Commentary Magazine


Topic: teacher’s unions

Diane Ravitch’s Sexist and Tendentious Attack on an Education Reformer

In the past I’ve had my differences with Jonathan Chait, but he does a splendid job of eviscerating Diane Ravitch, an education historian who has become among the most prominent defenders of teacher unions.

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In the past I’ve had my differences with Jonathan Chait, but he does a splendid job of eviscerating Diane Ravitch, an education historian who has become among the most prominent defenders of teacher unions.

Ms. Ravitch has undergone a radical change in her views. She was once a vocal advocate for reforms; she’s now among the fiercest public critics of reform. More on that in a moment, but let me begin by setting the context.

The Washington Post’s Paul Farhi did a profile of Campbell Brown, a former CNN anchor turned education-reform activist. One of Ms. Brown’s concerns is teacher tenure, which she (rightly) believes protects terrible teachers from accountability and creates the wrong metric by which to judge teachers. Apparently this was too much for Ms. Ravitch, who said this:

“I have trouble with this issue because it’s so totally illogical,” says Diane Ravitch, an education historian. “It’s hard to understand why anyone thinks taking away teachers’ due-process rights will lead to great teachers in every classroom.”

As for Brown, Ravitch is dismissive: “She is a good media figure because of her looks, but she doesn’t seem to know or understand anything about teaching and why tenure matters. . . . I know it sounds sexist to say that she is pretty, but that makes her telegenic, even if what she has to say is total nonsense.”

To which Chait responds, “Why, yes, that does sound rather sexist.” He goes on to explain why the elimination of our current system of teacher tenure would help attract better teachers, including pointing out that last-in, first-out hiring rules lead to teachers being let go regardless of quality. “The basic problem is that some proportion of American teachers is terrible at their job and immune to improvement, yet removing them is a practical impossibility,” Chait writes. (He supplies an overview of the research here.)

“In most fields,” Chait adds, “your pay is based on your perceived value rather than on the number of years you have spent on the job.” He goes on to say of various reforms, “nearly all of them work better than paying people on the basis of how long they’ve held a job and making it functionally impossible to fire them for being terrible at their job.”

Some final thoughts, the first of which is that it’s a shame that Ravitch has become such an angry and embittered critic of those arguing for many of the reforms she once favored. In a devastating COMMENTARY magazine review of Ravitch’s book The Death and Life of the Great American School System, Liam Julian of the Hoover Institution wrote her book was “nothing less than an act of emotional and ideological capitulation to those who fought her tooth and nail all along the way.” Changing one’s mind is not in principle wrong, of course, but in Ms. Ravitch’s case her complete shift on education reminds me of the words of Thomas More in A Man For All Seasons: “Listen, Roper. Two years ago you were a passionate Churchman; now you’re a passionate — Lutheran. We must just pray that when your head’s finished turning, your face is to the front again.”

In the course of her volte-face, Ms. Ravitch hasn’t simply shifted her views; she’s gone from being a serious scholar to an intemperate polemicist. (See Sol Stern’s Autumn 2013 essay in City Journal, “The Closing of Diane Ravitch’s Mind,” for more.) Her sexist attack on Campbell Brown, while ludicrous, was entirely in keeping with her corrosive and dyspeptic rhetoric these days.

As for Ms. Brown, she put things rather well in the profile by Farhi:

I’m a mom, and my view of public education begins and ends with the fundamental question: Is this good for children? In a situation where it’s the child or the adult, I’m going with the child…. Tenure is permanent lifetime employment. There’s no reason why anyone’s job should become untouchable for the rest of their life.

To be an advocate for the education and wellbeing of children is a rather high calling, even if the advocate happens to be attractive as well.

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The Unions’ Warning to Hillary Clinton

Arne Duncan can rest easy. The current secretary of education has lately been on the receiving end of the pitchforks-and-torches treatment from the major national teachers unions, but he’s not really the target. They are calling for his job, not because they expect to radically alter the course of this administration but to encourage the others, as they say.

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Arne Duncan can rest easy. The current secretary of education has lately been on the receiving end of the pitchforks-and-torches treatment from the major national teachers unions, but he’s not really the target. They are calling for his job, not because they expect to radically alter the course of this administration but to encourage the others, as they say.

To recap: the Obama administration has been sufficiently deferential to the public unions that fleece the taxpayers to get Democrats elected at the state and national levels. The president’s hypocrisy on school choice is not only a sop to the unions but particularly glaring–it’s not unusual for a president to send his kids to private school, but it is rare that one does so while working assiduously to end opportunity scholarship programs in the same city simultaneously.

