The Daily Caller

The Daily Caller

Teachers’ unions: all for accountability … in theory

Photo of Bob Bowdon
Bob Bowdon
Executive Director, Choice Media

In 1984, the Ministry of Plenty handled rationing. The Ministry of Love was in charge of torture. And in the summer of 2011, life imitated art when the National Education Association announced it supports the use of student performance in teacher evaluations. So says the group’s latest position paper on the subject. Sometimes, you see, organizations say the opposite of what they mean.

The New York Times took the bait, using the headline “Union shifts position on teacher evaluations.” The casual headline-skimmer might be led to wonder, have bona fide education reformers infiltrated the NEA Politburo? Then you come across this Orwellian head fake of a phrase in The Times’s coverage:

“But blunting the policy’s potential impact, the union also made clear that it continued to oppose the use of existing standardized test scores to judge teachers, a core part of the federally backed teacher evaluation overhauls already under way in at least 15 states.”

Translation: While they claim to support the principle of teacher accountability, they oppose any particular accountability plan if it contains the inherent design flaw of actually doing anything. Theoretically, of course, they could support some future accountability plan, provided it were written by a wizard and delivered by a leprechaun. But an actual plan in the real world? One that does anything? Only if a scorpion becomes a frog.

But in the meantime, they’ve decided that the mantra of accountability is good PR.

Put another way, there’s an easy way to predict whether teachers’ unions will oppose an accountability proposal. Just find out if the plan would lead to actual dismissals of poorly performing teachers (any more than a tiny handful of the most egregious cases, that is, the type convicted of felonies or showing extreme absenteeism). If the answer is yes, such a plan has literally met their operative definition of “punitive,” “unfair” and “demonizing.”

The fact is that good teachers, like other professionals, aren’t afraid of accountability. They’re some of the strongest advocates of getting unqualified or burned-out teachers identified and replaced, and they understand that using student data can help do that. Most of us had some incredible teachers, for whom suffering mediocrity is simply not in their DNA and are revolted by their own unions’ relabeling of job protection as fairness.

So, gentle reader, invest not your beliefs in the words of the teachers’ unions. Watch what they do.

Case in point: Last year, New York Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo and the state legislature created and passed a new law to get seriously underperforming teachers out of the classroom. They were interested in protecting New York children from the serious, year-long setback of getting a poor teacher. Then, just this last May, the state Board of Regents prepared a plan to implement the law. The Board of Regents wanted to protect students too. But the New York United Federation of Teachers (UFT) was motivated by, shall we say, a different priority and took about a nanosecond to decide what to do. The UFT sued.

Justice Michael C. Lynch of the Albany County Supreme Court was given the case. Last week, he ruled that teachers can’t be rated “ineffective” solely because their students don’t learn. The New York Times says his decision “largely sided with the union.”

Back in about 280 B.C., there were no teachers’ unions, but there was a King Pyrrhus who ruled over parts of modern-day Greece and Albania. Even though he kept beating the Romans in battles, he realized that the hard slog of each victory was costing him dearly in loyalties and goodwill. Another one of these kinds of wins, he said, will be his undoing.

Teachers’ unions, enjoy your Pyrrhic victory in New York. The public is beginning to distinguish what you say from what you do.

Bob Bowdon is the director of The Cartel, an award-winning documentary film about corruption in public education. He also appears regularly on the Onion News Network.

  • Tkupe

    Well said –

    The Teachers Union believes that standard tests cannot be used as the sole basis for measuring a Teacher’s skill because ”there are multiple factors that impact a student’s learning beyond a teacher’s control.” (and I fill in the blank that this refers to the lack of educational support at home.) While I believe they are correct here the Union’s position paper blatantly fails to acknowledge that standard test results are useful indicators and thus cannot be dismissed just because the kid comes from a bad home situation. 
    The Teachers Union also continues to espouse that the current system of Teachers being the ones policing Teachers. They again fail to recognize that this system has not lead to the termination of the employment of poorly performing teachers. 

