Holding students hostage while the adults argue
Former D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee's Students First initiative got started this week. Pitching her new organization, a foundation dedicated to driving education reform in communities across the country, Rhee told Oprah that you should join Students First,
If you want to see the change in this country that we need, if you know that teachers make a huge difference and we need a highly effective teacher in every classroom, if you know that all parents deserve to have options -- excellent options -- for where to send their children to school, if you believe that we need to take money away from the bureaucracy and into the classroom where it belongs, away from ineffective programs into things that work.
You'd think that this is all pretty obvious, right? Who honestly believes that highly effective teachers don't matter for student success? Who believes that parents should be locked into sending their students to terrible schools? Who wants to waste education funding? Who doesn't want to put students first?
But that's where you'd be wrong.
Don't believe me? Read a few lines from Nathan Saunders, the recently-elected president of Washington's teachers union, quoted in The Post:
Where the contract requires collaboration, I absolutely will collaborate...That means when teachers have a point of view, it's actually taken into consideration. When confrontation will lead me to progress for the people I represent, I will engage in confrontation...What's good for teachers is often times very good for students.
It should be obvious that "often times" is not "all the time." Saunders campaigned on defending teachers against new accountability standards in the D.C. public schools. His rhetoric certainly doesn't give much reason to have confidence that Saunders is taking students' needs very seriously. Worst of all, this is only one example of a very common approach to public education in the United States.
Take another, more substantive example: given the structure of tenure in most school districts across the United States, most teachers' job security depends upon seniority, rather than effectiveness in the classroom. When funding runs short, this means that countless great teachers are fired for reasons that have nothing to do with their talent and hard work. Students, parents and hardworking teachers don't want layoffs decided this way. A recent survey by The New Teacher Project showed that most teachers want dismissal policies to take teacher quality into account. If existing policy isn't about putting the "needs" of adults over the needs of students, what is?
This is why Rhee's new project is so heartening. It seems so simple, so easy -- just put the needs of students first -- but the coming battles in education reform promise to be anything but. Whether or not Students First is the right organization to answer educational injustices remains to be seen. One thing is sure: we adults should all hope that it is. Our students cannot wait any longer.
| December 9, 2010; 11:15 AM ET
Categories: Williams | Tags: Conor Williams
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