President Obama’s choice for education secretary, however, made the unions slightly nervous. Obama calmed their nerves by making sure that Duncan would simply carry out Obama’s antichoice crusade and not think too much for himself. But Duncan spooked the unions recently by saying something that is anathema to Democrats even if it was commonsense by any reasonable standard.

Last month, a California court ruled unconstitutional the union protections that made it virtually impossible to fire bad teachers and which have steadily degraded the quality of education in America’s public schools. This was a victory especially for poor and minority students, which tend to be harmed the most by the Democrats’ education policies. The courts were a last recourse for these students, thanks to the policymaking stranglehold the unions have over the state’s Democrats. Duncan understood that this kind of ruling was the only way to effect real change, by forcing the hand of the school systems:

The ruling was hailed by the nation’s top education chief as bringing to California — and possibly the nation — an opportunity to build “a new framework for the teaching profession.” The decision represented “a mandate” to fix a broken teaching system, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said. …

Duncan, a former schools chief in Chicago, said he hoped the ruling will spark a national dialogue on a teacher tenure process “that is fair, thoughtful, practical and swift.”

At a minimum, Duncan said the court decision, if upheld, will bring to California “a new framework for the teaching profession that protects students’ rights to equal educational opportunities while providing teachers the support, respect and rewarding careers they deserve.”

“The students who brought this lawsuit are, unfortunately, just nine out of millions of young people in America who are disadvantaged by laws, practices and systems that fail to identify and support our best teachers and match them with our neediest students. Today’s court decision is a mandate to fix these problems,” Duncan said.

But teachers unions have mostly become a job preservation program, with the education of the students a secondary, at best, concern. So they lashed out at Duncan for defending the minority students over which the unions were running roughshod. In other words, for doing (at least part of) his job:

Delegates of the National Education Association adopted a business item July 4 at its annual convention in Denver that called for his resignation. The vote underscores the long-standing tension between the Obama administration and teachers’ unions — historically a steadfast Democratic ally.

A tipping point for some members was Duncan’s statement last month in support of a California judge’s ruling that struck down tenure and other job protections for the state’s public school teachers. In harsh wording, the judge said such laws harm particularly low-income students by saddling them with bad teachers who are almost impossible to fire.

Now the American Federation of Teachers has joined the mob, yesterday approving a resolution calling for his job–unless Duncan follows the unions’ proposed rehabilitation process, erasing even the façade of independence the administration would have from its union benefactors.

Duncan is to be commended for his comments. And he can take solace in the fact that the NEA and AFT attempts to wreck his career are not really about him anyway–a fact the reporting about this contretemps tends to miss. They are, instead, a warning shot. The unions want Hillary Clinton, or whoever turns out to be their next nominee, to see where the unions have drawn the line for a future White House. And Duncan is on the wrong side of that line.

For the teachers unions, anyway. He’s on the right side of that line for the country, and for public education. The unions aren’t interested in saving this particular ship, as long as their leaders and veteran teachers are guaranteed a lifeboat and a generous pension when it finally sinks.

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A Turning Point in the Battle to Rescue Public Education?

The battle over public education was never quite the same after the New Yorker published a deep dive into New York’s “rubber rooms” in 2009. These were rooms in which hundreds of teachers accused of misconduct–which could mean physically abusing or molesting students–spent their days, instead of working, while still reaping their salaries and benefits. They couldn’t be let near kids. But they still couldn’t be fired. Here was a key paragraph early on:

The teachers have been in the Rubber Room for an average of about three years, doing the same thing every day—which is pretty much nothing at all. Watched over by two private security guards and two city Department of Education supervisors, they punch a time clock for the same hours that they would have kept at school—typically, eight-fifteen to three-fifteen. Like all teachers, they have the summer off. The city’s contract with their union, the United Federation of Teachers, requires that charges against them be heard by an arbitrator, and until the charges are resolved—the process is often endless—they will continue to draw their salaries and accrue pensions and other benefits.

