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Teachers’ Unions Stand In The Way Of School Reform

Memo Pad Politics

Teachers’ Unions Stand In The Way Of School Reform


In much of the country, parents are already buying school supplies for the start of the academic year — a departure from days of yore. Many of us remember a school year that started after Labor Day, with summer a carefree stretch of about three months. This earlier start suggests a radical departure from the old ways.

It isn’t. The school year may start sooner than it used to in many places, but it remains anchored at around 180 days of classroom work, a holdover from an agrarian age when children were needed to help with the crops.

The American system of public education is in dire need of comprehensive change if it is to prepare students for global competition. While the United States was a pioneer in universal public education, we’ve fallen behind. You’ve seen the statistics that show American kids outpaced by those in China and South Korea, among other countries.

But improving our public schools is a very tough business, much harder than it ought to be. Reform efforts meet resistance from nearly every sector, starting with teachers and administrators. It pains me to say this since I hail from a long line of educators, but schoolteachers have become a huge stumbling block to classroom reform.

Don’t get me wrong. I retain enormous respect for the profession of educating the young, and I know there is still a dedicated core of teachers who give their all, day in and day out. I also know that those who work in poorer neighborhoods face daunting challenges as they deal with children whose homes lack books, computers and, sometimes, regular meals.

But the professional organizations that represent educators are dominated by resistant and retrograde voices, so-called leaders whose interests don’t seem to lie in improving the lives of their charges. They have begun to remind me of the United Auto Workers in the 1990s, an ornery and backward-looking group who cannot fathom how much the world has changed. And their worldview is more dangerous than a similar stance from autoworkers because teachers handle a much more precious product. When Detroit faltered, Americans started to buy cars from other countries. But there is no such fix for poorly educated American schoolchildren.

Consider various reactions to proposals for a longer school day, which studies have shown improves performance, especially among poorer kids. In Washington, D.C., where Chancellor Kaya Henderson has made extending the school day a priority, the teachers’ union has fought it vociferously even though teachers would get paid more. What kind of crazy is that? Even the UAW didn’t fight overtime.

If a longer school day has been greeted with resistance, you can imagine the reaction to proposals for greater teacher accountability. For more than a decade, plans to curb teacher tenure — to make it easier to fire incompetent teachers — have been beaten back, met with an angry backlash that damaged the careers of any politicians brave enough to support the idea. Just ask Roy Barnes, the last Democratic governor of Georgia. After he proposed limiting tenure for new teachers — not those already in the classroom — his 2002 re-election campaign was doomed by furious educators, a reliable voting bloc.

The latest shots in that ongoing battle were fired last month by a California court, which struck down that state’s teacher tenure rules as unconstitutional. “Evidence has been elicited in this trial of the specific effect of grossly ineffective teachers on students. The evidence is compelling. Indeed, it shocks the conscience,” the judge wrote, noting that many of those teachers are working in poor neighborhoods.

That sounds right. Affluent and educated parents won’t tolerate incompetent teachers; they pressure school administrators to get rid of them. But those teachers aren’t fired; they are sent to poor neighborhoods, where parents don’t have the social standing or the sophistication to protest. And where students are most vulnerable to the deficits of a less-effective education.

Good teachers deserve our wholehearted support — higher salaries, better working conditions, more respect. But they ought to stop defending their weaker colleagues. Bad teachers need to be forced into another line of work.

(Cynthia Tucker, winner of the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, is a visiting professor at the University of Georgia. She can be reached at cynthia@cynthiatucker.com.)

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Cynthia Tucker Haynes

Cynthia Tucker Haynes, a veteran newspaper journalist and Pulitzer Prize winner, is a Visiting Professor of Journalism and Charlayne Hunter-Gault Distinguished Writer-in-Residence at the University of Georgia. She is also a highly-regarded commentator on TV and radio news shows.

