Union Battles Mean Tough Times for Teachers

Friday, March 04, 2011

Teachers in Wisconsin may be throwing figurative fruit at politicians, but lawmakers across the country, from New York to California, are vowing to get rid of what they are calling the “bad apples” of the profession. Lawmakers in half a dozen states are trying to lift tenure and seniority protection, threatening mass layoffs and targeting teachers as the root of a failing education system. We asked the teachers in our listening audience: What makes you keep being a teacher?

Joining us is Kurt Kaletka, a student of Applied Linguistics at the University of Massachusetts and a Takeaway listener on our partner station WGBH. Kurt has gone back to school to become a teacher of English as a Second Language and says that he doesn't want to work in a state without union rights, if he can help it.


Kurt Kaletka

Produced by:

Kateri A. Jochum

Comments [4]

Concerned Citizen from Illinois

Love how Mr. Kaletka equivocated attacking unions with attacking teachers because, you know, union interests and good teaching are the same thing. I also love how any suggestion at measuring a teacher's effectiveness is met with "impossible!" Are you kidding? This is ridiculous. In a day and age when super computers can model nuclear explosions and the human genome, it's somehow impossible to devise a means to measure teacher effectiveness?! There may be no perfect means, but surely a system based on collecting data is better than one based on tenure, seniority, and advanced degrees which have zero correlation with teacher quality. Any education system that results in teacher's of the year being laid off (as happened in Indiana) because they were younger than their peers needs serious revision. Let's not forget the notorious "rubber rooms" in NYC in which bad teachers were sent, with full pay, to languish for months and years rather than be fired because it was too expensive to do so. The practice finally ended because of public embarrassment. Yay unions!

If anyone wants teachers to earn more or for legislatures to avoid cutting education budgets with an ax instead of a scalpel, how about we devise a means of measuring their effectiveness and promote and compensate them accordingly? Eric Hanushek and other policy makers have proposed using Value-Added Assessments in HR decisions. The confidence interval may be problematic, but the method can at least discern the very worst from the average and superb. It's a start in the right direction rather than throwing up our hands and proclaim nothing can be done other than throw more money at bad teachers and bad schools.

I'd also like to note that Mr. Kaletka's story about his brother being fired because he “ran afoul of his administration” (read disagreed with his boss) isn't that moving. Teachers are pretty privileged if they think they can disagree with their bosses and not be fired. That's the way the world works for the vast majority of us, including well paid people with lucrative careers and many government appointees. One learns to be diplomatic and know when to press for something and when not to.

Mar. 04 2011 09:19 PM

Easier said than done, listener. Tell me: what are the reforms you're looking for? And, since you seem to believe it's possible to have a standard metric for evaluating teacher performance, what should that metric be? It's easy to say you've got answers, but it's important to say what those answers are.

Mar. 04 2011 11:16 AM

How do you measure merit? After all the time and money invested in the education industry there is still no accurate and fair way to judge performance? If reforms are needed in big oil, big insurance, big auto and other big industries than surely reform in big education is the most important for the future of our nation. I understand Massachusetts is a good state to be a teacher. What is a good state to be a student?

Mar. 04 2011 11:07 AM

The plight of teachers makes a good lens through which to observe how far our society has warped away from the ideals of the Enlightenment back toward feudalism. Robert Reich wrote in the Huffington Post February 18: "Last year, America's top thirteen hedge-fund managers earned an average of $1 billion each. One of them took home $5 billion. Much of their income is taxed as capital gains -- at 15 percent -- due to a tax loophole that Republican members of Congress have steadfastly guarded. If the earnings of those thirteen hedge-fund managers were taxed as ordinary income, the revenues generated would pay the salaries and benefits of 300,000 teachers. Who is more valuable to our society -- thirteen hedge-fund managers or 300,000 teachers? Let's make the question even simpler. Who is more valuable: One hedge fund manager or one teacher?"

Mar. 03 2011 10:25 PM

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