Sunday, May 15, 2011

No more blame game on teachers

 Reformers demonize teachers.


Sure I've seen the idiotic comments on Fox "News", but no serious reformer is doing anything of the sort – in fact, it's precisely the opposite: we CELEBRATE teachers and want to treat them better and pay them more.  The Washington Post editorial below captures what's really going on:

We agree that teachers should be applauded and that society often doesn't reward them sufficiently. But much of the buzz about demonization is coming from the unions themselves, which confuse criticism of union policies with criticism of teachers. We worry that they're setting up a straw man that distracts attention from discussion about what's needed to improve learning.

The unions liked to bash Joel Klein for demonizing teachers – here's his response in a letter to the editor in the WSJ:

Accountability Is the Crux of Serious School Reform

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten ("Markets Aren't the Education Solution," op-ed, April 25) misses the obvious point when she argues that top- performing countries "revere and respect teachers," and that all would be right here if only America did the same. Top-performing countries revere teachers because they get great results (that's why they're top performing). Those countries recruit teachers from the top of their graduating classes, insist on excellence and don't protect underperformers. America does precisely the opposite, largely recruiting from the bottom half of our graduates and protecting even the worst of them. If you have any doubt about that, read the four-part series in this week's New York Post or Steven Brill's seminal 2009 New Yorker article, "The Rubber Room."

As long as unions continue to protect low-performing teachers, the solution for America's families is to give them choices so they can escape dead-end schools staffed by poor teachers. The middle class insists on choice; why should the poor—who typically bear the brunt of low-performing teachers—get less? Exhorting people to "reverence and respect" is no substitute for insisting on excellence. When will the unions do that?

Joel Klein

New York

Mr. Klein was chancellor of New York City public schools from 2002 to 2010. He is CEO of the educational division of News Corp., which owns this newspaper.

Finally, let's look at NJ Gov. Chris Christie.  Now that Michelle Rhee and Joel Klein are no longer superintendents, it would be hard to find anyone today who has been more willing to challenge the teachers unions – and who has been more demonized as anti-teacher for doing so.  So please read the speech he gave a week ago at Harvard's School of Education, during which he addresses (and demolishes) the lies that the unions have spread about him, which closely parallel the criticisms aimed at all reformers.  I've read a lot of education reform speeches, and this is one of the very best I've ever read.  The full text is posted at, and here is an excerpt:

Now this approach to public education from the public education establishment has been called an attack on teachers. I hope that you really listen to what I just talked about. In no other subject matter that I deal with as Governor is there such a vast gulf between what is said and what is heard than on this subject. I defy you to go back and look at the tape of this or look at a transcript of it and find where I attacked teachers. Yet if you read the reports that come out of New Jersey, they'll tell you in many press accounts about my attack on teachers. I want to empower teachers. I want to honor teachers. I want to pay teachers more. I want more excellent teachers who stay in schools for their whole careers. I want teachers who understand they are going to be rewarded for excellence and that there are going to be consequences for failure. I don't think that is an attack on teachers. It is an attack on a system that puts the feelings of adults ahead of the needs of children. Michelle Rhee said that and there's no better description of our public school system today. When I was first became Governor I got a call from a recently retired Republican governor from out of state who called me with some advice. He said to me Chris listen, it's tough being a Republican governor in a blue state but what you should do right off the bat is you should find a really small relatively inconsequential union to pick a fight with. Win the fight and then you'll set the tone for everybody else. I was getting a lot of advice during the transition so I just took it in. I thanked him. Four months later in April, four months into my term he called me back and said Chris I didn't mean the teacher's union. I said I didn't misunderstand your advice I rejected it. There is a difference.

The reason I am engaging in this battle with the teacher's union is because it is the only fight worth having. It is the only fight worth having. The reason for that is because if we don't change what we're doing failure will continue to follow and I didn't come into this job for failure -- I came into this job for success. Success will be defined in large measure by how generations after us succeed or fail. I can't sit around and wait any longer. I've been called impatient too. I am impatient about this topic. We've waited on this much too long. And so it's going to mean having uncomfortable conversations. It's going to mean getting rid of underperforming teachers. It's going to mean creating a system where people are accountable for the work they do. It's going to mean finally putting children ahead of economic interests. Children ahead of the feelings of adults. When the teacher's union puts out their advertisements that say New Jersey Education Association, it's for the kids. Four and five percent salary increases in a zero percent inflation world demanded by the union are for the kids. Free health benefits from the day they're hired till the day they die, for the kids; a pension system where they contribute 5½% of their salary yet collect benefits over the course of their lives that dwarf their contribution, for the kids. Listen let's call it what it is—they are there to protect the lowest performers and to protect a system of post-employment compensation that dwarfs anything that occurs in America today in public or private industry. For you to believe that is for the kids you would have to believe that a child will learn better under the warm comforting knowledge that their teacher pays nothing for his health benefits. It's crazy. Kids don't care about that. If the union wanted to be as good as its members they would be in this to make sure that every teacher at the front of every classroom is as good as they can be. Every principal in every principal's office is as good as he or she can be. That every kid is being addressed, acknowledged, and taught to their maximum potential. Instead we have a system where we acknowledge the failure and say it's too hard to do anything about it, it's too uncomfortable.

…So I came to Harvard today because you are among the leaders of our educational future. If you're not disrupted yet, I want to disrupt you now because you being disrupters I think is one of the keys to America in the 21st Century which will be as great as the America of the 20th Century. Thank you all very much.


No more blame game on teachers

Washington Post Editorial, Published: May 5

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