Our Kids Deserve Better, Our Country Needs Better

From “The Real Problems In Schools,” Nicholas Kristof, NYT:

The most important civil rights battleground today is education, and, likewise, the most crucial struggle against poverty is the one fought in school

Inner-city urban schools today echo the “separate but equal” system of the early 1950s. In the Chicago public schools where teachers are now on strike, 86 percent of children are black or Hispanic, and 87 percent come from low-income families.

Chicago’s high school graduation rates have been improving but are still about 60 percent. Just 3 percent of black boys in the ninth grade end up earning a degree from a four-year college…

In fairness, it’s true that the main reason inner-city schools do poorly isn’t teachers’ unions, but poverty.

Still, some Chicago teachers seem to think that they shouldn’t be held accountable until poverty is solved. There are steps we can take that would make some difference, and Mayor Rahm Emanuel is trying some of them — yet the union is resisting.

I’d be sympathetic if the union focused solely on higher compensation. Teachers need to be much better paid to attract the best college graduates to the nation’s worst schools. But, instead, the Chicago union seems to be using its political capital primarily to protect weak performers.

There’s now solid evidence that there are huge differences in the effectiveness of teachers, even within high-poverty schools.

How does one figure out who is a weak teacher? Yes, that’s a challenge. But researchers are improving systems to measure “value added” from beginning to end of the year, and, with three years of data, it’s usually possible to tell which teachers are failing.

Unfortunately, the union is insisting that teachers who are laid off — often for being ineffective — should get priority in new hiring. That’s an insult to students.

Teaching is so important that it should be like other professions, with high pay and good working conditions but few job protections for bottom performers.

This isn’t a battle between garment workers and greedy corporate barons. The central figures in the Chicago schools strike are neither strikers nor managers but 350,000 children. Protecting elements of a broken and unaccountable school system — the union demand — sacrifices those students, in effect turning a blind eye to a “separate but equal” education system.

Emphasis added.

2 comments on “Our Kids Deserve Better, Our Country Needs Better

  1. momshieb says:

    Just a couple of points to make. While I agree, as do most teachers that I know, that Unions need to allow for easier termination of ineffective teachers, “layoffs” are never for cause. “Layoffs” are purely for financial reasons, because the vast majority (if not all) teacher contracts require layoffs based on seniority. I agree with this policy, too, because it would be far too easy to lay off older, more experienced teachers (like me!) with years of training and professional development and higher education, in favor of younger more inexpensive teachers.
    And the Chicago Teachers Union, as far as I can tell from what I have been reading, are fighting against the new evaluation system which puts a premium on student performance on standardized tests as part of teacher evaluation. The reason that we teachers (EVERYWHERE) are fighting this plan is because it will absolutely force us to teach to the test, to teach test taking, to put undue and unhealthy pressure on our students to get a better score, rather than teaching them to think, to ask good questions and to problem solve, which is what we all signed on to do.
    Phew. Ask me how I really feel! Sorry. This was a crappy day to be a teacher trying to do what is best for kids.

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