Monday, January 31, 2011

Reform and the Teachers’ Unions

A great NYT editorial:


January 23, 2011

NYT editorial

Reform and the Teachers' Unions

Education officials across the country are increasingly focused on the two critical reform tasks: developing more effective teacher evaluation systems and speeding up the glacial pace of disciplinary hearings for teachers charged with misconduct. The American Federation of Teachers, the country's second-largest teachers' union, has wisely chosen to work with state legislatures and local school districts to help shape these new systems rather than try to block them.

Last week the union's president, Randi Weingarten, released a plan for speeding up disciplinary hearings that is a good starting point for more discussion. Developed by Kenneth Feinberg, the arbitration specialist, the plan calls for strictly limiting the process — from complaint to resolution — to 100 days. Right now a hearing can drag on for months or years, with the attendant stiff legal fees.

In many districts, teachers can now be investigated for vaguely worded charges like "moral turpitude" or "conduct unbecoming" that are often difficult to define and difficult to prosecute or defend against. The plan would give teachers and school systems more protection by establishing a clear set of charges — such as improper use of force, sexual abuse or refusal to obey rules — along with a strict set of deadlines for submissions of evidence and arguments.

The unions and state legislatures also need to press forward on developing evaluation systems that take student performance into account and that allow school systems to reward excellent teaching while steering ineffective teachers out of the field.

Ms. Weingarten has shown strong leadership in this area, and is well ahead of the National Education Association, the nation's largest teachers' union. But many members of her union are resistant to the idea of accountability systems, which they say can be far too easily manipulated.

The states are already charging ahead in this area. If the unions want to have input, they need to quickly come up with a legitimate proposal of their own.

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