Amid the contentious debate as to how we improve public education in America, there is one reality to which all parties subscribe: there is no substitute for a quality teacher in the classroom.
The scholarship on teacher quality is clear. It is the most important school-related factor in student achievement. Some studies suggest the difference between having a good teacher and having a bad one can exceed one grade-level equivalent in annual achievement growth.
Geoffrey Canada, founder of the Harlem Success Academy charter school in New York City, has said a great teacher is like a great artist and should be recognized as such.
So why are the teachers' unions fighting that recognition?
Recently the New York City Department of Education agreed to release the so-called "value-added" scores and other performance-related data for nearly 12,000 teachers. This concession by the New York edu-ocracy came on the heels of the publication by the Los Angeles Times of the "value-added" scores of some 6,000 public school teachers and 470 elementary schools in the nation's second-largest school district.
But not everyone is conceding the public's access to this public data. The United Federation of Teachers (UFT), the union that represents New York teachers, filed suit to prevent the publication of the district's performance tracking of their teachers.
The "value-added" analysis of teacher performance used in New York City and Los Angeles largely focuses on the improvement students achieve under the direction of their teachers in standardized tests for math and English proficiency.
Why should this data not be made available to parents and the larger taxpaying public so that we may highlight those teachers that are doing it right and endeavor to replicate their methods while, at minimum, review those that are not getting it done and aid their development as teachers so they may return the favor with their students?
Provision of such information to the public is what teachers' union bosses like American Federation of Teachers (AFT) President Randi Weingarten call the "scapegoating of teachers."
Upon disclosure of teacher performance ratings in Los Angeles, A.J. Duffy, president of the United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA), was predictably "outraged that The Times would put this out and put people in harm's way."
Harm's way? Are we talking about CIA operatives under deep cover or little Johnny's third grade teacher?
Unfair Basis for Evaluation and Termination
Critics of the disclosure of the "value-added" performance ratings suggest that it is unfair to evaluate teachers solely on the basis of standardized test scores.
Fair enough. But by eschewing all metrics for teacher performance and offering virtually no alternative evaluative criteria, the teachers' unions have exposed themselves as simply opposed to any measure of teacher accountability.
When they're not rejecting evaluation, the unions are manufacturing concerns about prospective terminations.
What terminations? A Newsweek report in March found,
"In New York City in 2008, three out of 30,000 tenured teachers were dismissed for cause. The statistics are just as eye-popping in other cities. The percentage of teachers dismissed for poor performance in Chicago between 2005 and 2008 (the most recent figures available) was 0.1 percent. In Akron, Ohio, zero percent. In Toledo, 0.01 percent. In Denver, zero percent."
Newsweek reported, "Year after year, about 99 percent of all teachers in the United States are rated 'satisfactory' by their school systems; firing a teacher invites a costly court battle with the local union."
"A Teacher Is a Teacher"
The reason unions are fighting the existence, much less the disclosure, of performance related data on teachers is that, for them, it's simply a numbers game. The main concern of the unions is the number of their adult members, not the intellectual development of the adolescent students their members teach.
As former UFT and AFT President Al Shanker once famously said, "When school children start paying union dues, that's when I'll start representing the interests of school children."
For Geoffrey Canada, a great teacher may be like a great artist. For the unions, a great teacher is just another dues-paying teacher-whether their performance is good or bad.