There have been other milestones in education reform and specifically with regard to the unions, but if you want to know just why Republicans in blue states like Chris Christie and Scott Walker had success reining in the unions, the unjust and expensive unaccountability captured in situations like the “rubber rooms” generally sits atop the list. Reforms have tackled the pay and benefits structure, however. Now there may be another turning point, in a milestone court ruling out in California. The Wall Street Journal reports:

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The battle over public education was never quite the same after the New Yorker published a deep dive into New York’s “rubber rooms” in 2009. These were rooms in which hundreds of teachers accused of misconduct–which could mean physically abusing or molesting students–spent their days, instead of working, while still reaping their salaries and benefits. They couldn’t be let near kids. But they still couldn’t be fired. Here was a key paragraph early on:

The teachers have been in the Rubber Room for an average of about three years, doing the same thing every day—which is pretty much nothing at all. Watched over by two private security guards and two city Department of Education supervisors, they punch a time clock for the same hours that they would have kept at school—typically, eight-fifteen to three-fifteen. Like all teachers, they have the summer off. The city’s contract with their union, the United Federation of Teachers, requires that charges against them be heard by an arbitrator, and until the charges are resolved—the process is often endless—they will continue to draw their salaries and accrue pensions and other benefits.

There have been other milestones in education reform and specifically with regard to the unions, but if you want to know just why Republicans in blue states like Chris Christie and Scott Walker had success reining in the unions, the unjust and expensive unaccountability captured in situations like the “rubber rooms” generally sits atop the list. Reforms have tackled the pay and benefits structure, however. Now there may be another turning point, in a milestone court ruling out in California. The Wall Street Journal reports:

In a closely watched court case that challenged California’s strong teacher employment protections, a group of nine students have prevailed against the state and its two largest teachers’ unions.

A California Superior Court on Tuesday found that all the state laws challenged in the case were unconstitutional. The verdict that could fuel similar lawsuits in other states where legislative efforts have failed to ease rules for the dismissal of teachers considered ineffective.

The student plaintiffs in Vergara v. California argued that the statutes protecting teachers’ jobs serve more often to keep poor instructors in the schools—hurting students’ chances to succeed. The teachers’ unions said state laws didn’t preclude school districts from making their own hiring and firing decisions.

Among the laws challenged in the case was California’s “Last-In, First-Out” layoff statute, which requires layoffs based on seniority rather than classroom performance. Also challenged were complex dismissal statutes for ineffective teachers that plaintiffs described as costly, burdensome and involving “a borderline infinite number of steps.”

If the California case were unique, this would be a local victory. As the “rubber rooms” illustrate, it isn’t. In New Jersey, for instance, the process for firing a teacher is essentially rigged against the district, with time delays and the costs of attorney’s fees and the teacher’s salary on top of a replacement instructor for the duration of the process, with no guarantee the teacher can be fired at the end of it. As a result, even attempting to fire a teacher becomes an arduous, and usually avoided, course of action. In Wisconsin, union privileges meant teachers were indeed fired–good teachers, and young teachers, so that those with seniority could keep their generous benefits and job security.

New Jersey and Wisconsin are not alone either, but they illustrate why there was public support for getting union privileges under some control even in liberal states: the policies are so clearly rigged against the students. In California, the students bringing the court challenge argued–correctly–that the policies were exceedingly harmful to the students. The purpose of education is to benefit the students, and government schools were failing miserably.

I’ve written about this before: the students suffer because bad teachers can’t be fired and budget cuts can’t touch what’s been granted the unions in their collective bargaining agreements, so the students lose out on books, educational technology, tutoring, library facilities, after-school activities, and anything else the unions can pick clean off the carcass of public education.

The problem was that the process by which those contracts were won was in essence corrupt. Politicians seeking union backing (usually liberal Democrats) promise taxpayer money for it, some of which is then spent on getting such politicians reelected. It’s a cycle that leaves the taxpayers–you know, those footing the bill–and the students without an advocate.

Yet the system is not so easy to reform. After all, contracts are contracts. And the same politicians in thrall to the unions obviously cannot be relied on to legislate some relief. The California case may provide a way out of this conundrum: the courts. As the Journal notes:

Research has pointed to teacher quality as the biggest in-school determinant for student performance. In recent years, many states have moved to simplify dismissal procedures for ineffective teachers and to encourage districts to consider teacher performance in layoff decisions rather than relying solely on seniority.

Efforts in California failed in the legislature, so students and their advocates took the case to court—a novel way to test the long-standing state policies.

A novel way, perhaps, but one that provides a glimmer of hope for students. It shouldn’t have been necessary to come to this point, but now that it has American public education may take another step toward once again fulfilling its mission.

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Union Leader’s About-Face on School Choice

Despite the Obama administration’s best efforts, union membership remains at all-time lows. Meanwhile, public disapproval of labor unions is near all-time highs. Teachers’ unions have been a main catalyst of public antipathy. During the last presidential election campaign, Gov. Mitt Romney tried to make teachers’ unions a lightning rod to rally support. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has likewise used antipathy toward teachers’ unions as a populist tool.

