Friday, May 11, 2007

A war against hope

As he begins his tenure at the helm of the Metro Nashville Education Association, Eric Huth may want to seriously consider a more cooperative tack.

[Former Education Secretary Rod Paig's] new book is titled "The War Against Hope: How Teachers' Unions Hurt Children, Hinder Teachers, and Endanger Public Education." The unions, he writes, are "arrogant" and "destructive." They defend incompetent teachers and oppose merit pay for teachers who excel. "No special interest is more destructive than the teachers' unions, as they oppose nearly every meaningful reform," he writes. (NY Sun)
That stings I'm sure, but too often it's true and it is the perception of financially exhausted taxpayers and dissatisfied parents whose children have been impacted by these poorly performing teachers and would much rather pay great teachers great wages to get the job done.

While the MNEA is offended at being called a union and demands that we view them as a professional organization their everyday business follows the union model of protecting their members and not enhancing and policing the profession. A professional organization ought to be on the front lines of weeding out the incompetent and the dangerous and leading the charge for legitimate innovations that enhance what ought to be the core mission--educating children. However, by their own admission their first duty is to the membership--not the children, not the profession.

From the MNEA home page:
Our mission is to promote excellence in the Metro School system, seek community support for public education, secure economic and professional security for educators, maintain a strong united teaching organization, advance human and civil rights in education, and empower teachers!
From the Tennessee Education Association:
"The Tennessee Education Association promotes, advances and protects public education, the education profession, and the rights and interests of its members." (Adopted by the Representative Assembly, 1996)
And from the National Education Association (1 page .pdf):
"Our mission is to advocate for education professionals and unite our members and the nation to fulfill the promises of public education to prepare every student to succeed in a diverse and interdependent world."
So it's left to the BOE to weed out bad teachers at the rate of a couple a year. Our own MNPS BOE has asked the Tennessee School Board Association to write legislation allowing an administrative law judge to handle the teacher dismissals because they take up too much time. And they do take up an extraordinary amount of time--nearly 30 hours per teacher. As I've written before part of the problem is the Board's fear that not giving the union lawyer full latitude may enable an appeal and even more resource consuming. We need BOE members made of sterner stuff.

I'm convinced that a big part of the problem lies with a BOE that approves tenure on a wholesale basis. At their March 27, 2007 meeting they approved the tenure of 385 new teachers. Check pages 8-15 of their agenda if you find that too incredible to believe. So they can check these folks out at the front end--or the back end after they've damaged children, wasted taxpayer dollars and their own time. You would think there would be some sort of public comment period where parents and taxpayers could also provide input to the BOE before we make this commitment that is so difficult to undo.

More from the article on Rod Paige's new book:
"The system is not performing," he says. The people who suffer most, he says, are minorities and disadvantaged students. "The union is sitting on both sides of the negotiating table," he says, referring to the power of the unions in electing the politicians they are negotiating with in collective bargaining. The result, he says, are "systems whose main purpose is the employment well-being of the adults in the system."
As if being on both sides isn't enough we have a Metro Council that voted to place a teacher (any doubt if they'll be a union member) ON the school board itself as if two former teachers on the board isn't sufficient. Thankfully, that legislation hasn't gotten anywhere with the state legislature that must approve that change.

And so as Mr. Huth begins his tenure as head of the MNEA what hope can he provide the community that he and his organization will actually work toward improving the quality of teachers in the MNPS system, encourage parental freedom to make the appropriate educational choice for their children within the public school system even if they don't get lucky, prove to taxpayers that their educational dollars are bringing a full return and finally, to provide more public accountability of the unions votes and membership?

Note to MNEA: You may want to get your webmaster to correct the link from your home page to the election results. They've left off the .htm extension.

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