Friday, July 22, 2011

When Your Argument of Teacher-Bashing Lacks Merit

RiShawn Biddle is also exactly right here, responding to Randi's idiotic attack on reformers:

When Your Argument of Teacher-Bashing Lacks Merit: Earlier this week, AFT President Weingarten took the stage at the union's twice-yearly teacher conference to declare that school reformers couldn't hack it in a traditional classroom. Given that the Cornell- and Cardozo Law School-trained attorney spent just ten months (over a period of six years) teaching in a classroom — less time than Michelle Rhee's tenure working in Baltimore's public schools — she hardly has any standing to say much of anything. What really stood out was her assertion that only teachers should be the ones leading education and pushing for the weak gruel of reform that the AFT supports. Those folks who have been engaged in systemic reform (including, apparently, some teachers) merely want to "denigrate our profession."

Weingarten's claptrap isn't anything new or even interesting. She's just using a rhetorical trick often deployed by teachers unions and other education traditionalists to oppose school reform. They declare that any criticism of the unions and any effort to overhaul teacher quality are forms of "teacher bashing". And such proclamations end up forcing reformers onto their heels when they should actually take these critics to the woodshed.

What reformers should do is actually reveal that the claims of teacher bashing are ridiculous for three reasons. For one, the claims fail to consider the fact that in most states, teachers are forced to either join NEA or AFT locals, or pay union dues to them no matter their preference. That the union dues are then used to fuel the lobbying and campaign donation activities that these teachers may not necessarily support means that these teachers are actually being served poorly by the very unions they are forced to subsidize with their hard-earned salaries.

The teacher bashing trick conveniently ignores the generational divide between Baby Boomers teachers (who want to keep the quality-blind system of recruiting, training, retaining and paying instructors in place) and younger colleagues more-supportive of school reform. It is this division among teachers — which often plays out in debates such as that between the AFT's New York City local and rank-and-file members who are part of the school reform group Educators 4 Excellence — that is one of the reasons why Weingarten, for all her rhetoric, is attempting to triangulate the school reform movement and pushing her members to embrace some reforms such as the use of standardized tests in evaluating teachers.

Finally, the teacher bashing argument fails to admit these realities: That there are laggard instructors in our classrooms who shouldn't be there continuing to academically abuse and neglect children. That America's ed schools are doing an abysmal job of recruiting and training aspiring teachers. That the traditional teacher compensation system, focused on rewarding teachers based on seniority and degree attainment, is ineffective in spurring student achievement, fails to reward good-to-great teachers and keeps laggards in classrooms to continue educational malpractice. And that keeping things as they are is too costly for students, families, high-quality teachers and taxpayers alike.

School reformers should always keep these facts in mind whenever some education traditionalist declares that criticism of teachers unions and laggard teachers equal the denigration of an entire profession. And then call them out fast and furious for their balderdash.

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