One of the reasons why teachers’ unions have become such a lightning rod is the belief, even among many who would normally be pro-labor, is the sense that teachers’ unions pit membership interest above that of children. Nowhere has this become more apparent than with the case of school vouchers which allow otherwise underprivileged youth or those stuck in poorly performing districts a chance at a better education. While many underprivileged students have sought to take advantage of these vouchers, teachers’ unions have uniformly opposed them. Here, for example, is the National Education Association position on vouchers and here is the American Federation of Teachers’ position.

How refreshing it is to see a union leader, even if retired, rethink his position and put kids first. George Parker used to be president of the Washington Teachers Union, and is a 30-year veteran teacher of the Washington D.C. school system. Writing last month in the Tennessean, here is what he had to say:

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Despite the Obama administration’s best efforts, union membership remains at all-time lows. Meanwhile, public disapproval of labor unions is near all-time highs. Teachers’ unions have been a main catalyst of public antipathy. During the last presidential election campaign, Gov. Mitt Romney tried to make teachers’ unions a lightning rod to rally support. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has likewise used antipathy toward teachers’ unions as a populist tool.

One of the reasons why teachers’ unions have become such a lightning rod is the belief, even among many who would normally be pro-labor, is the sense that teachers’ unions pit membership interest above that of children. Nowhere has this become more apparent than with the case of school vouchers which allow otherwise underprivileged youth or those stuck in poorly performing districts a chance at a better education. While many underprivileged students have sought to take advantage of these vouchers, teachers’ unions have uniformly opposed them. Here, for example, is the National Education Association position on vouchers and here is the American Federation of Teachers’ position.

How refreshing it is to see a union leader, even if retired, rethink his position and put kids first. George Parker used to be president of the Washington Teachers Union, and is a 30-year veteran teacher of the Washington D.C. school system. Writing last month in the Tennessean, here is what he had to say:

My change of heart boiled down to this: I realized my opposition to opportunity scholarships was based on prioritizing adult interests above those of kids. As a former union leader, I made maintaining union influence and power a greater priority than meeting the educational needs of parents and students. But seeing firsthand the positive impact that D.C.’s federally funded voucher program had on many families — especially those of color and limited means — compelled me to rethink my position.

He then gives three reasons why school vouchers work:

First, it puts more power back in the hands of parents, where it belongs. I think we can all agree that parents should have the biggest voice in deciding what type of school is best for their child. Second, expanding school choice helps level the playing field by giving low-income families the same options as high-income ones. Opportunity scholarships will be a godsend for disadvantaged families who cannot afford private school, or to move to a community with better public options. Third, and most importantly, opportunity scholarships work. Similar programs in other states report greater levels of student achievement and parental satisfaction.

Let us hope that his former colleagues will have a similar change of heart. At the very least, his litmus test of what benefits students should become the key litmus test for anyone concerned about the state of public education in the United States, whether they are parents, community leaders, non-unionized teachers, or, indeed, teachers’ unions as well.

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Freedom is Mandatory Union Dues

There is something about conservatives using the word “freedom” that drives the left insane. Maybe because progressives like to see themselves as champions of the people, fighting against the system, rather than what they actually are: statists, attempting to impose their beliefs on individuals through government power.

At the Huffington Post, AFL-CIO  boss Richard Trumka reimagines the concept of “freedom” today in a column that is just as Orwellian as you would think (h/t Washington Examiner):

I do believe that freedom isn’t free — but today the corporate and political right wing is trying to cheapen this truly American value. They’ve been cynically using the word “freedom” to rally the American public against its own best interests.

When the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act, Sarah Palin tweeted, “Obama lies; freedom dies.”

She’s referring, I guess, to the freedom to go without health care when you’re sick.

In its otherwise positive decision, the Supreme Court gave states the “freedom” to deny Medicaid coverage to their poorest residents — even though the federal government would pick up the tab.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker received the National Rifle Association’s “Defender of Freedom” award recently. I guess they meant Gov. Walker is defending teachers’ freedom from joining with coworkers to bargain fairly about things like class size. …

Let’s call this right-wing “freedom” catch phrase what it really is: a grossly political strategy to dupe the public, which holds the word “freedom” as something sacred.

This Independence Day, I say let’s go back to a truer use of the word “freedom.” Let’s start with President Franklin Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms: freedom of speech and expression, freedom of worship, freedom from want and freedom from fear. I would add the freedom to bargain collectively.

