Race to the Top updates/Joe Klein on the New York Union
In a letter to various education organizations, Suzanne Immerman of the U.S. Department of Education wrote of the need for education reform and shared the following statistics:
“Right now, 25 percent of our students fail to graduate high school, and as many as 60 percent of college freshmen need remedial education. Millions of jobs are unfilled for lack of qualified applicants.”
Joe Klein writes in Time (“Why We’re Failing Our Schools”) about how The New York legislature failed to lift a cap on charter schools in the state and therefore completely eliminated New York’s chances of winning the $700 million in potential Race to the Top funding. He looks at the history of the teachers’ union in New York:
“…The New York teachers’ union was launched in 1960 and led in the early years by the smartest and toughest union man I’ve ever met, Albert Shanker. The teachers are among the most powerful interest groups in New York State (and nationally, in the Democratic Party). The UFT’s slogan is ‘A Union of Professionals,’ but it is quite the opposite: an old-fashioned industrial union that has won for its members a set of work rules more appropriate to factory hands. There are strict seniority rules about pay, school assignment, length of the school day and year. In New York, it is near impossible to fire a teacher — even one accused of a crime, drug addiction or flagrant misbehavior. The miscreants are stashed in ‘rubber rooms’ at full pay, for years, while the union pleads their cases. In New York, school authorities are forbidden, by state law, to evaluate teachers by using student test results.
“Toward the end of his life, Shanker began to realize the union was headed down the wrong path. In a 1993 speech, he talked about the need for more accountability: ‘I wouldn’t be saying these things … if I didn’t have the sense that we are at the same point that the auto industry was at a few years ago. They could see they were losing market share every year and still not believe that it really had anything to do with the quality of the product … I think that we will get — and deserve — the end of public education through some sort of privatization scheme if we don’t behave differently.’
“…There are national implications to this fight. As Shanker pointed out, American schools have been slipping for decades — our students are now 32nd internationally in math scores, 10th in science, 12th in reading. It will be impossible to rebuild our economy — to create the sophisticated, high-paying jobs we need — as long as we have an archaic, industrial-age school system. It’s also hard to keep a strong democracy with a citizenry that is increasingly uneducated and ill informed. No, teachers’ unions are not the only problem here. Troglodytic local school boards and apathetic parents are just as bad. But the unions, and their minions in the Democratic Party, have been a reactionary force in education reform for too long. Barack Obama began to change that last year with Race to the Top. It’s a fight he needs to expand, and win.”
[By Joe Klein Thursday, Jan. 28, 2010
More on Race to the Top…
As most states vied for the competitive federal Race to the Top funds, other states played politics and, in doing so, turned down a potential $700 million for K-12 education.
Texas, for example, adopted a Lone Star attitude toward Race to the Top. Governor Rick Perry (R) said, “We would be foolish and irresponsible to place our children’s future in the hands of unelected bureaucrats and special-interest groups thousands of miles away in Washington.”