    This plan sounds good on paper, but it is clear that the Teachers Union has no credibility in this area with Mr. Bowden and they have also lost credibility with me.

  • Tkupe

    Well said –

    The Teachers Union believes that standard tests cannot be used as the sole basis for measuring a Teacher’s skill because ”there are multiple factors that impact a student’s learning beyond a teacher’s control.” (and I fill in the blank that this refers to the lack of educational support at home.) While I believe they are correct here the Union’s position paper blatantly fails to acknowledge that standard test results are useful indicators and thus cannot be dismissed just because the kid comes from a bad home situation. 
    The Teachers Union also continues to espouse that the current system of Teachers being the ones policing Teachers. They again fail to recognize that this system has not lead to the termination of the employment of poorly performing teachers. 

    This plan sounds good on paper, but it is clear that the Teachers Union has no credibility in this area with Mr. Bowden and they have also lost credibility with me.

  • Tkupe

    Well said –

    The Teachers Union believes that standard tests cannot be used as the sole basis for measuring a Teacher’s skill because ”there are multiple factors that impact a student’s learning beyond a teacher’s control.” (and I fill in the blank that this refers to the lack of educational support at home.) While I believe they are correct here the Union’s position paper blatantly fails to acknowledge that standard test results are useful indicators and thus cannot be dismissed just because the kid comes from a bad home situation. 
    The Teachers Union also continues to espouse that the current system of Teachers being the ones policing Teachers. They again fail to recognize that this system has not lead to the termination of the employment of poorly performing teachers. 

    This plan sounds good on paper, but it is clear that the Teachers Union has no credibility in this area with Mr. Bowden and they have also lost credibility with me.

  • Tkupe

    Well said –

    The Teachers Union believes that standard tests cannot be used as the sole basis for measuring a Teacher’s skill because ”there are multiple factors that impact a student’s learning beyond a teacher’s control.” (and I fill in the blank that this refers to the lack of educational support at home.) While I believe they are correct here the Union’s position paper blatantly fails to acknowledge that standard test results are useful indicators and thus cannot be dismissed just because the kid comes from a bad home situation. 
    The Teachers Union also continues to espouse that the current system of Teachers being the ones policing Teachers. They again fail to recognize that this system has not lead to the termination of the employment of poorly performing teachers. 

    This plan sounds good on paper, but it is clear that the Teachers Union has no credibility in this area with Mr. Bowden and they have also lost credibility with me.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Mike-Hyland/100001632501117 Mike Hyland

    Outlaw all public sector Unions and put in place a merrit pay structure for teachers who actually perform and get measured educational improvements in theior classrooms… Also disolve and unfund the Sept of Ed and Dept of Energy & EPA as all progressive add-ons by Jimmy Carter were total failures and tax payer black holes.

    • http://twitter.com/aemoreira81 Adam Moreira

      Why I oppose the first part, however, is because if students refuse to learn…and that is a culture problem in some minority communities, refusal to learn…teachers get unfairly blamed. (It also causes the same issue of teachers wanting to work for great schools, and the unintended consequence is that rookies are left in the bad schools.)

    • Imnotawitch, Imjustlikeyou

      Trade union officials in leadership roles were either sent to concentration
      camps or killed outright. The Nazi’s effectively destroyed any power the
      trade unions had and subjugated it for their ownSource- The Coming of
      the Third Reich by Richard J. Evans

      Ja wohl, Herr Commisar! Outlawing Americans from their right to assemble, will be our pleasure! They are so arrogant! And that polack Lech Walesa guy, is another example of a dirty rat who should have been stopped! 

