Eye-Catching Politics

A lot of chattering/emails this morning about the Newsweek article on education politics.    When Senator Biden said that a President Obama would be tested early in his term, was he referring to Michelle Rhee?  Perhaps! 

In any event, this set-up line seemed off-key to me (and I didn’t talk to the reporter so I’m not just re-litigating here):

The education community is badly split on the issue of how to hold teachers accountable. The establishment sees tenure as a shibboleth, teachers’ only guard against politics and arbitrary firings. The reformers regard it as the chief obstacle to change, since it is next to impossible to remove ineffective teachers in almost all public systems. Obama has given mixed signals on accountability, and in his way, he has convinced each side that he agrees with them.

The education community is badly split on whether to hold teachers accountable as well as split and confused about accountability more generally.  It’s why we’ve had more accountability talk than real accountability over the past two decades.  And, given what we know about the importance of teachers to student learning it is crazy to ignore that in public policy as we basically do today.   That said, the question of how to hold teachers accountable in a rigorous and fair manner is a challenging one and every objection the teachers’ union raise is not just reflexive opposition or without merit.

So, while tenure may be a shibboleth I don’t see abolishing it as the primary goal of “reformers” or as a sufficient step toward dramatically improving our schools and don’t think a lot of serious reformers do either.  It’s a problem, sure.  But even if “tenure” were eliminated tomorrow we’d still have irrational school finance systems that are unfair to poor kids, huge human capital problems, lousy incentives for performance and innovation, and all the other problems that together create the problems we see today.   And, directly related to tenure, we’d still have an HR culture at odds with performance (even in places without “tenure” you don’t see low-performers systematically dealt with).   Like vouchers, tenure has become one of those fights that has taken on an emphasis disproportionate to its impact as a reform and become a touchstone for the media.

The other thing that caught my eye this morning was Terry Moe’s WSJ op-ed cum cri de coeur about President-Elect Obama and education reform.   Moe notes that the promise of Obama as a leader is “why I’ve supported him since the beginning of his campaign.”   But that raises the question of whether Rudy Giuliani knew this and when did he know it?

5 Responses to “Eye-Catching Politics”

  1. Reason Says:

    Doing away with government tenure and unions only chops off a couple heads of the many-headed beast. If the managerial mechanism, government bureaucracy, is not also done away with, then no real accountability will ensue. Any endeavor that does not have to contend with the market will produce less quality for more cost.

    Obviously, none of the beltway types -the thousands of educrats and so called reformers, the parasites who get their pay from the government, the vile creatures who are in love with power, the pointy-headed freaks immersed in self-righteous scientism- will in any way challenge the assumption of government schooling.

    The Hydra of education hegemony is a political beast that feeds on politics. Only the anti-politics of the market can defeat it- but that is exactly what the beltway “reformers” and politicians do not want. Why would they work against their own narrow selfish interests?

  2. Jim Kohlmoos Says:

    Andy,
    I really really agree with your statement “Like vouchers, tenure has become one of those fights that has taken on an emphasis disproportionate to its impact as a reform and become a touchstone for the media…” It is time for all “reformers” (who is not a reformer, anyway) to focus on delivering solutions that will make a true difference over time.

  3. Taylor Says:

    I believe this is one topic that is tearing our schools apart and putting teacher against teacher and widening the gap between administrators and teachers. It is politics like this that are tearing apart our school districts and taking the focus off of the students. After all, isn’t this who and what we are there for? We do need to reach some kind of agreement about tenure. As for now I do not know what the right or wrong choice is, but I do know I have 26 students who expect me to do my best each day. :)

  4. Lori Says:

    I do not believe that a teacher’s tenure has much to do with a student’s achievement. I am a tenured teacher. This is my 11th year of teaching. If I am not doing my job, I would be fired. Yes they would have to prove I was not doing my job but that is only fair.

    Not all good teachers are in high achieving schools. My school struggles making AYP because we are in a low economic area with a large turn over of children. The teachers in my school work hard. It is not right to say that a teacher’s pay will be based on a test that is given once a year. I agree that teachers who do not earn the raise should not get one. I don’t think a national test is a valid way to measure a teacher’s worth or for that matter a child’s ability.

  5. Carla A. Says:

    How can society only want to hold the teacher accountable? How about we hold the students, parents and society accountable? I do not believe that all teacher s with tenure are ‘vouchers’. Like any other profession if you worked for ten years you do fell as though you have certain rights and some sense of being an expert when compared to the new employee without any experience. This is my third year teaching and I have taught with some of the best long standing career teachers in the field. Why don’t we stop hitting every educator with the same wipe that only a few should feel? January will make me three years teaching and I love it. I do not like the fact that society feels as though the teacher should be held completely accountable for student achievement. As an educator what are you to do when parents will not assist and make sure their children practice their school work. I am currently teaching a kindergarten class but I have always taught the upper grades. One of my student’s don’t play with children and ran her house. By that I mean she hit her parents, and does not listen to them but I had to do my part to reach her, which I did. In this case I had the support and back up of her parents. What do you do when you don not have that support and you cannot teach the student at home? It seems as though everyone feels that we should hold the teacher accountable but look at the economy today who do we blame for that? Do we blame the teacher because we properly didn’t teach something correctly? Come on can we please stop pointing fingers and find a solution to the problem. We can first start with the parents and the students. Have parents come into the school and sit with their child for so many hours per semester. We were once students our selves and we know that we acted a different way when we were in our parents’ presence and a different way when we were out of their presence.

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