For some reason, I’ve been hearing a lot of complaints from people about public school teachers, recently, across state lines and even from public school teachers. Math teachers with their feet on the desk who instruct their students to teach each other. Teachers who don’t correct assignments quickly enough for students to review them before the related test and lie to parents about the district’s ability to afford books. Other teachers who play games with their benefits, such as scheduling two foot surgeries in sequence — during the school year — so as to get a paid break for most of the school year. And so on.
How can one respond when asked for an explanation of such abuses? It seems clear to me that the problem is that public sector unionization has changed the primary focus of our education system from the students to the employees, and part of that change has been the evaporation of accountability. Turn, for evidence, to Paul Crookston’s National Review Online essay, “Research Shows Firing Teachers Based on Performance Can Actually Work“:
Prioritizing students’ needs above those of teachers constitutes the revolutionary idea at the core of IMPACT. Fenty was given the newfound power to enact standards that were not subject to collective-bargaining negotiations with teachers, making unions unable to weaken the new rules. Many teachers scoffed at the notion that they would be held professionally responsible for how students performed, and they thought it was madness to jettison peer evaluations of fellow teachers in favor of student evaluations.
The political conflict resulting from IMPACT and other reforms may have contributed to [Mayor Adrian] Fenty’s being voted out of office, but students are reaping the benefits of [school chancellor Michelle] Rhee’s reforms during Fenty’s tenure. IMPACT and other standards made it easy to demonize Rhee as “aggressive” because her changes were affecting teachers’ once-comfortable job situation. When you replace teachers, it takes time to see improvement in student outcomes, but teachers can voice their displeasure without delay. That Rhee was able to make changes at all depended on teachers’ unions not having veto power.
Rhode Island proved that it isn’t ready to fix education when it allowed the teachers’ unions to put Lincoln Chafee in the governor’s seat and Governor Gina Raimondo to usher Rhee-ally Deborah Gist out of the top education job in the state. Unfortunately, it’s the students who suffer most, and as I’ve written before, the only way around this political ceiling on reform is school choice.