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There is something about conservatives using the word “freedom” that drives the left insane. Maybe because progressives like to see themselves as champions of the people, fighting against the system, rather than what they actually are: statists, attempting to impose their beliefs on individuals through government power.

At the Huffington Post, AFL-CIO  boss Richard Trumka reimagines the concept of “freedom” today in a column that is just as Orwellian as you would think (h/t Washington Examiner):

I do believe that freedom isn’t free — but today the corporate and political right wing is trying to cheapen this truly American value. They’ve been cynically using the word “freedom” to rally the American public against its own best interests.

When the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act, Sarah Palin tweeted, “Obama lies; freedom dies.”

She’s referring, I guess, to the freedom to go without health care when you’re sick.

In its otherwise positive decision, the Supreme Court gave states the “freedom” to deny Medicaid coverage to their poorest residents — even though the federal government would pick up the tab.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker received the National Rifle Association’s “Defender of Freedom” award recently. I guess they meant Gov. Walker is defending teachers’ freedom from joining with coworkers to bargain fairly about things like class size. …

Let’s call this right-wing “freedom” catch phrase what it really is: a grossly political strategy to dupe the public, which holds the word “freedom” as something sacred.

This Independence Day, I say let’s go back to a truer use of the word “freedom.” Let’s start with President Franklin Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms: freedom of speech and expression, freedom of worship, freedom from want and freedom from fear. I would add the freedom to bargain collectively.

The “freedom to go without health care when we’re sick” isn’t the issue, unless Trumka is arguing that the state should force every sick person in the country to get medical attention. We all have the freedom to decide whether or not to see a doctor when we are sick, just like we should all have the freedom to decide not to pay for health care (insurance) when we are well. We have the freedom to move if we disagree with our state’s decision to not participate in Medicare expansion. And we also have the freedom to elect a new state governor who will participate in it, or lobby the current governor to do it, if that’s our preference.

We should all have the freedom to decide whether or not to pay monthly dues to a union, instead of having the money automatically pulled from our paychecks. Trumka opposes “teachers’ freedom from joining with coworkers to bargain” — in other words, he thinks teachers should be forced to join with coworkers to bargain. Shouldn’t someone who professes to care about teachers support their freedom to make their own choices regarding their paychecks and their workplaces?

Trumka seems to grasp that this statist mentality is unpopular with the public, and that labor’s messaging strategy in Wisconsin was a failure. That’s why he’s so adamant about trying to reframe his positions as “pro-freedom,” as illogical as it sounds. The conservative arguments are working, and the left has very little ammunition to fight back.

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Wisconsin’s Reforms Are Working

The bruising battle in Wisconsin a year ago to curb the powers of public service unions was finally won by Governor Scott Walker and the Republicans in the state legislature. But, as a result, a judge of the Wisconsin Supreme Court faced a determined attempt to oust him from his seat (he survived), six state senators faced recall elections (four survived and the two losers had issues that would probably have cost them their seats regardless) and, this year, the governor himself faces a recall election.

I wouldn’t bet against him. The reforms have kicked in and the results are dramatic.

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The bruising battle in Wisconsin a year ago to curb the powers of public service unions was finally won by Governor Scott Walker and the Republicans in the state legislature. But, as a result, a judge of the Wisconsin Supreme Court faced a determined attempt to oust him from his seat (he survived), six state senators faced recall elections (four survived and the two losers had issues that would probably have cost them their seats regardless) and, this year, the governor himself faces a recall election.

I wouldn’t bet against him. The reforms have kicked in and the results are dramatic.

The reforms did a number of things. They ended the automatic collection of union dues by the state, causing an immediate drop in union income and the laying off of numerous union employees. They required that state employees kick in 5.8 percent of their salaries towards their own pensions and to pick up 12.6 percent of their health insurance premiums, bringing public employees more in line with private employee realities. Most important, it limited collective bargaining to salaries (and even that bargaining is limited by the rate of inflation).

For the first time in decades, school administrations are now actually able to administer their districts without union interference, and the savings have been huge. The MacIver Institute, a Wisconsin think tank, reports that of the 108 school districts that completed contracts with employees, 74 of them, with 319,000 students, have reported savings of no less than $162 million. If this is extrapolated out to all districts, it would amount to savings of nearly $448 million.

The biggest area of savings have been in health insurance. The teachers union insisted that districts use the union’s own health insurance company to provide coverage. No longer forced to use a monopoly provider, districts have either switched providers or used the threat of switching to force the union health insurance company to dramatically lower premiums. Savings have averaged $730,000 in districts that have switched providers or forced competitive bidding.

