Congressional Democrats angered centrist school reformers, MoveOn.org-style progressives, and other party activists in Augustwhen they voted to ladle $10 billion in federal subsidies (funded from future cuts to the Food Stamp program) to school districts in order to stave off layoffs of 160,000 teachers (or just 2.6 percent of the nation's 6.2 million school employees).Liberals were angry that the money was coming out of food stamps, and not out of 10,000 other things liberals want money cut from. But if you really think liberals wanted to cut teacher jobs, you must have a screw loose.
In turn, the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers poured more than $40 million of their hefty campaign war chests (including more than $15 million by the NEA in the last weeks of the election season alone) to help the Democrats keep full control of Congress.Perspective is a good thing, so let's add some: this last election cost about $4 billion. The teachers unions spent 1% of that.
The fact that NEA and AFT efforts yielded little fruit is one more sign to Democrats that their alliance with the unions -- already frayed over President Barack Obama's school reform initiatives -- is no longer of much value."Frayed"? You must be joking. Race To the Top is a worse affront to teachers than No Child Left Behind ever was. I'm going to go out on a limb here, as I am not a political pundit (thank God), but there's been plenty of conventional wisdom that the Dems took a beating because their base is demoralized. Obama's treatment of teachers is just another example.
The fact that centrist and progressive Democrats think that improving the quality of teachers is as critical a civil rights issue as integration was during the 1960s also means a long-term break is coming. The NEA and the AFT are the most obstinate opponents of teacher quality reform efforts such developing alternative teacher training programs -- especially Teach For America, a vanguard of the school reform movement -- and using student performance data to evaluate teacher performance. Last month, the Economic Policy Institute -- a think-tank cofounded by Community Reinvestment Act author Robert Kuttner that has benefited from more than $1.3 million in NEA largesse -- issued a petition against stronger teacher performance management.No one in the unions is against raising teacher quality; in fact, the unions have been at the forefront by advocating for better teacher pay, something one would think the free marketers at the Spectator would embrace.
And everyone would be happy to embrace TFA if it actually worked.
But it's the statement about "using student performance data to evaluate teach performance" that really frosts me. Did Biddle even bother to read the EPI page he linked to?
The heavy use of VAM in a teacher evaluation system will misidentify large numbers of both effective and ineffective teachers. Leading authorities (such as the Board on Testing and Assessment of the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Education, and researchers from RAND and the Educational Testing Service and a recent Economic Policy Institute paper by a group of prominent scholars, Problems With the Use of Student Test Scores to Evaluate Teachers) concur that VAM is too inaccurate to be used as the primary way to evaluate teachers. Most uses of test scores in teacher evaluation, in practice, actually fall far short of the flawed VAM measures because of a lack of appropriate data and the adoption of weaker statistical methods.Why is it an anti-reform position to reject a method of teacher evaluation that every study shows will not work?
At the state level -- where the NEA and AFT have traditionally wielded even more clout -- the damage couldn't come at a worse time. President Obama's Race to the Top initiative (along with the accountability measures contained within the No Child Left Behind Act) has given school reform-minded governors of both parties cover to expand charter schools (the nation's most-successful form of school choice), and allow the use of student test score data in evaluating teacher performance.That's one hell of a claim. Where's the data to back it up? Because there is a lot that suggests the opposite is true.
Or maybe this is a clever turn of a phrase: if school choice doesn't yield meaningful results, it's pretty easy for charters to be the most successful way of not yielding those results.
Meanwhile the NEA and AFT face a longer-term threat to their influence -- the $1 trillion in lavish public pensions and retired teacher healthcare benefits that are now pressuring state budgets. New Jersey, Vermont and even New York State took small steps to force rank-and-file teachers to contribute more to their retiree benefits and retire at ages more in line with what is acceptable in the private sector. More steps will come by 2018, when states have to figure out ways to finance increasingly underfunded pensions for teachers and other state workers.Well, having government actually pay their share, just as teachers have been doing all along, would be a good start. Taxing the richest citizens, who control more of this nation's wealth than any time since the Great Depression, would help as well.
Considering that the traditional system of near-lifetime employment, degree- and salary-based pay scales and seniority privileges have done little to improve the nation's woeful public schools or attract talented people into teaching, the NEA and AFT will have difficulty defending the status quo.Our public schools are not woeful; far from it. But if you really think they are, and you think the problem is that the teacher corps isn't talented enough, I'd like to know how you think decreasing teacher pay and benefits, opening up more schools to corporate control through charters, discouraging teachers from getting advanced degrees, gutting teacher pensions, and using statistically flawed evaluation methods is actually going to help recruit a better group of teachers.
Actually, I'd suggest that the American Spectator run an experiment. The quality of your bloggers is obviously very poor; start paying them less. I'm sure Mr. Biddle would be happy to volunteer to help in this important research.