There were some great segments on Melissa Harris-Perry's MSNBC show yesterday (check out the entire video at Crooks and Liars). In particular, NYC teacher Megan Behrent and Philadelphia City Paper's Daniel Denvir were both excellent.
But I'd like to hone in on two particular exchanges:
OK, stop right there, and let's get a few things straight:
No one - and I mean, NO ONE - thinks the very worst teachers should stay in schools. The unions don't believe that, and they've said so again and again. They proposed ways to streamline tenure hearings so we can cap the time and the costs. The fact is that defending bad teachers is expensive for unions; they'd be better off if they could cap the costs of removing these teachers, rather than drawing out the process.
Further: we have a lot of anecdotal evidence that bad teachers are regularly counseled out before they even get close to a tenure hearing. The high attrition rate for starting teachers - the ones without tenure - also suggests that many bad teachers leave the profession without having to go through a hearing.
But here's the most important thing for me: where is the evidence that hoards of bad teachers are running amuck in our schools? Even when reformyists pull numbers out of their butts, they still admit that the vast majority of teachers are doing well. So why is so much of the focus on removing due process for teachers? Why are they so worried about the allegedly poor quality of the teaching corps when they themselves acknowledge most teachers do a good job?
Why is there such a focus on firing allegedly bad teachers when no one has demonstrated that this is a serious problem?
Second exchange, this time featuring the very reformy Jon Alter:
A "grand bargain: a lot more pay in exchange for a lot more accountability."
Again: where's the evidence that there is no accountability? Where's the evidence of all these horrible teachers ruining kids' lives? Of course there are bad teachers, just like there are bad surgeons, bad cops, bad hedge fund managers, and bad TV pundits. Of course they should be forced to work to improve or be let go. But where is the proof that this is such a serious problem?
What really gets me about Alter's comments, however, is this notion of a "grand bargain." Where is this bargain, Mr. Alter? Because I sure haven't seen it.
What I see is a bunch of plutocrats and their paid for politicians and lobbyists running around trying to destroy due process for teachers. Every once in a while, they make a little noise about maybe paying teachers more, but they never follow through.
I don't know why any teacher would ever believe in a "grand bargain." We already had a deal: we would teach, and make considerably less pay then the private sector, in exchange for modest pensions, relatively cheap health care, and due process in personnel matters, earned after we proved ourselves.
Well, our pensions have been devalued, our health care costs are skyrocketing, and we're losing all of our workplace protections. The reformyists are reneging on the "bargain" we made when we started teaching; a bargain that was still in effect until just a few years ago. Now you want to change the rules, and have us just trust that these very same people will come through on their end?
Teachers value tenure; by some accounts, it's worth up to half of our current salaries. When the reformyists come up with a serious plan to increase teacher pay across the board by that amount, we can have a discussion about gutting tenure. Seems to me that it would be a very bad deal for taxpayers, and it would do little to improve teacher quality anyway, but at least it would be fair.
But if you're not willing to replace tenure with something of equal worth, forget it. Promises of a "grand bargain" won't cut it; its time to put up or shut up.