THOMPSON: With Friends Like These
Our friends at the Citizens Commission on Civil Rights, after acknowledging organized labor's long history of fighting for justice, offered "a full and fair explication of the words and actions of national unions." The Commission argues that teachers' unions have "posed a barrier to improving educational opportunity for the most disadvantaged students." They claim that test-driven accountablity is the "watchword of school reform." To unions, however, standardized test-driven models "have not been thoroughly developed, researched, and rigorously evaluated." Sounds like a difference of opinion to me.
Why should such a difference of opinon split the civil rights community?
The Commission supports merit pay and unions oppose it. Sounds like a difference of opinion to me. "Reformers" argue "proponents of pay for performance rest much of their case on increasing evidence that student achievement is closely linked to teacher quality ..." Wat? They present no evidence that rewarding test score increases will increase teacher quality. Sounds like sloppy logic to me.
The Civil Rights Commission correctly wrote, "In general teachers who start in high-poverty, high-needs schools, transfer to lower poverty, less needy schools as they gain tenure and seniority."
Rather than address those deplorable conditions that wear down teachers and students alike, the Commission seeks a NATIONAL mandate to interfere with local collective bargaining agreements. (raising the specter of now-exhausted or dissatisfied teachers who volunteered to teach in the toughest schools being denied the right to transfer and thus leaving the profession) In an undocumented statement, the Commission writes, "the comparability measures proposed in Congress have explicitly stated that teachers would not be required to transfer to remedy disparities in comparability. But both unions continue to argue the worst-case scenario of forced teacher transfers."
Was the NEA president unreasonable in warning "forcing a teacher to go someplace just doesn't work, they are not indentured servants ...?" Was the AFT unreasonable in recounting the unintended consequences of the Hobson case when mandated transfers to achieve equity prompted teachers to leave the profession or move to the suburbs? Did the unions have the right to oppose Margaret Spellings' proposal to "transfer teachers in their districts to help improve poorly performing schools, even if union contracts banned such moves?"
The Commission is correct that "teachers and their representatives occupy a unique position. Without their acceptance of policy change, its unlikely to occur." But that is not an argument for challenging our integrity, or claiming that our political efforts - efforts that we proudly proclaim - are a "stealth camapign." What did teachers and our unions do to be attacked as being "unconstrained by considerations of propriety and fairness?" We "sought to insert our amendments," and we "used the courts" to oppose NCLB by "employing arguments." Sounds like democracy to me. - John Thompson