Sunday, May 11, 2003

Protecting Bureaucracy, Instead of Providing Quality Education
Surprise surprise.. the President of NYC's teacher union has turned against the Mayor and Chancellor's plan for education reform (story). Imagine that- the head of an entrenched bureaucracy standing in the way of a reform plan that will minimize her power. Now there is a shocker!
And while there is enough blame to go around in the cesspool that masquerades as NYC's public school system, it is troubling that the UFT would decide to become an obstacle to, rather than a partner in reform. It was hoped that with governance changes the schools would be rid of the kind of bureaucracy and waste that have plagued the system for at least the past 30 years. But instead of chipping in to support the goal of quality education, the UFT has decided to obstruct, all in the name of preserving its power.
It is behavior like this that caused me to finally leave the field of education policy. There are too many entrenched interests who refuse to place student achievement ahead of their petty economic interests. Teacher unions, by and large, have stood in opposition to most school reform programs. They have preferred to hold onto a status quo that benefits their pocketbooks at the expense of children. And the children who are hurt the most because of union obstructionism are the most needy pupils in the public education system.
Unfortunately, teacher unions are typically the most powerful lobbying groups in state capitols and therefore have been able to hamstring reform efforts. They categorically oppose charter schools, despite their broad public support. They oppose merit pay, instead keeping in place a compensation system that would fit better with a Soviet era factory, thereby discouraging the best and brightest from entering the field. They have opposed allowing school administrators to assign teachers based on need, so that the best teachers are often not placed in the most needy classrooms.
I have seen this happen not only from my position as a policymaker, but also as a classroom teacher, a researcher and a school board member. And while there are some progressive teacher unions, such as those affiliated with TURN, the vast majority are still stuck in the old-economy adversarial mode of collective bargaining and spend more time protecting incompetent teachers than promoting professionalism and student achievement.


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