Throughout last week, this writer studied the education policy studies put out by the Center for American Progress (CAP) and by a variety of authors and writers from different educational fields and expertise. Though some reports admirably attempted and succeeded in being nonpartisan, there were veiled references to the authors’ discontent with America’s limited government origins and conclusions that supported larger government influence and spending. A couple of reports managed to quietly ignore the issues surrounding teachers’ unions, primarily the reports on improving state interventions in districts and federal grants, but others presented their pro-union slant unabashedly.
CAP’s hack piece on improving union-management collaboration and coordination is an example of so-called progressive ideology placed front and center of the school management debate. Though the report detailed the rocky relationships between teachers’ unions and district management, it failed to fully explain the clout that teachers’ unions possess in American public education. It places positive and constructive union-management relations above the concerns and needs of parents and students, who they are supposed to help. Instead, the report focuses on the positives of teachers’ unions and neglects the lack of creativeness in public education due to union contractual and cultural restraints.
Another disappointing report advocated for higher teachers’ salaries to improve classrooms. While the study bases its assumptions on capitalistic theory that more money improves motivation, it lacks substance. The conclusion to raise teacher’s salaries is based on the myth that teachers earn less than the average American, when the opposite is true. Also, the authors neglect to mention that the unions themselves are responsible for the hierarchical pay structure based on seniority, not performance. There’s in the report for reforms within teachers’ unions about restructuring the pay scale, and the unions escape the report unscathed for the flawed system that they have created.
The School Improvement Grants study outlined how federal funds were allocated and its use in four state school systems to improve poorly performing schools. The author, Jessica Quillin, proposes more government funding of schools, despite the struggling economy, but doesn’t support her proposal with data showing test improvements in struggling schools. Though she reports on the options that states have used to bail out or reform schools, she doesn’t go into detail about which options have actually led to improvement in that those schools’ student performance. Also, she acknowledges the large amounts of SIG funds that have been poured into the public school system, but does not specify or add details on whether or not these funds improved results according to federal standards. Instead, she outlines the funding that schools have received, what actions they took to reform the troubled school systems, and recommended better accountability techniques to keep track of federal money. Her recommendation was flawed in that schools should continue to receive more federal funding in light of the budget and economic crisis that the U.S. is currently facing.
State interventions in struggling districts have great difficulty in being effective due to three major factors: educational, organizational, and political challenges. The report’s nonpartisan stance and tone attacked the heart of the problems and proposed seemingly reasonable steps to improve schools while not stirring controversy and trouble within communities and districts.
The most positive report on the realities of the future of public education came from the study observing the San Jose-based Rocketship Education charter school system and non-union Fairfax County Public Schools. The author had strict criteria to measure the effects of non-unionized education and how these school systems expanded teachers’ responsibilities beyond the classroom. Much to this writer’s surprise, the results were favorable, showing that Rocketship Education’s two charter schools outperformed their local and state counterparts even though they operated in a high-poverty area. Rocketship’s teachers are relieved of rote daily tasks like math drills (which are delegated to non-credentialed staff) and focus on teaching students high-level problem-solving activities. Fairfax County’s non-union education also allowed for teachers to expand their duties and be active in administrative roles, allowing them to use federal education grants to research how they could effectively use their time and efforts. Both systems showed that unions’ slow innovation and creation in the American classroom, and that freedom to operate as a teacher can be crucial to America’s future and success.