Haynes was editorial page editor of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution newspaper for 17 years, where she led the development of opinion policy. More recently, she was that newspaper’s Washington-based political columnist. She maintains a syndicated column through Universal Press Syndicate, which is published in dozens of newspapers around the country. Besides winning the Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 2007, Haynes has also received numerous other awards, including Journalist of the Year from the National Association of Black Journalists.

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  1. Dominick Vila July 26, 2014

    This article highlights the side of organized labor that contributed to the demise of unions nationwide. In the face of obvious consequences to an education system that is outdated and in desperate need of change, the Teachers Union, continue to resist even the modest deviations from a system that has contributed to American children ranking below those from other industrialized nations in mathematics, science, and linguistic skills. Topics such as world geography and history are just an afterthought, and so is literature and other “liberal” subjects essential for cultural and intellectual growth.
    For many teachers, extending the school year, and adding a couple of hours to the daily schedule, is as offensive as suggesting to a football coach that academics, rather than sports, is the key to a prosperous and satisfying life.
    The status quo is a contributing factor for our relatively high unemployment rate. Many of our unemployed are simply unqualified for the many vacancies that are available in our country. The result is a large influx of professionals from countries like India, China, and Pakistan to fill the void.
    Sadly, nobody seems to mind, and we focus instead on the opportunities that would be available to American workers if the illegals who pick our fruits and veggies were all deported. A very sad acknowledgment for anyone capable of rational thinking.

    In the face of incontrovertible evidence we, the people, must demand change before it is too late. If this trend continues, and our business model remains focused on high tech and hard science, outsourcing will increase, not because our entrepreneurs are evil, or even because of profit considerations, but because of the availability of skilled labor abroad and its absence at home.

    1. quinn732 July 26, 2014

      The top schools in the world are appalled at the “reforms” that are taking place in America. You should read the article I mentioned about Finland’s schools. Our “reforms” are considered a joke there.

    2. JPHALL July 26, 2014

      DVILLA: You like many others equate what you hear about schools in media reports with reality. In American schools too many other things take precedent over education. The big one is satisfying various outsiders – politicians, vendors and community. The other influence is of course sports. Too many schools hold sports as the number one aspect of importance and everything else is forgotten.

      Yes there are poor teachers. Thee are also poor administrators, school supervisors and boards. The big thing today is testing and the money to be gained from privatizing education. The students are the last consideration.

      Every five years or so the educational philosophy and methodology changes and usually it has nothing to do with the kids. The last few years the push was for “No child left behind.” Guess what? It failed! We got rid of those things that had nothing to do with test scores and lost the interest of a large segment of the students.

      For profit schools, like ITT, are producing tech workers by the hundreds. The problem is that we depend on tech innovators and they are not easy to produce while we push making money. That is why other countries still sent their best and brightest here for advance education and exposure to new ways of thinking. Just check the top engineering programs at American Universities.

      1. ralphkr July 26, 2014

        Not all schools worship sports. I remember being impressed by the quality and size of the high school band from a small town. Upon investigating I discovered that playing in the band was first choice, if you could not make the cut for band you tried out for baton or flag corp, if you failed at that a student would settle for football, basketball, baseball but keep trying for a more prestigious position connected with the school band. Yes, that was definitely an exception to the rule,

      2. Dominick Vila July 27, 2014

        The article focuses on the opposition of teacher’s unions to longer school days and longer annual schedules.
        The biggest problems affecting the ability of our children to meet the challenges of the 21st century does not involve bad teachers, or a broken educational system, it involves the consequences of a culture where abundance and unrealistic expectations results in children growing up unsupervised, where parents no longer motivate their children, where children spend more time playing video games or texting than studying, and where many believe the government – and society at large – owes them something.
        The reason children in countries like China, Japan, Germany, France and others industrialized nations are ahead of ours – especially in the field of hard sciences – is because they are still striving to be number one, because the misery their parents endured is still fresh in their minds, because their parents spend time with them supervising them and encouraging to do well in school to succeed, and because the system does not allow them to slack off.

