Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Education in America

A nice article in The Economist:

That truth, recognised by anyone who has spent even a few hours in, say, a KIPP charter school, is an inconvenient one to the teachers' unions, which the film rightly identifies as a big chunk of kryptonite standing in the way of a dramatic rescue for the children of America. For example, the film features efforts to reform the school system in Washington, DC, led by Adrian Fenty, the mayor, and Michelle Rhee, his combative schools chief, including a scene where Ms Rhee's offer to double salaries for teachers in exchange for them giving up tenure and accepting "merit pay" (performance-related wages) is rejected by the unions. Right on cue for the launch of the film, Mr Fenty has just lost his local Democratic Party primary to a more union-friendly rival, so Ms Rhee may well be leaving. The $1m spent during the campaign by the American Federation of Teachers played a crucial role in Mr Fenty's defeat.

The teachers' unions have resolutely opposed efforts to pay good teachers more than mediocre ones, to fire the worst performers, and to shut down schools that consistently fail to deliver a decent education. This, coupled with underfunding in poor areas, has resulted in a shortage of good schools; so the few that are worth getting into are hugely oversubscribed, with places allocated by the public lotteries which provide the grim climax to the movie. Ms Rhee upset the unions by refusing to accept all this, closing dozens of schools and firing 1,000 teachers, including the head of her own children's school.

Hey, teachers! Leave them kids alone

Perhaps the most important thing about "Waiting for Superman" is that it is liberal, Al Gore-friendly types who are highlighting the fact that the teachers' unions are putting their worst-performing members before the interests of America's children. Class(room) war may be about to break out within the Democrats. Teachers' union members are a vocal group within the party; but its rising stars—such as Cory Booker, the mayor of Newark, who has just persuaded Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, to donate $100m to improve the city's schools—are making school reform a priority.


Education in America

Is it a bird? Is it a plane?

No, it's an important attempt to get the American public behind education reform

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