Teaching Profession

Gore Walking Fine Line On Teacher Accountability

By Joetta L. Sack — May 17, 2000 5 min read

The teacher-accountability plan that Vice President Al Gore proposed this month presents a mixed bag for teachers. On one hand, they would receive more pay and professional recognition; on the other, they would be subject to tougher hiring and firing requirements that could nudge some out of the field.

The proposal reflects the potentially complicated relationship between the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee and the national teachers’ unions, which were early backers of his campaign and are among the biggest contributors of money and manpower to his party.

Both the National Education Assocation and the American Federation of Teachers endorsed the vice president for the 2000 nomination, and it’s a sure bet they will also be working for him in the general election against his Republican rival, Gov. George W. Bush of Texas.

But in recent weeks, Mr. Gore has seemed to be responding to criticism from conservatives that a union nod means clinging to the educational status quo.

While his recent campaign proposal on teachers, announced May 5, would pour billions of dollars into incentives such as signing bonuses and merit pay, it would also strike a blow to the tenure system. Mr. Gore called for allowing principals to hire teachers and other staff members based on factors other than seniority, and advocated a faster process for removing incompetent teachers from the classroom—tying federal funds to two measures that many union members might oppose.

“At its best, teaching is a lifetime vocation. But no teaching license or contract should be a lifetime guarantee,” Mr. Gore said in his speech unveiling his plan to the Michigan Education Association, an affiliate of the NEA.

“He’s balancing,” said John F. Jennings, the president of the Center on Education Policy, a Washington research group, and a former longtime Democratic aide on Capitol Hill. “He’s clearly talking about what teachers are concerned about, and, of course, he clearly has a problem with being called too close to the unions.”

Indeed, Mr. Gore’s press secretary, Doug Hattaway, readily acknowledged this month that “we won’t agree with the unions on every single issue.”

But the campaign still considers teachers’ union members a significant voter pool, he added, pointing out that teachers are usually more engaged in politics and civic activities than the average citizen.

“We certainly can’t take teachers’ votes for granted,” Mr. Hattaway said. The unions’ endorsements are “extremely important because they communicate regularly with their members. At the same time, we have to earn the vote of each and every teacher.”

Praise From Unions

Both national unions offered generally positive reactions to Mr. Gore’s May 5 proposal, saying that they have nothing against accountability and welcome plans to remove incompetent teachers.

“Our sense is, any proposal that will improve the quality of teaching will be good for teachers and students,” said Gregory King, a spokesman for the 1 million-member AFT. “While the specifics may need to be looked at and honed, the overall message is one that teachers will respect.”

He added that the union would request more details, particularly about the tenure issue.

“It wasn’t like what we heard from Mr. Gore was alarming,” said Margaret Trimer-Hartley, the communications consultant for the Michigan Education Association. “We’re not afraid of accountability.”

“A lot of things in here are issues that need to be talked about and discussed,” Bob Chase, the president of the 2.4-million member NEA, added in an interview last week.

Conservatives, meanwhile, gave Mr. Gore little credit for differing with the unions in some areas.

“I don’t think the fact that teacher unions may differ with Al Gore on some components of his teacher plan is significant,” Rep. Bill Goodling, the Pennsylvania Republican who chairs the House Education and the Workforce Committee, said in a written statement to Education Week. “Like other labor unions, the NEA and AFT have endorsed Gore and are not going to change their minds because of these types of policy differences.”

Nina Shokraii Rees, an education policy analyst with the Heritage Foundation who volunteers as an adviser to Gov. Bush’s campaign, added that while some of Mr. Gore’s ideas may seem controversial, they lack important details about how teachers would be removed and the tenure system might be abolished.

“It certainly does appear that [Mr. Gore] is trying to push the envelope as much as he can,” she said. “At the same time, [the unions] really don’t have anywhere else to go.”

Mr. Bush, she added, largely believes teacher accountability should be a local issue.

While visiting an elementary school in Georgia last week, the presumptive GOP nominee called for providing an additional $400 million for teacher-training programs to states that demand high standards for teachers.

