I read recently about a teacher who was fired for refusing to give credit to a student who handed in no work. The administration asked the teacher to give a grade of 50% to the student, the teacher refused and was promptly removed from her post. I am an advocate for accountability in schools, but this scenario shows all of the wrong kinds, like picking up an ax to cut wood only to slash a hole into a wall.
My own school has had its fair share of accountability struggles. We are implementing a structure of support for English Language Learners where a specialist in language acquisition teams up with a content specialist to co-teach classes. As it’s implemented, the true nature of the initiative is being intentionally shrouded in ambiguous language. The department chair said that if we were that honest with teachers, there would be an uproar and the initiative would be dropped. As a result, the initiative hobbles while the administration has no power to chastise anyone who isn’t on board.
Liberals and conservatives alike point to standardized tests as the tool proposed and carried out to actually introduce accountability into the schools. Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon in the education system to hear standardized reading tests described as a glorified vocabulary tests, with little to no value. They are decried as useless burdens by teachers and administration alike resulting in tests with no accountability, credibility, or power of any kind to actually change or reflect the student’s knowledge level.
With three vignettes, I hope to have shown that, for teachers, there are little to no repercussions for what, in other sectors, would be considered a breach of company policy. At any other company, a system of incentives, bonuses, regular ratings, and firings hold employees accountable to quality work.
A slew of cultural changes, school norms, and policy initiatives are needed to overhaul the public education system. However, the dissolution of unions has traction and is one policy that could do wonders for the system.
As it stands, teachers cannot be fired and, if they are, it is for a irrelevant reasons within the minutiae of district policies. For example, one of the best teachers in my school was close to being fired, because he took a paper airplane from a student and made brief physical contact in the process. The student was irate, reported him to the office, and the principal was almost forced, by statutes, to fire him.
I don’t know the quality of education provided by the woman who lost her job for not giving a 50%. However, that should not be grounds for discharge. Genuinely poor instruction, which produces no results, is, but that won’t get a teacher fired. Remove the unions, and the administration will finally have teeth to keep the quality educators in their schools and remove those who should have been gone long ago.
Tests, admittedly, are not the best indicator of a teacher’s instruction. A once a year reading test, for example, has flaws. In my own experience, students have improved on one standardized test, but showed little to no growth on another, yet the best teachers always have some concrete data to show that their students are learning. The best teachers do not question the test, but use it to measure their own instruction. That being said, unions disparage tests, rendering the one piece of accountability that schools currently have powerless.
Finally, regarding administrative level initiatives, which I see teachers ignore daily, unions fight their implementation. They maintain a culture that proclaims ‘all teachers deserve their job.’ With teachers paraded as heroes, regardless of their success, teachers become resistant to change and convinced of their own mastery. And then, when a mediocre teacher resists change, they can’t be fired.
Ultimately, the harm is to the students. The best teachers are not recognized and hailed for their work because pay brackets limit a principal’s ability to increase pay. Poor teachers remain in the schools, babysitting students through the day, and positive changes remain impotent ideas on a sketchpad, spoken about from the front at staff meetings and kept from the classroom.
Unions portray themselves as guardians of the schools and fighters for educational rights. However, they block meaningful changes that would benefit students of all socioeconomic backgrounds. Their dissolution along with an overhaul of the education system to include voucher programs and the expansion of charter schools would make teaching jobs more competitive and raise the standard of education to the benefit to students.
The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Lone Conservative staff.