  • http://www.facebook.com/pvoas Paul C Voas

    http://www.thedailyshow.com/watch/thu-march-3-2011/diane-ravitch
    Diane RavitchDiane Ravitch believes education reform should focus on getting children out of poverty, not finding the bad teachers.Although, I as a teacher, would like to help “bad” teachers become better, or “encourage them” find another profession for them. But why do they get there in the first place? Because teacher education programs are not challenging enough like medicine or law. Why? Because teachers are not paid enough so the people who could survive such rigorous programs would not choose to spend their hard earned time to get paid peanuts (11th out of 13 comparible carreers). I told my professors in an exit interview that I wish the program was more challenging and they said they couldn’t because they wouldn’t have enough teacher candidates. 

    • http://twitter.com/aemoreira81 Adam Moreira

      The only way they’re heading out of poverty is if the parents give a damn.

  • Anonymous

    The duplicity of the NEA and AFT should be obvious to the casual observer.  Unfortunately, the teachers hold our kids hostage, thus insuring the silence of public and parents.  Read Education Week’s six-part series entitled A Trust Betrayed which reveals that the instances of sexual abuse by school staff on students is calculated to be 100 times greater than that of the documented instances of priest abuse. Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.  A few hard-working and capable teachers is the smokescreen for a vicious crew of unionized ‘work to contract’ gold bricks.  It will take more movies and documentaries like The Cartel to rid our schools of unions that have deteriorated education. 

    • http://twitter.com/aemoreira81 Adam Moreira

      Disagree completely, and this is why:

      In the same classroom, certain groups of people always perform badly, but some shine. When you take out all other factors, it becomes evident that it’s extra-scholar (that is, the root of the problem is outside of the school). Remember, you can give parents choice, but if those parents are still worthless, they will simply export their problems to other schools.

      • Anonymous

        But it is the lowering of standards across the board that is the problem, as well as the protection of unionized teachers who prey on children.  Point:  the union’s job is to protect teachers’ jobs, no matter what the deficit. And, just curious, but what does school choice and poor parental quality have to do with teachers abusing children in the classroom? 

        • Imnotawitch, Imjustlikeyou

           …”the protection of unionized teachers who prey on children.”

          Then you say this, and we know your nuts. What parent, anywhere, would send their kid to school if they thought the teacher’s union was protecting people who preyed on their children? If teacher’s don’t file on suspected abuse, they’re fired and lose their credential. That’s a fact, jack. I’ve never had to file on a teacher, but I’ve filed on a few parents and siblings. There’s some crazy stuff happening out there in the real world.

           

          • Michael

            Stop attacking people and start criticizing arguments you un-constructive and sensitive children.

            It is not legitimate to assume parents or anyone else (unless they explicitly prove they do not) make judgements on rational criteria and on information of which is IRREFUTABLY Representative of “truth” (truth as defined as What Happens, Regardless of intent/fault)There are poisons hitting children’s development… and they do come from both sides of the fence, the home and school.  Both are guilty of underperforming, regardless of any goodwill.  There are both ineffective teachers and ineffective parents – neoteny and the inability to think clearly is rampant in our entire culture.    

          • http://twitter.com/aemoreira81 Adam Moreira

            Ineffective parents cannot be overcome; children can learn even if the teacher is ineffective.

          • Anonymous
          • http://twitter.com/aemoreira81 Adam Moreira

            Separate issue. That’s the fault of states not sharing criminal records…not the unions.

          • Anonymous

            That is naive….unions protect the abusers whether states share records or not.  Nice try.

          • http://twitter.com/aemoreira81 Adam Moreira

            Big Labor is not relevant; this can be accomplished without their knowledge.

          • Anonymous

            It is accomplished BECAUSE of their influence.  Your statements reflect a profound need to deny the obvious.  It is time to sign off.

          • Anonymous

            Read Education Week’s six-part series entitled A Trust Betrayed.  You’d be nuts not to, especially with the level of denial you are spewing forth. 

          • Imnotawitch, Imjustlikeyou

            Nice try, your link wants me to pay to read. Spam on, Mr. Corrupt.

          • Anonymous

            Not so.  I think you just don’t want to read it.

