I haven’t had the opportunity as of yet to meet a parent who would would prefer to not have school options available for their children. To be clear, I run into parents in Kentucky and across the nation regularly who argue, fight against, and curse charter schools and the expansion of other school choice policy measures, but these parents are fighting to stop the expansion of school choice for other people’s children, not their own. Even the most die-hard charter school opponent will usually tell me, without recognizing the irony, how he or she carefully selected a neighborhood, used social and political connections, negotiated as part of an employment contract, or pay tuition at a private school in order to choose the best schools for their children. And what is implied in our conversation is that they believe their middle class and/or professional status qualifies them to be able to exercise school choice.
I don’t know of an American parent who doesn’t want at least a few school options available to their kids, and you likely don’t know one either. So why are charter schools and school choice so controversial if everyone wants it for their own kids? Simple. Some of us continue to put adults and adult organizations above the needs and best interests of children.
Opposition to charter schools and school choice is usually about adults: adults’ jobs and job security; enrollment and financial stability of traditional public school districts; teachers unions and their membership rolls, dues, and collective bargaining agreements; etc. That’s the stuff that makes charter schools and school choice controversial: stability, security, and power for adults and adult organizations.
So what if traditional public school districts can’t keep up with parent and student demand for increased specialization in academic, arts, and career pathways as evidenced by ridiculously long waiting lists at the limited number of programs offered… So what if traditional public school districts have proven to be ill-equipped to meet the diverse needs of learners… So what if the instructional approach used at a particular school is simply not appropriate for engaging and/or meeting the academic needs of a whole population of students… So what if less than a quarter of the kids in a school district who qualify for free or reduced price meals meet the mark of being proficient or distinguished on state standardized examinations in reading and mathematics… That’s just how the cookie crumbles, right? Teachers unions have to fill membership rolls and collect dues. School districts can’t take the chance of parents opting to send their kids to a non-district run public school because the district is counting on the dollars the state sends for their kid (whether the district serves the kid well or not). So no, we can’t afford to deal with this school choice nonsense because the adult business of school is not set up for parents to be able to choose.
It turns out it’s not ‘all about kids’ after all, is it?
The California General Assembly’s stalemate on whether to change state laws regarding teacher tenure and layoffs highlights a major barrier to improving education for America’s most vulernable children. Once again, a legislative effort failed which would have made commonsense reforms to state laws regarding teacher tenure and layoffs. This year’s effort, Assembly Bill 934, would have (a) extended the the number of years school administrators have to evaluate teachers before teachers are granted the protections of teacher tenure, (b) created an expedited process for terminating teachers deemed to be ineffective after receiving additional professional support, and (c) allowed teachers’ job performance evaluations to be considered when making layoff decisions (instead of only considering teachers’ seniority). Once again, strong opposition from California’s teachers unions resulted in the reform effort going nowhere.
The California teachers unions’ resistance to common sense reforms is beyond disappointing. If you care about improving the quality of education for our nation’s most vulneralbe children, their resistance to these reforms ought to make you angry. These are commonsense reforms that would help to ensure that only the highest quality teachers are in California’s classrooms. There is no legitimate rationale for resisting efforts to ensure that administrators have ample time to evaluate the performance of teachers before granting them tenure. There is no legitimate rationale for opposing efforts to make it easier for administrators to remove teachers who are ineffective in the classroom. Neither is there a legitimate rationale for resisting changes that would allow teachers’ performance to factor into layoff decisions. Teachers unions’ resistance to these reforms ought to make it very clear that their intentions are to protect all teachers’ jobs regardless of whether those teachers are effective, because even ineffective teachers pay union dues. Nevermind the negative impact ineffective teachers have on the learning of their students. The tragedy is compounded when you consider that ineffective teachers are most likely to be in classrooms with children who need high quality teachers the most.
