In a recent back-and-forth conversation, education policy experts Diane Ravitch and Rick Hess offer persuasive explanations for the heavy criticism being heaped on teachers (and their unions). Diane speaks about the many reformers who have made teachers accountable for unreasonable (NCLB-esque) goals — advocates who, without sufficient evidence, make the claim that high needs schools are overrun with teaching incompetence. Rick argues that today’s unflattering attitudes toward teachers are nothing new and that the current attacks on the profession are more about failing policies than inept classroom teachers.
They both have a piece of the truth, but there are some other larger issues in play — and additional evidence that needs to be considered.
It does not take a rocket scientist to see that the attack on teachers in Wisconsin and Florida is much more about union busting than about advancing teaching as a results-oriented profession.
In Wisconsin, the public is now learning of the many financial concessions the union has made to help resolve the budget crisis, while Governor Walker keeps demanding to strip teachers of their collective bargaining rights while giving a bye to the rights of other unionized public employees (e.g., police and fire) who have tended to support his political outlook.
In Florida, Governor Scott has re-introduced a teaching effectiveness bill that will definitely misuse value-added student achievement data for assessing teacher performance. The Florida union has put forth proposals from some of the state’s best teachers (link to FL report) who call for the thoughtful use of this data in both teaching evaluations and strategic compensation. Governor Scott has clearly ignored the suggestion to build out Florida’s results-oriented system of evaluation and pay, leveraging the Gates Foundation-funded reforms in Hillsborough County (Tampa) where union president Jean Clements and superintendent Mary Ellen Elia are jointly leading the way.
Unions and districts both need to advance the agenda
Unions need to pursue an agenda that will lead to enforcing high standards among their ranks — no question. But school district administrators, who jointly sign off on the collective bargaining agreements that are hotly criticized by some reformers and many ambitious politicians, must change a lot also.
Unions must focus more on professional performance and the interests of learners — supporting the removal of the incompetent teachers who don’t meet reasonable standards of practice (as Toledo OH has been doing for decades). At the same time, school districts must ensure that valued added achievement data are used properly, in a non-mechanical way, as part of a context sensitive, multiple-measures evaluation system. District leaders much also assure that administrators are well trained (and competent) to conduct and lead fair evaluations. This is what we see happening in Hillsborough (and several other communities as well).
Finally — for those who think the public does not, in the end, support public school teachers, examine this Rasmussen poll, just released. It reveals that almost 60% of likely Wisconsin voters now disapprove (with 48% strongly disapproving) of Governor Walker. The same poll shows that 77% of Wisconsin voters have a positive opinion of teachers.
More teachers need to lead the way in bringing about the transcendent teaching effectiveness reforms demanded by our failed education policy system. We cannot continue to tolerate an approach to teaching policy that undercuts efforts to recruit, prepare, support and pay the neighbors, friends and fellow citizens whom we depend upon to teach our students. Wisconsin is sending a message. America supports teachers. Let’s move forward to preserve and improve the teaching profession.