In Defense of Teachers and Teachers' Unions

Contrary to what you'd think watching the new documentary Waiting for Superman, teachers and teachers' unions are not the spawn of the devil.

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Half of All Teachers Leave Teaching Within Five Years

Teaching is a really, really hard job. Despite the early enthusiasm, the dedication and the endless hours of preparation, half of all new teachers fall by the wayside. Instead of concentrating the debate on "bad teachers" -- and there are bad teachers -- we should be training prospective teachers more effectively and supporting them on the job.

Only 3 percent of teachers are African-American males. Why are so few black males entering teaching, and why isn't the administration focusing on that crucial failing? After all, unions don't hire teachers, although perhaps veteran teachers should play a role in hiring new teachers.

Charter Schools Across the Nation Do About the Same as Public Schools: Some Do Well, Others Poorly

There is an irony: The idea of charter schools began in 1988 with Shanker. He had a vision of a system in which small groups of teachers and parents would submit research-based proposals outlining new ways to educate kids.

As Shanker envisioned it, charter schools would become laboratories for innovation, a place to test new ideas that, if successful, would be adopted in public schools.

The reality hasn't lived up to his hopes. Charter schools, some run by not-for-profits, others by for-profits, offer educational programs that are closely geared to the standardized tests. Few offer anything innovative, and most require parent involvement as a prerequisite for acceptance. A small number are unionized, and the unionized schools are quite successful. The Green Dot Charter Schools in Los Angeles is one success story.

But why the emphasis on charter schools? Teachers are suspicious. Again, for good reason.

Merit-Pay Plans -- Pay for Performance -- Have Simply Not Worked

The drumbeat from the critics of unions is that teachers should be paid according to the performance of their students as measured by a standardized exam. (As they stand now, teacher pay scales are incremental; you receive annual raises and additional raises for additional graduate degrees.) Teachers' unions object to individual pay for performance, asking, where has it been tried and it worked? The most recent study, at the National Center on Performance Incentives at Vanderbilt University's Peabody College of Education, concludes that pay for performance is not "the magic bullet that so often the policy world is looking for."