Sunday, July 23, 2006

Unions serve the Teachers, fail the students

We have all known for years that teacher's unions represent teachers and not students. No Child Left Behind has forced accountability, which many union reps do not like. NCLB expires next year and the NEA is already doing everything they can to destroy this legislation.

The question is- Will we let the NEA destroy NCLB and eliminate accountibility to our students?

Rueben Navarrette from the San Diego Union Trib, has a great opinion piece out today about this very subject.

Check it out.

After five years of trying to undermine the No Child Left Behind Act, the nation's largest teachers union has decided that it can live with the education reform law after all – as long as the legislation is gutted, its standards lowered and its accountability measures watered down.

Great. So we're making progress.

This month at its annual conference, the National Education Association voted to launch a nationwide campaign to lobby Congress to radically change NCLB when the law comes up for reauthorization next year. The goal behind the changes seems to be to wrest power away from government and put it back where the union thinks it belongs – with educators and those who represent them.

Call me cynical, but I never thought for a minute that the NEA was really concerned about, well, education. I never believed the organization was eager to find new ways to empower students or to hold schools accountable for the educational products they turn out.

I always assumed that the NEA was focused primarily on what any union tends to focus on: the interests of its members. And since the education establishment has been trained to believe that it is not in the interests of teachers to demand more from them or tie them to the performance of their students, I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that groups such as the NEA have reacted with hostility to No Child Left Behind.

That's exactly what's been happening since 2001, when the law – perhaps the most significant domestic policy achievements of the Bush administration – took effect.

According to a recent report by Education Sector, a Washington-based think tank, the NEA has given more than $8 million to various education, civil rights and public policy groups that opposed or criticized No Child Left Behind. Lead researcher Joe Williams says that what the union did wasn't illegal, but it is clear that it “actively pursued partnerships” with groups intent on fighting NCLB. And questions remain about whether the funding that was given to some of these groups influenced the research some of these groups produced – research that was, to no one's surprise, critical of the education reform law.

Not that the law doesn't have its critics. When I hear from teachers, or even school board members – some of whom have accepted campaign contributions from the NEA and other teachers unions – I get an earful about how NCLB is single-handedly destroying the public education system due to its emphasis on testing, its punishing of under-performing schools and its one-size-fits-all approach.

And yet, knowing all that, it's still frightening to get a peek behind the curtain at the specifics of what the NEA, if it had its druthers, would do to make NCLB more palatable to its members – or at least, some of them, as the more hard-line members won't be satisfied unless the law is repealed.

Convinced there is too much emphasis on regular testing, and that low-performing schools are being unfairly punished when students come up short, the union would prefer a broader-based accountability system that relies on “multiple measures of success.” Whatever that means.

The union is also queasy about the requirement in No Child Left Behind that schools test students in math and reading and then report scores according to race, disability, English proficiency and economic background. The NEA instead wants benchmarks that take into account students' differing abilities and demographics. It seems that many educators are less than confident in the job they've done when it comes to teaching minorities, those with limited English proficiency and the economically disadvantaged, and they're not eager to broadcast their failures.

It's outrageous. If these people get their way, the practical effect would be a lower bar for students of certain racial, ethnic or economic backgrounds – and by extension, those who teach them. And they would do all this not for the good of students but for the professional welfare of those who are supposed to be teaching them and who have, for too long, been coming up short.

And why does the nation's largest teachers union want to make all these changes in No Child Left Behind? It's so the truth does not come out about whom the public schools serve and whom they sacrifice.

1 comment:

jeff said...

I actually went to the NEA website and reviewed their recommended 'fixes' to NCLB. You are right--most of them are bad. The one I did like is making the improvement of individual members of the tested cohorts part of the calculation of whether a school or district is improving towards and/or achieving the law's requirements.

For good or bad, and unions do have a history of creating good, the purpose of a union is to look first and foremost for its members. This is the same for factory unions or service employee unions or public service sector unions.