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.
Not every teacher accused of incompetence is guilty. Each one is entitled to a vigorous defense, and that is the job of the union.
Testing Narrows What Is Taught: "If We Don't Test It, We Don't Teach or Learn It"
Teachers worry that this narrow emphasis on "the test," which purportedly determines the success or failure of the pupil and the school -- which determines the evaluation and perhaps the salary of the teacher -- will turn schools into test-prep mills. What happens to music? Art? Physical education? The highest-achieving school systems in the world -- Finland, South Korea and Singapore -- don't use standardized tests. Are we making better schools or enriching testing companies?
Why Are We Ignoring the Impact of Poverty?
The Schott Foundation's "Black Boys Report" shows staggering disparities in the number of black males graduating from high schools. For example, in New York City, only 28 percent of black males graduate with the college-ready Regents diploma.
NYU professor Pedro Noguera reminds us:
Studies on literacy development in small children show that middle-class children arrive in kindergarten literally knowing hundreds more words than poor children.
And schools alone -- not even the very best schools -- cannot erase the effects of poverty.
Teachers' unions are in the forefront, warning us that teachers and schools alone cannot eradicate poverty. Unions are campaigning for the creation of Community Schools, which utilize partnerships between the school and other community resources, focusing not just on academics but also on health and social services. The schools are open to the community 24-7.
Unfortunately, Washington has paid scant attention to Community Schools and continues to ignore the impact of poverty.
Teachers and their unions are under attack and fighting back. Criticizing bad ideas, offering other policies and campaigning in the political sphere are the essence of our democracy. As Washington, D.C., Mayor Adrian Fenty found out in this past election, top-down policies frequently do not resonate with the voters. The teachers and parents defeated him at the polls.
Teachers' unions played a major role in electing President Obama, and now, in spite of the attacks, are expressing themselves; they have serious doubts in regard to his education policies.
Rather than see teachers' unions as an obstacle to progress, we must understand that it is teachers and parents who should be partners in creating schools that address the needs of all students. Teachers plus parents equals kryptonite to bad education.
Peter Goodman has taught in a Brooklyn, N.Y., high school, served on his union's executive board and taught education at the New School University. He now works as a consultant in the design and support of new high schools and writes a blog, Ed in the Apple: The Intersection of Education and Politics.