          • Imnotawitch, Imjustlikeyou

            Dude, I’ve been teaching for 25 years. If somebody is suspected of abusing kids, in any way, a million people are on it. If you really think teachers are part in on an evil cabal, you’re just nuts. There was a guy at my kid’s school who was inviting boys to his house, and he ended up getting 12 years. How could it possibly be in the teachers’ unions’ interest to protect abusers? Of course pedophiles would be attracted to any job with kids, but this would just be a reason for making sure you attract the best people with higher pay.

          • Anonymous
        • http://twitter.com/aemoreira81 Adam Moreira

          The protection of unionized teachers to me has nothing to do with it. In just about every contract, it’s easy to remove them from the classroom. Firing may be quite different.

          The amount of truly bad teachers is miniscule.

  • Imnotawitch, Imjustlikeyou

    More teacher bashing at the DC? (sigh) Is it just teachers that formed unions, or are cops and firemen unionized? Why do you attack one, but not the others?

     If you work closely with the public’s children, you will be exposed to some really crazy parents. That and the wacky administrators and centralized buracracies of today’s school districts, combined with the looney left’s  ”everyone’s a victim,” mentality, has created a nightmare. Most teachers are really good people who like to help kids learn stuff. They’ve stopped wearing their horns, honest. Judging individual teacher performance on test scores is laughable. Do you have any idea how classes are formulated? Neither do I, and I’ve been in the job over 25 years. No two teachers face equal classes. 

    Public schools are like the army. Everyone loathes serving in  them, but they seem to be winning the wars. They are a great melting pot, where everyone hates having to dress for PE, run laps, and do their homework, but the good kids seem to do fine. The children of the indifferent and the criminally insane, do not fare very well. Stop blaming teachers. We’re the same folks you grew up with.  Check the illegal immigration, drug addiction, and gang rates present in today’s culture, and stop blaming the few smart people that really just want your kids to read more.

    • Imnotawitch, Imjustlikeyou

      PS. And I do appreciate the Orwellian and historical references, Mr. Bowdin. But did you know the Romans turned many of the conquered enslaved Greeks into teachers? A return to the good ol’ days, eh, Mr. Bowdin? (Oooo, hoisted upon your own petard. How does that feel?)

      • marc

        nice try, but there is a huge difference between Teachers and Teachers Unions.  The former are often tremendous.  The latter, having essentially been in control over the administration of public education for the last 30 years, are responsible for its utterly immoral decline.  Any attempt to improve education that might cause ANY teacher to be adversely affected is torpedoed by the Union.  That defensiveness has nothing whatsoever to do with the children and is in fact to their great detriment.  You don’t want to use test scores?  Fine.  Just take away tenure and let principals fire teachers.  And let school boards fire principals.  And the public fire school boards.  With public education at its present state, defending the current utter lack of accountability is simply immoral

        • imnotawitch, imjustlikeyou

          Immoral? I’m laughing. Have you been in an urban school? Just listen to the kids yell at each other in the halls between classes, you don’t even have to go in. They’re crazy. Girls, jr. high girls, use the f-bomb as an adjective, adverb, noun, all in the same sentence. To blame that on the teachers’ unions is laughable.

          What we need is discipline, but what we get is nothing. You have to get a parent’s permission to keep a kid after school. Guess what? The worst kid’s parents won’t sign. Principals won’t suspend kid’s because it makes their school look bad. Special ed kids are completely off limits from any kind of behavioral accountability. They can pretty much cuss you out without consequence. To blame teachers for the decline in social morays is pathetic. 

          When I went to public school, I feared the paddle, and the men who were dying to use it. Today’s bad kids fear nothing, and laugh at your attempts to reign them in.  To blame their conduct on a plethora of derelict teachers, is again hysterical. You’ve created a whipping boy, but the real bad boys are going scott free.

          PS. The public schools that my kids go to are top notch. My oldest excelled in every class and now attends a top flight uni. Do I wish every public school was as good as hers? Of course. Am I naive enough to believe that teacher’s unions are to blame for all of the other low performing schools?  No, Marc, that would be too easy to fix. I almost wish that it were so.