Sunday, April 25, 2010

A good one

Find a debate here about the merit of teacher unions (click on audio/visual tab to access).

Two of the more convincing points were made by Terry Moe, a professor of political science at Stanford University:

On average, it takes two years, $200,000, and 15% of the principal's total time to get one bad teacher out of the classroom. As a result, principals don't even try. They give 99% of teachers -- no joke -- satisfactory evaluations. The bad teachers just stay in the classroom. Well, if we figure that maybe 5% of the teachers, that's a conservative estimate, are bad teachers nationwide, that means that 2.5 million kids are stuck in classrooms with teachers who aren't teaching them anything. This is devastating...

...The seniority rules often require districts to lay off junior people before senior people. It's happening all around the country now. And some of these junior people are some of the best teachers in the district. And some of the senior people that are being saved are the worst. Okay. So just ask yourself, would anyone in his right mind organize schools in this way, if all they cared about was what's best for kids? And the answer is no. But this is the way our schools are actually organized. And it's due largely to the power of the unions.

I would like to add that I do take issue with the way the debate question is framed (Don't blame teacher unions for our failing schools), even if done just for the sake of spurring interest in debate. Blaming one variable for such a dynamic issue is irresponsible and an over simplification. But unions are, as currently organized, and by the issues that they choose to champion, major impediments to reform. It is for this reason that I believe teacher unions need to under go major institutional and ideological changes if they are going to contribute to a better educational system.

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