State of Reform

Let’s discuss a slightly jumbled passage from The New York Times (“The Teacher Unions’ Last Stand,” May 17, 2010):

there is a strain of self-righteousness that runs through the reform network. Some come off as snobs who assume any union teacher is lazy or incompetent and could be bested by young, nonunion Ivy Leaguers full of energy. And others see tying teachers’ pay to their students’ improvement on standardized tests as a cure-all. But most — especially those who have taught and appreciate how hard it is — understand that standardized tests are far from perfect, and that some subjects, like the arts, don’t lend themselves to standardized testing. They know that most teachers want to be effective and that data-based performance assessments should be combined with classroom observation and other subjective measures not only to hold teachers accountable but also to help them improve their performance.

The Times chops reformers into a three (supposedly) distinct groups: the academic elite, the corporate data-worshippers, and the pragmatists. I’m not sure where I stand, since I favor data, I am pretty snobbish, but I do keep my nose to the grind when it comes to deliver a good education. I also have no doubt that many thousands of other teachers share my understanding of the field. The issue raised by the Times, however, seems to automatically conflate millions of perspectives with seemingly polarized camps — as if asking a room full of people whether or not teacher unions could never divulge an agreement.

As far as I can tell, the unions are never necessary when they are unhelpful — and currently they are quite unhelpful to young teachers like myself. Moreover, it seems helpful to track teacher performance by student data, healthy to dismiss underperforming teachers, and simply rational to break up school districts that have not and cannot get their act together either academically, socially, or financially. These are simply things we must do to make better schools.


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