        1. JPHALL July 28, 2014

          Which is what I said. Bad teachers and more hours are just the tip of the iceberg, Read this article and compare with what we in America are pushing. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Education_in_Finland
          Subject: Re: New comment posted on Teachers’ Unions Stand In The Way Of School Reform

  2. bernieo July 26, 2014

    Unions are a scapegoat for a much deeper problem. Teachers’ unions actually supported reforms like charter schools, at least initially. Most of the worst states for education are not unionized. And in many tenure means you get to have a hearing if you are fired. Even in states with strong tenure teachers can be fired when problems and attempts to remedy them are documented. I was involved with a school system in a strong union state that rarely fired weak teachers even though it had a lot of qualified applicants. Two years after a new superintendent was appointed most of the clunkers were fired.

    The main problem is that our society values money and celebrity and sees education as useful only as an end to those things. Teaching is not a respected profession but athletics is. It is possible to change this. Finland went from having a very poor system to one of the world’s best by addressing this very issue and now they have waiting lists of highly qualified candidates.
    Other countries with strong systems also have great respect for teachers, including those who teach the youngest. One sure sign of this is that they have significant numbers of men teaching in early grades. I once asked our. reman exchange student if it was true that they had a lot of men teaching the early grades. He looked puzzled then said ” Not so many. Only about half.”

    We need to have a long conversation about the value of education for more than just job prep. It is crucial for a healthy democracy (assuming it isn’t just about technology and basic literacy) and, equally important, a chance to become fully developed human beings.

  3. SchoolBoardMember July 26, 2014

    The article is about 7 years out of date and has a great deal that is just plain wrong. I agree that unions should have taken the lead years ago in eliminating bad teachers, but now many have joined that project. No teacher wants to spend this year making up for last year’s teacher’s inadequacy. Teachers teach because it is their passion. I follow educational policy, but I know that I could never teach. I do not have the patience or the other personality traits that are a minimum. The meme that are schools are failing is, in a nutshell pure B.S. When I was a kid, we were going to lose to the USSR because they had such great schools. They even invented a term the “Sputnik Moment” when we supposedly realized this. The Sputnik Moment was imaginary. Eisenhower was actually thrilled when Sputnik went up because we had the ability to launch a satellite two years earlier, but Gromyko came by the White House and said the Soviets would view such action as a nuclear provocation. Ike figured that now that they had launched a satellite we could do it too. To prove it was not a nuclear provocation the satellite we launched had Ike saying “Peace on Earth goodwill to men.” Then we were going to be made obsolete by Japan, because they had such great schools. Still worrying about losing to Japan? We have over half the Nobel Prizes in science and medicine and about half of the utility patents. So how can anyone say our schools do not work?

    1. Jambi July 26, 2014

      The “money thing” is plain and simple in Texas…Rick Perry just can’t see investing a lot of $ in public education in a state with a large population of blacks, hispanics, and East Texas hicks…

  4. bdirnbac July 26, 2014

    It’s stunning that a Pulitzer winner writes such a condemnation of Teacher Unions w/o a scintilla of documentation. And she gets to condemn the UAW, again with no references or studies, as if the loss of auto market share is solely the fault workers and not their well-paid bosses. While she’s at it, why not complain about defense attorneys who stand as a roadblock to getting defendants convicted. We’d have more criminals in jail if we could just dispense with costly, cumbersome trials. The 2009 New Yorker’s article, “The Rubber Room,” made a splash when it seemed that huge numbers of incompetent NY teachers were being coddled while on salary by an entrenched union grievance system (http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2009/08/31/the-rubber-room) . But we find there that it was 5 out of 10,000 teachers awaiting judgment, 1/20 of 1%. The arbitration hearings were mocked for taking so long (one case was taking longer than the OJ trial) but the arbitrator was paid $1400/day. Could that help drag out the proceedings? The author faults the unions for preserving a 180 day school year. Of course, she fails to note that extensions of the year or school day are never linked to a pro rata increase in teacher salary. Perhaps the next time she teaches at the Univ. of Georgia, they could add a few extra courses for her to teach and more office hours w/o any extra compensation. Then she could report back about how that experiment worked out.

  5. Jambi July 26, 2014

    O.K. …bad teachers be gone (be ye a Unionized teacher, or a nonunion, no tenure, red-state teacher)…The thing is, that the states with teacher’s unions DO tend to have better SAT scores and more students passing the College Board Exams…

    1. Vazir Mukhtar July 27, 2014

      Correlation is not cause. Without knowing many factors, we cannot say much more than what you state.
      Collecting data on the effectiveness of teachers, any teachers, is fraught in part because deciding on which data are to be collected is an almost intractable issue.
      Given the new core curriculum, assessing the effectiveness of teachers becomes even more difficult; for not all states will adopt that curriculum.
      I suspect, but have no data to support my notion, that the economic status and composition and worldview of pupils’ families play a significant role in the achievement level of pupils, and that union or non-union membership of teachers plays an insignificant role. But these are just one man’s notions and ought to be factors in a study of the effectiveness of US primary and secondary education.
      The homogeneity of Chinese, Finnish, Japanese and Korean school-age populations vs the heterogeneity of those of the US, I believe, skews our data and ideas about the effectiveness of US primary and secondary education. Hence I hope that a study of our educational system will include such a parameter.

    2. Dee July 29, 2014

      Yup and when all is said and done we parents know whats best for our children and we are about the bottom 5 Countries with the worst education on the planet1 We don’t even understand the facts of our own History thanks to the lies we were fed.

  6. michiganwoman July 26, 2014

    Full of crap.. don’t waste your time reading such a distorted position.

  7. Grover Syck July 26, 2014

    The teachers unions are not standing in the way of reform, they are standing in the way of destruction of our educational system.
    If the anti union maniacs get their way, we will soon have a third world educational system.

    1. TZToronto July 27, 2014

      Exactly! Most people don’t even realize that it’s not the local board of education that sets the curriculum. They’ll want to get rid of excellent teachers who may have ideas they don’t agree with. This would be the case especially in small communities where everyone knows everyone else and “certain people” are not like “the rest of us.”

    2. Dee July 29, 2014

      Grover its great to see not all Americans fall for the crap they tell us Bravo Grover!

  8. stcroixcarp July 26, 2014

    Scott Walker busted the teacher’s unions in Wisconsin. Now he is diverting public education money to religious private charter schools. Mark Neumann (a 2012 GOP senate candidate and real estate tycoon) owns a set of for profit charter schools in Milwaukee set up in strip malls he owns. This gets the strip malls off the tax rolls, and he charges the state of Wisconsin $6000 per pupil to be taught by unlicensed teachers. We need teachers unions to protect our kids from scoundrels!

  9. tunaman13212 July 26, 2014

    Wow does this Pulizer winner even have a clue what she is talking about.Beat up on unions that the ansewer NOT.

  10. charleo1 July 26, 2014

    If teachers are defensive, they are so because they are under attack. Under
    attack from Right Wing religious zealots, who covet public tax dollars to spread their dogma to ever larger percentage of America’s youth. Under attack by Right Wing politicians, who care more about chocking off funding to the largest supporters of their Democratic opposition, the unions. Under relentless assault by trickle down economic policies, that are impoverishing the Middle Class, while destroying the tax bases of communities across the Country. As teachers in the public sector are being continuously singled out from their private, for profit competitors, by scores on a draconian SAT test. That serve to arbitrarily put their very careers, and livelihoods on the line, each, and every year. I think we have to ask, why? Why would anyone go to
    the considerable effort, and cost to procure a degree, and the certification in education, only to face such uncertainty, if the vast majority didn’t teach for the simple love they have for the profession? And the opportunity it affords to make a positive difference in the future life of a child, and by that, leave the World a little better place, than when they found it. I know from first hand experience this to be true. As my eldest daughter was a teacher for a time, before moving on to a more stable, and financially rewarding position. She has children of her own to raise, after all. But more important to rest of us, is the children that might have been taught by such a caring, and altruistic person. See, the thing about making the lives of our public school teachers uncertain, is to drive the best and the brightest out. And replace them with $9/10.00 an hour, uncertified private school baby-sitters, with no regulation, of curriculum, or many times, even accreditation. To perhaps teach the Bible, according to, “Reverend Koch.” Or, just watch Fox News all the live long day.

    1. kenndeb July 27, 2014

      Are you kidding or just that ill informed? The liberals have turned our schools into indoctrination centers turning our kids into good little communists willing to turn on their parents to gain approval from the comrades in charge. Common core is the regimes attempt to further this agenda. We have a liberal communist problem in our country. We need to return to our roots.

      1. charleo1 July 27, 2014

        No I’m not kidding. As I said, my daughter was a teacher. A lack of reading retention, is the inability to read what has been written, and respond with cogent understanding of what you just read. And is often a sign of fetal alcohol syndrome, or being dropped on your head at an early age. I’m sorry to tell you, there is no cure. It’s where they get the saying, “You can’t fix stupid.” They can’t fix brain injuries either. But, I do wish you all the best in managing your very challenging situation.

        1. Allan Richardson July 27, 2014

          But kenndeb’s definition of “communist” is “anyone who disagrees with kenndeb.” Obviously that makes anyone with “liberal” ideas (which really means wanting to expand liberty to more people and more areas of personal life) into a “communist.”

  11. quinn732 July 26, 2014

    way off base with this article! I just read a loooong article on Finland schools. The teachers are in charge! No politicians. Hours are shorter, less homework. They let the kids play for a lot longer at school and the teachers use the additional time to plan and collaborate for their students. Standardized testing is considered ridiculous and they only take part voluntarily if the teacher chooses to do so. What they do is support their teachers by allowing them to work with students without interference. They can continue trying new methods to reach students until they find something that works. The American system is a “do as your told” system for the teachers. Follow the standards and prep for the tests. And, it’s getting really old listening to people like the author here drone on and on about what the teachers aren’t doing right. They are doing what they are told by non-educators who make the rules, but don’t know a damn thing about educating kids.

    1. Allan Richardson July 27, 2014

      This is what gets under the skin of “reformers” who do not want people with greater access to factual knowledge and greater ability to understand factual knowledge (the “liberal elite”) to make decisions that “should” be made on the basis of pleasing those who have the money and the ideological power bestowed by churches and other authority figures.

      Teachers in a well run school system have tenure for a reason: so that administrators cannot call them “incompetent” and fire them for offenses like (a) disagreeing with an administrator’s policies, (b) pointing out where an administrator was wrong, (c) opposing a school board member, local legislator, or influential church official, (d) teaching something that some religious leader opposes, even if it is backed up by reality-based science, (e) any or all of these.

      If teaching were actually something that could be quantified as the ONLY reason for success or failure of a student, like the target score of a marksman or the strike out rate of a pitcher, such calls for eliminating tenure would have some basis in justice. But since measures of “competence” depend so much on the opinions of whoever is in charge, tenure protects academics from persecution by authority figures for their personal and professional opinions, and keeps the field of academic discussion open.

  12. ExRadioGuy15 July 26, 2014

    School reformers are, for the most part, Fascist Republicans who believe that teachers teach the “Liberal” agenda and, as we know, an educated populace is a direct threat to a Fascist regime (aka, the GOP here). School reform must go after what few bad teachers there are and leave everyone else alone.

    1. Twitch October 25, 2014

      Fascism is an aspect of Socialism, meaning that it is a Left Wing Ideology. The only reason you claim otherwise is because you take your cues from Stalin instead of Mussolini and Adolf.
      Fascism and Communism both lead to the same place (total government control of every aspect of our lives), they just disagree on how to get there.

  13. quinn732 July 26, 2014

    The article on Finland schools is from Smithsonian.com and titled “Educating Americans for the 21st Century: Why are Finland’s Schools Successful?” The author of the article above should take the time to read it.

  14. awakenaustin July 26, 2014

    Let me start by saying that this has been one of the best enjoyable group of comments I have seen in a long while. Lots of new voices.
    No trolls (so far) and very few and very mild ad hominem comments.
    Reasoned, thoughtful and knowledgeable discussions. Liberals having adult conversations. One of the main reasons I never mind being called one.

  15. Michael Schore July 26, 2014

    Typical anti-union attack. The issue of tenure is such a red herring. Incompetent teachers can be removed from the job. In no other profession that I am aware of are people subject to political whims as teachers are. The very mention of the UAW leads me to this view that the author is merely anti-union not pro-education.

    For someone wanting to dig into problems with our education system they need to look higher. There is a real problem with colleges using adjunct professors to fill the gaps created when they abuse the lower ranking educators in their environment. Talk about abuse!!!

    1. Allan Richardson July 27, 2014

      This is shocking, since I have known Cynthia Tucker’s editorial positions in the past to be quite liberal. I wonder if she was under some pressure to write something the right wing would like? After all, I am not sure whether SHE HERSELF is protected by tenure as a newspaper contributor, even if she is protected as an academic.

  16. OakenTruncheon July 26, 2014

    The goal of unions is not to protect bad workers, of any kind, but to insure that employers must prove that a worker actually is bad, before taking action against them. Bad managers often find this difficult, especially if it isn’t actually true. Unions are unrivaled at pinpointing these kinds of incompetent, and/or corrupt, managers, in all kinds of organizations. Such managers, and their cronies, (they always seem to have cronies, don’t they?), tend to take umbrage at this, and seek ways to circumvent union representation, often hiring public relations, and professional union busting firms. When other stakeholders allow these types of managers to gain the upper hand in too many organizations, they quickly learn to coordinate their activities, and their arises the conditions of a kleptocracy. Conditions which we have all, more or less, become far too familiar in recent decades. Under these conditions, real, suspected, and potential whistle-blowers are increasingly singled-out. And those honest folks who stubbornly refuse to go along, to get along, are quickly characterized as obstructionists. In these circumstances, the job of a union, especially in the public sector is to hold the line of professional standards, ethics, and integrity against the effects of rampant cronyism, incompetence, and corruption. When the conditions of kleptocracy are widespread, and deeply embedded, as they are today, the unions are often the only effective line of defense that remains.

  17. paul beard needs a gig. July 26, 2014

    I remember Cynthia Tucker from my days in Atlanta, as she was one of the brighter lights at that paper.

    So I was a little disappointed to see this piece this morning on school day length cast as simple opposition by the teachers union. I looked up a story on it and found this:

    The Washington Teachers’ Union urged members to push back against a longer day, saying that the union contract calls for the issue to be taken up at the collective-bargaining table and not negotiated school by school.

    So the union isn’t opposed, per se, to the length of the school day, but to the creation of divisions within the union. This would create inequities within the union as some teachers would be paid more based on the building they work in, not the work they do. As soon as you introduce inequitable pay/workloads, those comparisons will be more stark with the different standards. And she didn’t mention that teachers are already working a 7.5 hour day, not the 6 hours of popular imagination.

    It’s not 9-3 unless you think the classrooms clean themselves, that materials are made and distributed by fairies, that curriculum planning is easy, and that managing kids, their learning styles and needs, is trivial. Add to this the bureaucratic overhead and the constant attacks by people who haven’t been inside a school since their own unsuccessful school days and it’s a wonder anyone bothers with it as a profession. —http://whatilearnedinschool.tumblr.com/post/1598069724/if-teachers-unions-are-so-powerful-and-influential

    And in the same piece she argues that “bad teachers” need to be flushed out of the profession. We have no way to measure teacher performance, only student achievement. This can vary, as we can remember from our own school days. Is that a reasonable method of assessing teacher performance? Depending on the student , teachers can be expected to serve as surrogate parents, social workers, academic advisers, as well as the job they were hired for. And how do they account for the time spent on these other tasks?

    I note comparison of teachers to UAW workers, as if simplified assembly routines are comparable to the work of educating children in a city like DC. If it wasn’t such a tired trope, it would be offensive.

    If a classroom or school were to be run like a manufacturing plant, this assumes that the raw materials coming in are of a consistent quality or that there is a refinement process that gets them to that standard. I think anyone who has ever been to school knows that students do not enter school as identical lumps of clay to be stamped or molded into shape. So what’s the solution in this manufacturing-patterned model? I haven’t heard anyone in the education reform industry discuss assessments for all incoming students or remediation for students who are not quite ready. I hear a lot about the standards teachers will be held to but nothing about the responsibility for student preparedness.

    That responsibility lies at home. Students in the elementary grades are in school for six hours each of the 180 days in a school year. Of that, when you subtract lunch, enrichment like art, music, health and fitness/PE, and recess (anyone who says you don’t get recess in the working world needs to explain how coffee shops in business districts stay in business), it’s about 5 hours of instructional time. Where are the kids for the balance of the 24 hours? Same place they were for the first five years: in their family’s care. —https://www.paulbeard.org/wordpress/2013/10/24/the-best-education-reform-money-can-buy-until-next-time/

    I think she is better than this. Maybe she has come to believe that schools and other public services are best run on competitive lines. But to really do that, we will have a segmented education system, more overt than we currently have. Charter schools already practice this, by cherry picking the students they accept and winnowing out the low achievers, dumping them into the public schools, maintaining a higher perceived level of performance at the expense of the commonwealth.

    If you start off poor, you can count on staying there: there will be no social mobility as a result of exposure to a consistent universal education system. Do we really want to enshrine unearned privilege at the expense of a more equitable educational system? Think back to your own school days. Then spend some time in a classroom as an observer, not as a columnist or pundit, just as a citizen.

    It’s easy to think the problem is a poor work ethic or union malfeasance but as with your UAW reference, by the time the parts are made, the poor quality is baked in. No UAW line worker can fix the shoddy fit of parts he didn’t design or make. And no teacher can prepare someone else’s child to learn. The crumminess of union-made domestic cars in the 70s came out of the executive suites and design workshops. If you’re serious about addressing the perceived quality of public education, you need to focus on the inequities in society, specifically the first 5 years.

  18. Rick Vance July 27, 2014

    Well, on the plus side, at least she didn’t try to push that steaming heap of crap known as ‘Common Core’.

  19. northwind1 July 27, 2014

    I hope Professor Tucker enjoyed the kool aid. We have witnessed in the last few decades a relentless attack on public education. Make no mistake, the “reformers” are not interested in preserving public education but in destroying it in order to allow untrammeled access to the privatized system they so much prefer. Of course teacher unions advocate for their members and that sometimes means taking positions which are easy to construe as being against the interests of “their charges”. But students in the public education system are not threatened by fairness and due process between teachers and their employers nearly as much as they are threatened by the sanctimony of ivory tower academics who, in spite of their insipid protestations of “enormous respect for the profession of educating the young” fail to appreciate how they are tools for the further concentration of power in the hands of of corporate plutocrats. Anyone who has actually worked in a unionized environment knows that the employer still retains a tremendous amount of discretion to manage. They may be required to manage more competently when they face union representation but there is nothing to prevent managers from sanctioning incompetence or organizing the workplace to meet their goals. But what Professor Tucker seems not to get is that the goal of “reform” of the sort promoted by Michelle Rhee and many others is not to “reform” public education but to replace it as has been virtually accomplished in constituencies such as New Orleans with a little help from Hurricane Katrina. When the last public school has been closed and teachers have been reduced to mere instruments of corporate and theocratic indoctrination Professor Tucker’s weak protestations of respect for the teaching profession but not their professional organizations will ring pretty hollow.

  20. JayCee July 29, 2014

    It’s deeply disturbing to see an esteemed and award-winning journalist like Cynthia Turner write such an uninformed, misguided piece on education — and one which is so sadly lacking in any real evidence to support her supposed point of view. All of the comments above regarding the Finnish school system are truly on-target. Any journalist worthy of the title who is serious about school reform (and so they should be if they are publishing about it) should research this. Finland has completely turned its schools around in a twenty-year period — a very short time to go from the bottom to the top. How was it done? By making teaching the most highly sought-after, difficult-to-attain, and status-worthy vocation in the country. Finland requires its teachers to have SIX YEARS of training. By contrast, Teach For America trains its participants in pedagogy for six weeks. Who would you rather have perform your surgery, someone who was trained six weeks or six years? Who would you rather have educating your children, the six week or the six year trainee?

    Finland also made this radical change by compensating teachers really, really well — not by taking away the few compensations that they were being given (which is what the union-breakers are out to do).

    I must also mention that I am so sad to see the demise of real and solid journalism in this publication. For an online venue that bills itself as having “breaking news, smart politics” they’re certainly doing a lot of odd reporting on themes that seem more suited to tabloid journalism — topics like artificial sweeteners and reducing debt — and this publication deemed such issues worthy of sending me a special email to make sure I wouldn’t miss these breaking stories. It reminds me, somewhat eerily, of what the Huffington Post has turned into. I really used to look forward to reading HuffPost, until it became basically a tabloid. I now feel exactly the same way about National Memo.

  21. Scoop Jaxson July 31, 2014

    Always keep in mind, folks – Hussein Obama’s primary war is against the Constitution of these united states.

  22. David Tracy Jr. September 12, 2014

    “Affluent and educated parents won’t tolerate incompetent teachers; they pressure school administrators to get rid of them. But those teachers aren’t fired; they are sent to poor neighborhoods, where parents don’t have the social standing or the sophistication to protest. And where students are most vulnerable to the deficits of a less-effective education.” There is no data to support the notion that school districts move bad teachers to poorer areas.

  23. David Tracy Jr. September 12, 2014

    This Professor never worked in the classroom and work a real job in education like school teachers. She needs to leave her ivory tower and walk in the shoes of real teachers and see what tune she sings.

  24. cmesic September 22, 2014

    The fact that we have fallen behind globally has nothing to do with summer vacation. Powers that be want to get rid of summer vacation so they can indoctrinated our children year round. Regardless of why we have a three month summer vacation people generally take vacations while the weather is good and so the three month break has another purpose now a time for family.we have falling behind globally because the Liberal Democratic Party and the teachers union wants to bring their first lived in to our children’s lives and rather than teaching them skills they need in order to function properly in society they decided to teach things like masturbation and how to use a strap on dildo.this is disgusting and perverse and write up the Democrats Ali and then blame everything else on anybody but he’s really causing it.

  25. Don'tspyonme February 10, 2015

    Good analogy with the UAW the fact is there are other choices out there which are being taken on line learning with traditional curriculum University high school programs and non traditional learning code academy, and Khan academy. I can have my child tutored by a PhD via Skype for $10.00 hour the monopoly is over the paradigm shift is happening. Now the political fall out the corporate educational taxation complex deserves a nice slow strangulation maybe all the school social workers and guidance counselors can medicate the teachers and each other while the system collapses because of corruption greed and just poor intentions.


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