Good schools constitute a far more potent weapon against poverty than welfare, food stamps or housing subsidies. Yet, cowed by teachers’ unions, Democrats have too often resisted reform and stood by as generations of disadvantaged children have been cemented into an underclass by third-rate schools.Agreed at least thrice.
President Obama and his education secretary, Arne Duncan, are trying to change that -- and one test for the Democrats will be whether they embrace administration reforms that teachers’ unions are already sniping at.
It’s difficult to improve failing schools when you can’t create alternatives such as charter schools and can’t remove inept or abusive teachers. In New York City, for example, unions ordinarily prevent teachers from being dismissed for incompetence -- so the schools must pay failed teachers their full salaries to sit year after year doing nothing in centers called "rubber rooms."
A devastating article in The New Yorker by Steven Brill examined how New York City tried to dismiss a fifth-grade teacher for failing to correct student work, follow the curriculum, manage the class or even fill out report cards. The teacher claimed that she was being punished for union activity, but an independent observer approved by the union confirmed the allegations and declared the teacher incompetent. The school system’s lawyer put it best: "These children were abused in stealth."
The effort to remove the teacher is expected to cost about $400,000, and the outcome is uncertain. In New York City, with its 80,000 teachers, arbiters have removed only two for incompetence alone in the last couple of years.
Saturday, October 24, 2009
Once In a While. . .
. . . the New York Times gets it right, such as Nick Kristof's October 15th column: