Acts of Contrition

by Robert Pondiscio
May 28th, 2010

“I’ve grown increasingly cynical about the assertions of charter-school advocates that the most pressing problem facing our public education system is the plethora of lazy, incompetent teachers who cannot be fired under any circumstances,” writes Newsweek’s Raina Kelley.  “Maybe it’s because I was a teacher’s pet growing up, or because of my undying love for school supplies, but a lot of this sounds to me more like a full court press to break the admittedly powerful teachers’ unions than simply an effort to improve public schooling.”

Doesn’t Kelley read her own magazine?  Surely she got the news that firing bad teachers is “The Key to Saving American Education.”

10 Comments »

  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by alexanderrusso, Robert Pondiscio. Robert Pondiscio said: Newsweek continues to try to make up for its silly "We Must Fire Bad Teachers" cover rant? http://bit.ly/aEszwg [...]

    Pingback by Tweets that mention Acts of Contrition « The Core Knowledge Blog, The Core Knowledge Blog -- Topsy.com — May 28, 2010 @ 5:07 pm

  2. Amen, Ms. Kelley!

    Hearing these gripes about the unions I keep wondering, what reforms (aside from ending tenure and extending the school day) do the unions ever oppose? In my experience, teachers adopt the administration’s reform du jour with depressing alacrity. If this is the case, shouldn’t we be attacking the lame ideas rather than the troops who are told to implement them?

    Comment by Ben F — May 28, 2010 @ 6:01 pm

  3. The trouble is that now some teachers point out that the reform du jour is lame, and that gives reform a bad name. But if you got rid of unions they probably would dare.

    However, if seems to me that there are enough non-union districts in the country that you could actually do a comparison. My sense is that not only are the student outcomes in non-union districts not very different than in unionized district, but that the actually way school are run (tenure, dismissal, etc) aren’t very different either.

    Comment by Rachel — May 28, 2010 @ 11:15 pm

  4. “For the vast majority of public-school teachers, so much of their job is out of their control that asking them to be held accountable for their students’ performance is tantamount to blaming car salesmen for Toyota’s accelerator problems.” (Kelley)

    I can only speak for my school, but having a union was what made is possible for teachers to speak out against the reforms du jour that were unnecessary and counterproductive. Real-life example: Teachers stood up and said “Under our old reading program, 88% of our kids were reading at grade level and above–and our special ed referrals at second grade dropped by half when we adopted it. So why are we spending money on a new program, just because the National Reading Panel doesn’t like the one we’re currently using?”

    I’m hardly an apologist for unions–but having tenure gives teachers the courage to speak from their own expertise about problems in their district, and propose solutions. Rachel’s point is a good one: there’s plenty of long-term evidence that strong-union states (MA for example) look good in contrast to non-collective bargaining states, in terms of teacher quality, higher standards and better achievement outcomes.

    Comment by Nancy Flanagan — May 29, 2010 @ 9:37 am

  5. Aren’t most of the non-union states in the South? Not sure the unions have anything to do with teacher quality, higher standards, or better achievement outcomes. These seem to be more closely tied to SES and parental input/pressure.

    Ben, Unions in Massachusetts opposed standards, any and every form of accountability, especially the MCAS tests, the MCAS graduation requirement, charter schools, merit pay, and linking student tests scores to teacher evaluations.

    Comment by Paul Hoss — May 29, 2010 @ 12:01 pm

  6. Massachusetts has good student achievement results primarily because of its demographics. The students in MA are mostly white with a sizable percentage of South & East Asians, parental income and education levels are high, rates of divorce and teen pregnancy are relatively low, and so on.

    In order to make a valid comparison, one would have to examine the results for schools in MA and a no-bargaining state that have similar demographics. Ceteris paribus, what is the effect of teachers’ unions?

    Comment by Crimson Wife — May 29, 2010 @ 1:17 pm

  7. It is wrong to cast teacher unions as the default scapegoat for school failure. They are simply attempting to fulfill their mission to improve teachers’ wages, hours and working conditions. However, unions’ refusal to allow student performance to factor in teacher evaluation is not the best expression of support. It comes across as a blatant attempt to dodge accountability. That is not something good teachers want or need.

    If unions really wanted to do right by their members, they should be using every means at their disposal to guarantee that teachers receive the proper training. Schools of education and staff development professionals have proven woefully inadequate in that respect. School improvement is a shared responsibility. Let’s make everyone accountable.
    Tony Pedriana
    Author, Leaving Johnny Behind
    http://www.leavingjohnnybehind.com

    Comment by Tony Pedriana — May 29, 2010 @ 3:00 pm

  8. In order to make a valid comparison, one would have to examine the results for schools in MA and a no-bargaining state that have similar demographics.

    Even if most of the non-union states are in the South, there must be enough comparable districts/schools that a controlled comparison could be done. Has anyone done it?

    Comment by Rachel — May 29, 2010 @ 5:37 pm

  9. Rachel — see http://econpapers.repec.org/article/tprqjecon/v_3a111_3ay_3a1996_3ai_3a3_3ap_3a671-718.htm

    Comment by Stuart Buck — May 30, 2010 @ 11:06 am

  10. CW,

    “Massachusetts has good student achievement results primarily because of its demographics. The students in MA are mostly white with a sizable percentage of South & East Asians, parental income and education levels are high, rates of divorce and teen pregnancy are relatively low, and so on.”

    Not sure I’ve ever encountered this rationale before. Don’t mean to question your assertions but could you name a study or cite your source(s) for this statement?

    Comment by Paul Hoss — May 30, 2010 @ 8:40 pm

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