The eyes of school reformers—and their opponents—are fixed on Chicago, where the teachers’ union has picked a fight with Mayor Rahm Emanuel. If nothing else, this shows that New York’s teachers’ union has no monopoly on foolishness. Some politicians pretend to be rough-and-tumble characters. Mr. Emanuel is the real deal, as the teachers in Chicago are discovering.
The teachers’ strike has moved into its second week, although there are signs that the dispute may end as early as late Tuesday afternoon, after press time. If it doesn’t, the mayor plans to go to court to force the teachers back into the classroom. As well he should, because the strike was an affront to the city and, of course, to Chicago’s 350,000 students. Before they walked out, the teachers managed to water down some needed reforms—the city agreed, for example, to hire back some laid-off teachers regardless of their past performance in the classroom—and extracted an additional $74 million per year in salary hikes. Mr. Emanuel, for his part, insists on including standardized tests scores as part of teacher performance evaluations. The union, of course, hates this. Like their counterparts in New York’s schools, union leaders in Chicago oppose anything that even hints at accountability.
New York most definitely has a dog in this fight—his name is Rahm.
It took long enough, but in the end, New York’s public school students won an important victory last week when the teachers union and Governor Cuomo came to an agreement on a new teacher-evaluation system.
The most immediate benefit is easy to measure: With an evaluation system in place, the state moved closer to qualifying for $700 million in federal aid through President Obama’s “Race to the Top” funding mechanism. The feds were threatening to withhold the money if New York did not implement a required evaluation system. While the state still may have to clear up other issues before qualifying for the aid, it’s clear that the evaluation system is a major step in the race to the top.
Governor Andrew Cuomo says that if the teachers union continues to obstruct the implementation of a new, robust evaluation system for teachers and principals by Thursday, he’ll act on his own and impose a system. That’s precisely what he ought to do.
The showdown still was underway at press time, but regardless of whether or not the governor and the union reach an agreement, a larger point remains: Once again, the teachers union, emboldened by its allies in the Democratic-controlled State Assembly, has resisted efforts to bring accountability into the classroom.
Unlike his fellow Democrats in the Assembly, Mr. Cuomo has shown that he understands the reactionary role the teachers union continues to play against the effort to bring much-needed reform to poor-performing school districts. Mr. Cuomo is acting on behalf of poorly served students and their parents. The union, of course, is simply trying to protect incompetent teachers.
No more excuses. No more delays. No more double-talk. The time for changing the status quo in New York’s public schools is now. The teachers union will either be part of the process or will be crushed. It’s really that simple.
Mayor Bloomberg and Governor Cuomo have made it clear that they no longer will accept the union’s reactionary worldview that change is unnecessary. In separate speeches this week, Mr. Cuomo correctly noted that “we have to realize that our schools are not an employment program,” while the mayor argued that the “school system shouldn’t be run for the people that work in the school system.”
Both of the statements should seem obvious. To the union leaders who claim to represent the city’s public school teachers, the remarks by the governor and the mayor are nothing short of revolutionary. And it’s a revolution they continue to resist.
Poor performing schools, relics of 20th-century neglect, ought to close. Charter schools, beacons of hope in many poor neighborhoods, should be encouraged.
This may seem like common sense. But for the teachers union and, regrettably, for the New York chapter of the NAACP, these ideas are heresy. That’s why they joined forces to sue the Read More