By Sherry Posnick-Goodwin
Super Myth #1: Teachers unions are “bad” but teachers are “good.”
While acknowledging the many issues facing public education in a sometimes animated and entertaining manner, Waiting for Superman concludes that teachers unions and teacher contracts are destroying the schools. Teachers unions are portrayed as “bad” and teachers as “good.” (Guggenheim fails to understand that the teachers are the union. They are the members. They elect the union leaders. They approve the negotiated contract.)
Although the movie tries to divide teachers from the teachers union by portraying teachers unions as the root of all evil in public education, Guggenheim is, in essence, placing the blame on teachers. Those interviewed in the film are uniformly anti-union — mostly “reformers” who believe teachers unions are the main obstacle to great public schools. Guggenheim does not interview a single superintendent or politician who has a collaborative relationship with the union where real transformation has taken place (as in Chattanooga, Tenn., Columbus, Ohio, Denver, and other places).
The Albert Shanker Institute, a nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C., studied the correlation between student achievement in NAEP scores and teachers covered by binding agreements or the right to bargain, and concluded, “It’s very clear that states without binding teacher contracts are not doing better, and the majority are actually among the lowest performers in the nation.”
Super Myth #2: Charter schools are a magic silver-bullet solution.
CTA believes charter schools have a role in California’s education system by providing students new ways to improve learning, encouraging innovative teaching methods, and creating opportunities for educators to take responsibility for student learning. NEA believes that charter schools and other nontraditional public school options have the potential to facilitate positive transformation and foster creative teaching methods that can be replicated in traditional public schools for the benefit of all students. By definition, charter schools are free from many of the restrictions placed on traditional public schools. The innovative ideas that make some charter schools successful stem from the very issues NEA members have long identified as things they want to change about public education.
Charter schools are only able to serve a small percentage of the student population, and only one in five charter schools outperforms traditional public schools. A 2009 study from Stanford University found that the nation’s charter schools have not significantly raised student achievement when compared with traditional public schools. The study of 2,403 charter schools in 15 states showed that almost half of the charter schools produced results similar to those of comparable public schools, and charter schools producing worse results than traditional public schools outnumbered those with better results by more than 2 to 1. In fact, research suggests that two in five charter schools perform worse than traditional public schools.
Recent films have suggested that charter schools are the only way we can improve public education, but even well-known proponents of charter schools are critical of these films.
“Movies that sell charter schools as a salvation are peddling a simple-minded remedy that takes us back to the worst charter puffery of a decade ago, is at odds with the evidence, and can blind viewers to what it takes to launch and grow truly great charters,” writes Frederick M. Hess, an education commentator at the American Enterprise Institute. “These flicks accelerate the troubling trend of turning every good idea into a moral crusade, so that retooling K-12 becomes a question of moral rectitude in which we choose sides, and ‘reformers’ are supposed to smother questions about policy or practice. They also wildly romanticize charters, charter school teachers, and the kids and families, making it harder to speak honestly or bluntly.” His complete article can be found at blog.american.com/?author=25.
Charter schools are one solution, but schools across the country are benefiting from a range of exciting new ideas that are the result of communities working together to improve their local schools. NEA’s Priority Schools Campaign supports schools that are thinking about education differently. From teacher-led schools in Denver, to service learning in Ohio, to teacher mentoring in Michigan, school districts are working collaboratively with local unions to improve teaching and learning.
Super Myth #3: Unions are unwilling to commit to commonsense solutions.
CTA has fought for students’ rights to quality public education for nearly 150 years. In 1988, CTA won the passage of Proposition 98, which guarantees a minimum portion of state money to fund K-14 education. CTA has defended Prop. 98 from attacks time and time again. In 1995, CTA sponsored a class size reduction law for K-3 classrooms. In 2003, CTA won the passage of a $12.3 billion statewide school construction bond. And CTA passed the Quality Education Investment Act in 2006, which uses money from the settlement of a lawsuit over Prop. 98 to fund proven reforms at schools of greatest need. America’s public education system has recently captured the attention and imagination of lawmakers, newscasters, commentators, filmmakers and the general public. NEA welcomes others to join this large and very important national conversation.
In many places, the situation is urgent, so for those new to the conversation, the impulse is to recommend simple silver-bullet solutions. Of course, the challenges our public schools face are myriad and complex. NEA seeks solutions that are based on research, collaborative, and well planned and executed.
Smaller class sizes, increased teacher autonomy and flexibility, higher status for the teaching profession, improved teacher quality and professional development programs, broader support and involvement by parents and the community, adequate tools and resources, modernized schools —these are things we know, from research and experience, will improve our nation’s schools. All schools should have the tools and resources necessary to help all students succeed. Students shouldn’t have to rely on chance or a lottery to get a quality education that prepares them to succeed in life. NEA members are eager to receive the support that is needed to ensure all students, not just a few, have access to quality public schools.
Because NEA members are in schools and classrooms every day, they are also aware of the challenges public schools face, and are eager to have collaborative discussions to help determine ways that they can work with parents, community organizations, elected officials, and other concerned adults to benefit America’s students. Educating children is a shared responsibility, and the debate over how best to do that should be cooperative, not divisive.
Related Tags: Volume 15 Issue 2, Educator Feature, Inside Educator, Educator, Charter schools, Budget, Cuts, Curriculum, Funding, Student, Teacher,