To the Editor:
Arthur Levine, a former president of Teachers College, Columbia University, has it all wrong (“The Plight of Teachers’ Unions,” May 8, 2013). If teachers’ unions give in to the bottom-line evaluations, as they pretty much have given in to the use of student outcomes as a basis for holding on to their jobs, they will become like athletes and hedge-fund operators.
Unlike those two examples, police officers are not fired when crime goes up, and firefighters are not condemned when there are more fires. Teachers either lose pay or are fired.
The reason for this new trend has nothing to do with Mr. Levine’s claim that we are in a new technological age. It has to do with a political climate that converged like a perfect storm:
• The public has never been comfortable with teachers’ unions and their active involvement in politics.
• These are bad economic times, and education—and pensions—cost a lot of money.
• Conservatives would prefer to make education operate like business and make money from it, such as with for-profit schools and charters.
• Liberals’ natural constituency is the less well-off, so the description “failing school” connotes that the teachers who work in these school are failures. But police officers and firefighters who work in high-crime areas are considered heroes.
• Teachers work for governments. When politicians talk about government, they do so gingerly.
• The overall culture is one in which politicians get more credit for being “regular,” but are called elite if they talk about their high levels of education.
We need to support our teachers and try to make education better by getting everyone involved to figure out what is best for our kids. If we continue to attack teachers’ batting averages, teachers will become afraid to try new things and will hate their jobs. If this happens, the “thinking” business of school, and teaching, will take a long time to recover.
The writer is a retired teacher.
A version of this article appeared in the June 05, 2013 edition of Education Week as Political Climate Created Evaluation ‘Storm’