It’s rarely wise for administrators (or school boards, or mayors) to pick unnecessary fights, but it’s also unwise to shy away from those that need to be fought through on behalf of the public interest.
Administrators and elected officials have a duty to look out for the public fisc.
School systems like Chicago’s face many opportunities for collaboration with teachers unions. For example, preparing to teach to the new, higher “Common Core” standards is an effort best done together, with the expertise of front-line teachers playing a key role.
But there are other times when the interests of the teachers and those of the broader public are not the same. Especially when money is tight, administrators (and elected officials like Rahm Emmanuel) have a duty to look out for the public fisc. More cash for teacher salaries, as the Chicago Teachers Union is demanding, means less for everything else—after-school programs, early childhood initiatives, police, public health, everything. Leaders need to hold the line.
Likewise with the issue of job security. Unions are built to protect their members’ jobs and pensions, regardless of performance. The public, on the other hand, is best served when administrators put the most effective teachers in the classroom, and ask the least effective to find other lines of work. In a system like Chicago’s, where declining enrollment
It’s difficult to know, from the outside, what’s really going on with the negotiations over the Chicago teachers contract. But it’s not difficult to predict how this will play with the public. Here are the facts: The nation’s unemployment rate is still over 8 percent and the average Chicago teacher makes $76,000 per year. Those two numbers, I suspect, are not going to add up to a whole lot of sympathy for Chicago teachers.
This drama is playing out in Chicago but how it’s reported in nearby states could very well impact the election.
Consider this data point, from a year ago. Education Next researchers put this question to a representative sample of the public: “According to the most recent information available, teachers in the United States are paid an average annual salary of $54,819. Do you think that these teacher salaries should increase, decrease, or stay about the same?”
Only 41 percent said that salaries should increase or greatly increase; 48 percent wanted salaries to stay the same; and another 9 percent actually wanted lower salaries. One would assume that, after being told that Chicago teachers make $76,000 a year, even fewer people would be in favor of higher pay.
So will this matter? Chicago teachers might want to show Rahm Emmanuel they can’t be “bullied.” But President Obama no doubt wants this strike over quickly. Already, the press accounts in nearby Midwestern swing states (think: Wisconsin and Ohio)
President Obama’s recent push for a “Master Teacher Corps” initiative in STEM subjects made quite a splash in the media recently, and it’s easy to see why. The program sounds appealing and has its priorities in order: The best science and math teachers in America would receive a stipend of up to $20,000, both as a reward for their service and in exchange for their continued leadership in district professional development.
The feds have tried to fix teacher quality in STEM dozens of times. What makes this program anything new?
Unfortunately, there’s little reason to think such an initiative would be particularly effective (and plenty of reason to believe it will be costly). According to an April 2011 GAO report, the administration spent over $4 billion on teacher-quality programs in FY 2009 alone. A December 2011 report from the White House’s National Science and Technology Council found that over $3.4 billion was spent on STEM-education initiatives in FY 2011, and twenty-four separate federal programs dealt specifically with improving educator performance. Improving teacher quality in STEM subjects was a secondary goal for 101 other programs. The feds have tried to fix teacher quality in STEM dozens of times (and at the cost of several billion dollars), and there’s been no transformative change yet. So what makes this program anything new?
Effectiveness aside, there’s no guarantee the Master Teacher Corps will ever get off the ground.
Guest blogger Michael Podgursky, economics professor at the University of Missouri, reflects on Fordham’s latest report, How Americans Would Slim Down Public Education.
A growing body of research in economics points to the importance of human resource policy in the performance of public and private organizations. In this regard, this new Fordham survey shows solid public support for more rational personnel policies in public education. A large majority (73 percent) favors the option of having high-performing educators teach larger classes. Similarly, when faced with a personnel decision requiring workforce reductions, a majority favors laying off a much more senior (twenty years experience) teacher with average evaluations over a novice teacher (two years experience) with excellent evaluations. Finally, 70 percent of respondents favor scrapping traditional defined-benefit pension plans in favor of individual retirement plans. Of this group, 17 percent favor this reform for new hires only, while the majority seems to support change for both current teachers and new hires. Various school-reform organizations are pushing for changes in rigid personnel policies in public schools. This Fordham survey suggests public support for these types of reform.
About the Editor
Michael J. Petrilli
Executive Vice President
Mike Petrilli is one of the nation's foremost education analysts. As executive vice president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, he oversees the organization's research projects and publications and contributes to the Flypaper blog and weekly Education Gadfly newsletter.
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