This legislative stalemate in California directly affects children in California’s schools. But the opposition of teachers unions across the country to similar reforms results in ineffective teachers remaining in high needs classrooms everywhere. California’s Supreme Court will eventually make a ruling on whether such language in unions’ collective bargaining agreements is legal in California, but whether the provisions of collective bargaining agreements are legal or not, protecting teachers we know to be ineffective is unethical and antithetical to what teachers unions say they are about. It’s time for all Americans, but effective teachers particularly, to take a stand against teachers unions’ insistance on protecting ineffective teachers.
Last week the Jefferson County Teachers Association’s (JCTA) voting members approved a new contract with the Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS). Centerpieces of the new agreement include a) no annual raise for JCPS teachers, and b) slight changes to flexibility in hiring for JCPS principals.
According to JCTA president Brent McKim, teachers are willing to forgo the annual raise because they understand the difficult budget situation the district is in. JCPS will, however, provide an additional $5 million to compensate teachers for working ‘extra hours’ and for participating in professional development. Other changes include providing early childhood and elementary school teachers with an additional 10 minutes for their planning periods, and permitting teachers to take a personal day to attend their child’s graduation—rules currently prevent teachers from taking personal days during the last five school days. I applaud the district for providing additional planning time early childhood and elementary teachers. Generally, teachers are not provided with an optimal amount of time for planning. Providing teachers with additional time during the school day for planning and collaboration must be a part of school reforms. Planning time is not a luxury for teachers; rather it is absolutely necessary for high quality instructional planning. Without high quality instructional planning there can be no high quality instruction.
There are changes in the new contract to regulations around
hiring flexibility for principals, but the changes are slight and leave much to be desired for giving principals the flexibility they need to hire the best possible candidates for teaching positions. Under the previous contract, principals were prohibited from hiring a teacher candidate from outside the school district if a JCPS teacher requests a transfer to the school for the opening. The three most senior transfer applicants were given preference for the position. Under
the new contract, the pool of transfer candidates for positions will be expanded to eight. If fewer than four teachers request transfers for the position, principals will be permitted to interview candidates from outside of the district to reach a total of four candidates for the position. The change provides principals slightly more flexibility in hiring, but not much. Even with the new contract, the hiring restrictions on principals in JCPS are unnecessarily burdensome and do nothing to ensure that the best candidates are chosen for teaching positions. The interests of children would be served by
allowing principals the flexibility to hire the best candidate for a teaching position, regardless of whether the candidate comes from inside or outside of JCPS and without regard to how many years of experience a candidate has. Principals factor in teachers’ years of experience when making decisions about the best candidate for filling a vacancy. Giving a teacher preference for a position
simply because he or she has been doing the job longer, not because he or she is a more effective teacher, is ridiculous and it is part of the adult-centered, traditional teachers union ideology that we must break free from in public education. That ideology puts the desires and security of adults before the needs of children.
Although not nearly as big a problem as hiring flexibility for principals, I believe it is time we engage in conversations around the idea of paying teachers to attend and participate in professional development. Asking teachers to attend professional development that takes place ‘after-hours’ is not sufficient justification for needing to pay them to attend. The ‘after-hours’ concept itself is problematic for non-hourly, salaried employees like teachers.
Further, the idea that teachers must be paid to attend professional development which is both required for continued certification and/or equips them with the tools to do their jobs well just doesn’t sit well with me. Regulations pertaining to the maximum number of hours per month that teachers may be asked to stay ‘after-hours’
for professional development and the fiscal reality of having to pay for both trainers and attendees puts unneeded burdens on principals and school budgets. I am a supporter of paying teachers a salary commensurate with their abilities. Effective teachers should be paid well. Highly effective teachers should be paid very well—at a salary that differentiates them from average teachers. But with that
salary the expectation should be that teachers will meet all professional obligations, including attending meetings and participating in professional development after school. These are not foreign concepts. In fact, for teachers in Kentucky
school districts without collective bargaining agreements this is how
professional life works. It is time to revisit these ideas in Jefferson County as well.