Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Put kids first, not teachers

It is exceptionally rare that I agree with former Republican Speaker of the House Newt Gringrich, but this Sunday was one of those occasions when he, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Rev. Al Sharpton were on Meet the Press.

They discussed improving education in the country by creating more accountability among school administrations, getting parents and communities more involved, ensuring that schools have the resources they need, and raising expectations both in the home and in the schools. It may not be a glamorous subject, but it is an imperative one.

Mr. Gingrinch stated that "education is the number one factor in our future prosperity" as well as the "number one factor in national security". He even went so far as to agree with Al Sharpton that education is "the number one civil right of the 21st century". He is absolutely right on these points. Unfortunately, for decades education has been largely ignored both financially and administratively. It's been a long time coming but it appears that the Obama administration is taking education much more seriously than other Administrations have in recent memory.
They've got their work cut out for them, too. Not only are the statistics dismal: the graduation rate national average is 69.2%, with wide disparities around the country including 47.3% in Nevada and 82.1% in New Jersey, and disparities among racial minorities including 55 and 51.2 for Hispanics and Blacks respectively, whereas it's 76.1% for Whites; but there are also influential forces at work that are lobbying on behalf of special interest groups that have long resisted needed changes.

For instance, teachers unions have been very influential in shaping education policy in this country and this has in some respects undermined the quality of education. The teacher's unions have in the past stood in the way of offering incentive pay to teachers who have shown themselves to be effective, while simultaneously fighting to keep teachers and school leadership from being held disciplined or fired for poor performing students and student bodies.

Democrats are usually beholden to these unions but during Barack Obama's campaign he seemed to show a willingness to not let these unions keep the government from pushing bold policy changes and initiatives that would institute much needed changes. This is one of the reasons I voted for him.

I look for some of these groups to ratchet up the rhetoric as the Administration, hopefully, starts to deliver on their promises. One example of those who are attempting to stand in the way of progress was Randi Weingarten, the head of the American Federation of Teachers who was featured on the Meet the Press program.She claimed that the reason "the union keeps fighting against demonization and scapegoating of teachers who are really trying to do their upmost to help kids is because we know we have to create a culture of shared responsibility".

Such a statement illustrates a rather convoluted logic when one considers that we cannot possibly create a culture of shared responsibility if there is no framework in which to hold schools and teachers accountable. State and federal governments have tried to achieve more accountability but these unions have done everything in their power to block them. And they do this, of course, because they're trying to protect the jobs of their membership. They're putting the teachers above the students.

Ms. Weingarten attempted to address this creation of shared accountability by stating, "if there are people that are not making the grade, let's figure out ways, which we've tried to do now with peer review and other kinds of programs to counsel them out and to remove them from the profession, but in a humane way."

Newt Gingrich said he was going to get to the heart of the matter, and I believe he did when he stated, "Randi Weingarten talked about humane. There's nothing humane about a school that destroys children. There's nothing humane about a school that has kids going to prison instead of college. And there's nothing humane about protecting somebody who can't teach so that they have a job for next year; but by the way, every child that sits in that room is going to have a terrible future."

I couldn't agree more. Stop protecting bad teachers. Stop allowing bad school administrations to continue. Give good teachers compensation for their talent and their accomplishments, get assistence for those who can achieve results, and fire those who can't. I hope the Obama administration is serious about doing just this, among other things.

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