To the Editor:
As legislative sessions get under way, many discussions focus on school reform. Teacher-tenure and performance-pay issues provide welcome opportunities for debate.
As the president of the Broward Teachers Union in Florida and a vice president of the American Federation of Teachers, I have seen firsthand union members who want to work with all stakeholders in reforming schools. However, this process cannot be politically hijacked.
Unlike Richard Whitmire’s recent Commentary (“What Is Behind the Discrediting of Michelle Rhee?,” March 2, 2011), our conversations must be factual and based on research as well as proven best practices. Readers should know that contrary to Mr. Whitmire’s Commentary, my Miami Herald editorial that he referred to made no racial references and never mentioned the StudentsFirst initiative, because we believe the issues of public school reform and student achievement must rise above any single race and program.
Everyone should recognize our teachers’ accomplishments. For example, despite Florida’s low public school funding, Education Week’s Quality Counts report ranks the state’s schools fifth nationally. Bad teachers do not fill our classrooms.
We must work together and dispel popular myths, such as those put forth by Ms. Rhee and Florida Gov. Rick Scott, who selected her as his education reform adviser after she resigned as the District of Columbia schools chancellor to prevent being terminated.
Ending tenure to improve education is a falsehood. Tenure is the right to due process and not a job for life.
Teachers don’t give themselves tenure. After teachers work successfully for several years, administrators give teachers due process protection.
In a recent survey of 1,500 teachers, 64 percent indicated schools need improved evaluations. This would increase effective instruction—not eliminating tenure.
While more pay for higher-performing teachers sounds logical, it does not increase learning. Vanderbilt University studied 300 teachers who received up to a $15,000 raise to increase student test scores. After three years, the student test scores of teachers offered “performance pay” were no different compared with the student test scores of teachers without it.
Union members must dispel the myth that they want to maintain the status quo. Education professionals care about student achievment.
Reformers should recognize the elephant in the room as negligent education funding. For schools to race to the top, funding cannot remain at the bottom.
Student poverty must end. In our school district, we have 141 Title I schools serving students from low-income families. About 60 percent of learning is significantly impacted by a student’s life outside the classroom.
Union members want to reduce waste of taxpayer dollars in our schools. Mismanagement of limited tax dollars intended for students must end.
Our students deserve a well-rounded education, including subjects not on high-stakes tests. Tax dollars squandered on the testing industry should be invested in reducing class sizes.
Elected officials will fail by attacking unions and dictating reform. Increasing student achievement requires local community coalition-building.
Patrick A. Santeramo
Broward Teachers Union
Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
A version of this article appeared in the March 09, 2011 edition of Education Week as ‘We Must Work Together to Dispel Myths’