Several observers pointed out that there’s still plenty of time for the vice president to revise his proposals before November. And if he is elected, the unions could have a heavy hand in shaping any ensuing legislation.

In addition to his proposals on tenure and due process, Mr. Gore’s plan includes giving new federal aid to districts that have worked with local businesses, parents, community groups, and school officials to craft plans to raise teacher quality. The money would be used to give teachers $5,000 raises; “master teachers” and those who had completed the requirements for certification by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards would receive $10,000 raises.

And Mr. Gore said he wanted to work with teachers and administrators to figure out a plan to reward individual teachers for exemplary performance.

Before setting foot in the classroom, however, new teachers should have to pass “rigorous and fair” tests on the subjects they will teach, Mr. Gore said, and elementary school teachers should be tested on their ability to teach reading. High school and middle school teachers, he said, should be required to have a college major or minor in their subjects, or pass a test to prove their competency. To receive the federal funds under Mr. Gore’s plan, states would have to prove that all their teachers were fully certified or working toward certification.

Related Tags:

A version of this article appeared in the May 17, 2000 edition of Education Week as Gore Walking Fine Line On Teacher Accountability

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Classroom Technology Webinar
Educator-Driven EdTech Design: Help Shape the Future of Classroom Technology
Join us for a collaborative workshop where you will get a live demo of GoGuardian Teacher, including seamless new integrations with Google Classroom, and participate in an interactive design exercise building a feature based on
Content provided by GoGuardian
School & District Management Live Online Discussion A Seat at the Table With Education Week: What Did We Learn About Schooling Models This Year?
After a year of living with the pandemic, what schooling models might we turn to as we look ahead to improve the student learning experience? Could year-round schooling be one of them? What about online
School & District Management Webinar What's Ahead for Hybrid Learning: Putting Best Practices in Motion
It’s safe to say hybrid learning—a mix of in-person and remote instruction that evolved quickly during the pandemic—is probably here to stay in K-12 education to some extent. That is the case even though increasing

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Teaching Profession Nearly 9 in 10 Teachers Willing to Work in Schools Once Vaccinated, Survey Finds
Nearly half of educators who belong to the National Education Association have gotten at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
4 min read
Nurse Sara Muela, left, administers the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine to educator Rebecca Titus at a vaccination site setup for teachers and school staff at the Berks County Intermediate Unit in Reading, Pa., on March 15, 2021.
Nurse Sara Muela, left, administers the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine to educator Rebecca Titus at a vaccination site set up for teachers and school staff in Reading, Pa., on March 15.
Matt Rourke/AP
Teaching Profession Q&A Nation's Top Teachers Discuss the Post-Pandemic Future of the Profession
Despite the difficulties this school year brought, the four finalists for the National Teacher of the Year award say they're hopeful.
11 min read
National Teacher of the Year Finalists (clockwise from top left): Alejandro Diasgranados, Juliana Urtubey, John Arthur, Maureen Stover
National Teacher of the Year Finalists (clockwise from top left): Alejandro Diasgranados, Juliana Urtubey, John Arthur, Maureen Stover
Courtesy of CCSSO
Teaching Profession Teachers Are Stressed Out, and It's Causing Some to Quit
Stress, more so than low pay, is the main reason public school teachers quit. And COVID-19 has increased the pressure.
7 min read
Image of exit doors.
pavel_balanenko/iStock/Getty
Teaching Profession Opinion Should Teachers Be Prioritized for the COVID-19 Vaccine?
Not all states are moving teachers to the front of the vaccination line. Researchers discuss the implications for in-person learning.
6 min read
Teacher Lizbeth Osuna from Cooper Elementary receives the Moderna vaccine at a CPS vaccination site at Roberto Clemente High School in Chicago, Ill., Thursday, Feb. 11, 2021.
Chicago public school teacher Lizbeth Osuna receives the COVID-19 vaccine at a school vaccination site last week.
Anthony Vazquez/Chicago Sun-Times via AP