enough to retain the best teachers or weed out the low performers."
     Statistics back up the fact that most teachers (well over 90%) get tenure - the official stamp of approval, of competency if you will,  recommended by superintendents of schools and approved by Boards of Education.
    The public is expected to believe that all tenured teachers are competent or highly-competent. This, of course, is untrue. Like all professions, the teaching profession has its share of ineffective or failing professionals. Everyone (Board members, superintendents, principals, teachers, many parents, and most students) knows which teachers are great and which teachers are not. A highly-regarded retired principal once said that you could walk into a  high school and approach the first ten students you came upon and ask them to name the strong teachers and the weak teachers. The students, according to this principal, would be correct.
    Many administrators have probably avoided addressing the issue of teacher competence for a variety of reasons.

  • Some administrators believe that it is too expensive take legal action to remove a failing teacher. This is not true.
  • Others might believe they do not have a superintendent who will take on the unions in such matters so they ignore the elephant in the room. 
  • There are administrators who will defend and protect failing teachers. This is usually due to the age-old problem of cronyism and nepotism. 
  • Finally, some administrators may not be effective themselves so they may not be capable of weeding out ineffective teachers. 
And so, students' education suffers when those who are paid to or elected to put the education of students first, fail to do so.  According to an article in The New York Times, "...a poor teacher has the same effect as a pupil missing 40 percent of the school year." A principal told me he/she makes sure students who have an ineffective teacher are given one of the best teachers the next year. So...let's face it, the bosses know, without the new teacher evaluation system, which teachers are strong and which are weak.

    What is discussed much less often is the fact that "districts don't do enough to retain the best teachers." According to Nicholas Kristof, a New York Times writer, "a landmark new research paper [by economists at Harvard and Columbia] underscores the difference between a strong teacher and a weak teacher lasts a lifetime [for students]." 
    Most would agree with Kristof that "our faltering education system may be the most  important long-term threat to America's economy and national-well being." In NYS, the new teacher evaluation system [APPR] is supposed to weed out the failing teachers and principals and support developing, effective, and highly-effective teachers but many believe this new system is little more than time-consuming, maddening bureaucracy that will drive out even more talented teachers. 

Part 2 - regarding Teacher Union Myths will be in an upcoming blog entry.

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