Let’s Make Students the Priority in Education Again


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.

  • Guest

    Justin you surprise me. As a former Catholic school teacher you are the most vocal critic of education in Rhode Island yet when push comes to shove, I don’t see your name on the State of Rhode Island ESSA voluntary team Committee of Practitioners: http://www.ride.ri.gov/InformationAccountability/EveryStudentSucceedsAct(ESSA).aspx

    This is the third time I’ve mentioned ESSA to you.

    The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA): https://www.ed.gov/essa?src=rn is a US law passed (Public Law 114-95) in December 2015 that governs the United States K–12 public education policy to be implemented in 2017. The law replaced its predecessor, the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), and modified but did not eliminate provisions relating to the periodic standardized tests given to students however it shifts the law’s federal accountability provisions to states.

    Basically it removes the federal government from telling the states how they are to educate students and transfers that power back to the states, local schools and parents.

    Under ESSA every state is to develop their own written state-wide education plan, accountability and development with goals, implementation
    tasking, school improvements and matric of defined outcomes based on inputs from all state-wide stake holders; state officials, state education officers, principals, teachers, private school, charter schools, businesses, parents, students and any interested person within the state. Each state is to submit their own plan developed collectively by all stake holders to Federal Education Department.

    An inauguration day directive on January 20, 2017 from President Donald Trump’s Assistant to the President and Chief of Staff “Regulatory Freeze Pending Review” delayed implementation of new regulations, including portions of the Every Student Succeeds Act. On February 10, 2017, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos wrote to chief state school officers that “states should continue their work” in developing their ESSA plans and noted that a revised template may be issued.

    In Hawaii the governor’s ESSA task force was made up of volunteers from across the isles communities as required by ESSA mandates representing all stake holders. We’ve been finished with our state-wide education plan
    addressing all the required points and holding multiple community open meetings gathering input and suggestions all across the state. I personally attended a community meeting and the all day Saturday large state-wide (over 1,500 attending) meeting at our convention center attended by Washington, DC federal department of education personnel last year and other invited educational professionals.