As a result of these dramatic savings, districts that have been able to benefit immediately from the reforms (some districts are locked into long-term contracts and cannot) have been able to avoid laying off teachers despite a significant drop in state aid and to avoid raising school taxes. Indeed, school tax bills that went out last December had an average increase of only 0.3 percent.

It is hard to imagine that with results like this, Governor Walker has anything to worry about.

 

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NYC Teachers’ Union’s First Priority Still Isn’t Students

For the sixth time in recent weeks, an employee of the New York City school system has been arrested for allegedly sexually abusing students. This latest case involved an instructor reportedly forcibly touching a 14-year old student at the High School for Graphic Communication Arts. The city is proud that such cases are down from 2007’s high of 619 complaints; last year there were 561 formal complaints filed, a 9 percent decrease. While not all of these formal complaints were found to be of merit, there are certainly unreported cases each year as well. In the midst of this flurry of negative publicity involving the city’s teachers, the main union representing the city’s teachers is actually on the offensive against the city.

This week, the names and scores of 18,000 of the city’s teachers were published, outraging the city’s teachers’ union that has battled for two years to keep the information private. The New York Times reports:

In the days leading up to the release on Friday of the city’s Teacher Data Reports, which are an effort to assess how much individuals added to the progress of students in their charge, many critics worried about the shame and humiliation low-scoring teachers would be subjected to, especially given the ratings’ wide margins of error.

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For the sixth time in recent weeks, an employee of the New York City school system has been arrested for allegedly sexually abusing students. This latest case involved an instructor reportedly forcibly touching a 14-year old student at the High School for Graphic Communication Arts. The city is proud that such cases are down from 2007’s high of 619 complaints; last year there were 561 formal complaints filed, a 9 percent decrease. While not all of these formal complaints were found to be of merit, there are certainly unreported cases each year as well. In the midst of this flurry of negative publicity involving the city’s teachers, the main union representing the city’s teachers is actually on the offensive against the city.

This week, the names and scores of 18,000 of the city’s teachers were published, outraging the city’s teachers’ union that has battled for two years to keep the information private. The New York Times reports:

In the days leading up to the release on Friday of the city’s Teacher Data Reports, which are an effort to assess how much individuals added to the progress of students in their charge, many critics worried about the shame and humiliation low-scoring teachers would be subjected to, especially given the ratings’ wide margins of error.

Critics of the release are concerned about hurting the feelings of adults who have been told they are not effectively doing their jobs. The formation of the ratings, however, seems more than fair to this former grade school teacher. Forty percent of the score is based on test performance; half of this is based on students’ progress from one year to the next on state standardized tests. The other 20 percent allows school districts to measure achievement based on their own benchmarks, for example,”the progress of specific groups of students, like those who are not proficient in English or have special needs. They also could devise their own tests, or use tests developed by a third party, provided that the tests were approved by the state.”

Teachers often complain about the inability of tests to measure student growth, knowledge and achievement. The ratings aim to make up for this by basing the remaining 60 percent of the rating on principal observations, which teachers then complain are too subjective. If they don’t want tests (even if they design them themselves) and they don’t want observations, how exactly are their performances supposed to be measured?

Teachers who are rated as “ineffective” can appeal to an independent panel and outside observers, in addition to the principals who decided 60 percent of the rating, who would reevaluate performance after a development plan is devised. The real issue, I suspect, is the leverage the scores now gives the city in hiring and firing decisions:

In cases in which the observers back the principals’ findings, the city would move to fire the teacher with a presumption of incompetence and an expedited procedure. Currently, the city has the burden of proof, making dismissal much more difficult.

New York City is famous for its “rubber rooms” – a place for teachers to read, sleep and play games on the city’s payroll to spend the day outside the classroom because they have been deemed unfit to teach. While the rooms have since shuttered, teachers are now assigned office busy work while the Department of Education pursues cases to fire teachers on the basis of incompetence or misconduct, which on average takes 18 months to accomplish.

Unfortunately for New York’s students, their teachers’ union prioritizes keeping every teacher in the classroom and on the payroll, fighting to make sure teachers can hide their incompetence. A recent story from the school district of the city of Rochester exemplifies just how difficult firing teachers for alleged sexual misconduct can be. How many of the teachers with complaints made against them in recent weeks will be kept on the city’s payroll for months or years more, incapable of being fired? How many will be let back into the classroom to perhaps abuse again?

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