Friday, July 10, 2009

Report on teachers' unions: Implacable foes of reform

A civil rights watchdog organization, the Citizens' Commission on Civil Rights (CCCR), has issued a report identifying national teachers' unions as a major obstacle to equality of educational opportunity in America. It's a strong indictment.

The 36-page report, National Teachers’ Unions and the Struggle Over School Reform (PDF), "seeks to set forth a full and fair explication of the words and actions of national unions over the last several years," with respect to educational reforms at the federal level. The report identifies three reforms that have been the primary targets of national teacher unions: accountability and assessment systems, teacher assessment and merit pay, and "equalization in the distribution of qualified teachers."

Over the last decade, the national leaders of the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers have made their unions implacable foes of laws and policies designed to improve public education for disadvantaged children.

The unions have battled against the principle that schools and education agencies should be held accountable for the academic progress of their students. They have sought to water down the standards adopted by states to reflect what students should know and be able to do. They have attacked assessments designed to measure the progress of schools, seeking to localize decisions about test content so that the performance of students in one school or community cannot be compared with others. They have resisted innovative ways--such as growth models--to assess student performance.

In their attack on education reform, the national unions have often been unconstrained by considerations of propriety and fairness. They have sought to inject weakening amendments in appropriations bills, hoping that they would prevail if no hearings were held and the public was unaware of their efforts. They have used the courts to launch an attack on education reform, employing arguments that could imperil many federal assistance programs going back to the New Deal. They have failed to inform their own members of the content of federal reform laws.

Worse yet, the NEA has on more than one occasion counseled disobedience to the law.

The report cites many examples of the unions' putting union interests above the education of disadvantaged children, including student loan forgiveness to encourage new teachers to go where they are most needed:

...[T]he national teachers unions opposed [forgiveness for teachers in high-poverty areas]. They wanted loan forgiveness for all teachers or nothing. When subsequent proposals were made to target such assistance on teachers in high-need subjects and specialties, the unions again opposed such targeting as unfair, even though these amendments were intended to address severe shortages in subjects like math and science and specialties like special education or English as a second language.

The introduction notes that unions' opposition to reform has led to "calcified systems in which talented people are deterred from applying or staying as teachers because they believe their skills will not be recognized or rewarded."

The CCCR can't be dismissed as "conservative and right-wing bastards picking on the NEA," to borrow a phrase from National Education Association general counsel Bob Chanin. A look at the CCCR's list of commissioners reveals a long list of Democratic elected and appointed officials, including two former Democratic senators (Birch Bayh and Bill Bradley), the Democratic delegate to the U. S. House from the District of Columbia (Eleanor Holmes Norton), and members of the U. S. Commission on Civil Rights (USCCR) and Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC) appointed by Democratic presidents. Their Republican colleagues were Nixon-Ford era appointees.

Unfortunately, the CCCR report is focused on federal education programs like "No Child Left Behind." CCCR has a blind spot when it comes to the obvious way to make quality education accessible to the neediest children: school choice that allows them to opt out of union-calcified public school districts.


Brandon Dutcher said...

Excellent post. "The public perception battle is over," Mike Antonucci writes, "and the teachers' unions have lost. But will it have any effect on Congress and state legislatures?"

Unknown said...

Oh terrific! A fair reform may allow for a parents and students union! Super accountability!