Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Unionized teachers are the enemy of good education

The conflicting interests of teachers unions and students is an underreported education story, so we thought we’d highlight two recent stories in Baltimore and New York City that illustrate the problem.

The Ujima Village Academy is one of the best public schools in Baltimore and all of Maryland. Students at the charter middle school are primarily low-income minorities; 98% are black and 84% qualify for free or reduced-price school meals. Yet Ujima Village students regularly outperform the top-flight suburban schools on state tests. In 2006, 2007 and 2008, Ujima Village students earned the highest eighth-grade math scores in Maryland. Started in 2002, the school has met or exceeded state academic standards every year—a rarity in a city that boasts one of the lowest-performing school districts in the country.

Ujima Village is part of the KIPP network of charter schools, which now extends to 19 states and Washington, D.C. KIPP excels at raising academic achievement among disadvantaged children who often arrive two or three grade-levels behind in reading and math. KIPP educators cite longer school days and a longer school year as crucial to their success. At KIPP schools, kids start as early as 7:30 a.m., stay as late as 5 p.m., and attend school every other Saturday and three weeks in the summer.

However, Maryland’s charter law requires teachers to be part of the union. And the Baltimore Teachers Union is demanding that the charter school pay its teachers 33% more than other city teachers, an amount that the school says it can’t afford. Ujima Village teachers are already paid 18% above the union salary scale, reflecting the extra hours they work. To meet the union demands, the school recently told the Baltimore Sun that it has staggered staff starting times, shortened the school day, canceled Saturday classes and laid off staffers who worked with struggling students. For teachers unions, this outcome is a victory; how it affects the quality of public education in Baltimore is beside the point.

Meanwhile, in New York City, some public schools have raised money from parents to hire teaching assistants. Last year, the United Federation of Teachers filed a grievance about the hiring, and city education officials recently ordered an end to the practice. “It’s hurting our union members,” said a UFT spokesman, even though it’s helping kids and saving taxpayers money. The aides typically earned from $12 to $15 an hour. Their unionized equivalents cost as much as $23 an hour, plus benefits.

“School administrators said that hiring union members not only would cost more, but would also probably bring in people with less experience,” reported the New York Times. Many of the teaching assistants hired directly by schools had graduate degrees in education and state teaching licenses, while the typical unionized aide lacks a four-year degree.

The actions of the teachers unions in both Baltimore and New York make sense from their perspective. Unions exist to advance the interests of their members. The problem is that unions present themselves as student advocates while pushing education policies that work for their members even if they leave kids worse off. Until school choice puts more money and power in the hands of parents, public education will continue to put teachers ahead of students.


Three million British pupils have left primary school without the basics since the Labour party came to power

More than three million children have started secondary school without a proper grasp of reading, writing and maths since Labour came to power. Half a million have left primary school unable to read and write at all. The depressing figures come despite Labour investing billions over the past decade in literacy and numeracy drives.

This September alone, around four in ten children - almost 220,000 - are expected to move up to secondary school without sufficient mastery of the three Rs. They will struggle to punctuate basic sentences, spell words with more than one syllable or recall the six times table. Around 35,000 will be completely unable to read and write.

National curriculum test results for 11-year-olds, published today, are expected to show that more than one in five is failing to reach the grade in maths, while almost as many are not achieving the standard expected of their age in English.

Between 1998 and last year, 3,069,843 children who took national tests for 11-year-olds failed to achieve 'level four' in reading, writing and maths, the standard expected for their age. An analysis by the Liberal Democrats shows that 465,797 of these children left primary school with 'no useful literacy' over the same period. This number is expected to pass the 500,000 mark when the Government unveils this year's results later today. Last year, 81 per cent of pupils reached 'level four' in English and 78 per cent in maths. This represented a one percentage point increase in both subjects on the figures for 2007. However, 39 per cent failed to achieve the required standard in reading, writing and maths combined.

Today's figures are expected to show marginal improvements in English and maths but they will still fall short of the Government's 85 per cent target in both subjects.

Liberal Democrat schools spokesman-David Laws said: 'It is shocking that under Labour nearly half a million children have so far left primary school unable to read and write. 'These children are far more likely to fall further behind and be turned off education altogether.'

Tory education spokesman Michael Gove said: 'Ministers may boast about ever-rising standards. But the reality is that hundreds of thousands of students do not have the qualifications required to compete effectively in the current economic environment.'


British Conservatives talk crap on education

"Excellence should be for all" -- a dreamy Leftist impossibility, a logical impossibility, in fact. The Labour party tried it for years with a disastrous outcome. There is no alternative to bringing back the Grammar (selective) schools if a way is to be opened up for all able Britons to get a decent education

Mr Gove is one of the inner circle, that core of those closest to the leader who provoke jealousy among some MPs. He is so close, in fact, that the Goves share the school run with the Camerons. As the party's education spokesman, it is his task to persuade the sceptics that a Conservative policy that is explicitly against grammar schools and selection stands a cat's chance of reversing the appalling decline in standards over the past 30 years.

It is a tall order. There are those who believe the Conservatives are ducking the real debate about education reform because they are cowards, public-school boys too embarrassed about their origins to challenge a cosy Left-wing consensus about comprehensive education.

The recent attack by the Charity Commission on the charitable status of independent schools is a case in point. Why did we not hear more from Mr Gove? He professes his admiration for what the independent sector achieves and boasts of his contacts with the headmasters of Eton and St Paul's. Asked whether he would reverse attempts to end the tax advantages of private schools, he says he is reviewing the issue: "Excellent academic institutions should not be damaged in this country."

He says he wants to run education for the many, not the few. "The responsibility of the Shadow Secretary of State is primarily to ensure that state education improves. The crucial argument that we need to have is how do we improve all of our children's education, given that the majority will be educated in the state sector."

What he takes issue with is the "soft bigotry of low expectations" – a phrase coined by George Bush senior – on both the Left and the Right. "There are people on the Right and on the Left who assume that any academic education can only ever be the preserve of a minority. They are both wrong."

Mr Gove is a Scot, who was adopted by parents from a modest background who made great efforts to educate him privately and send him to Oxford. This "accident of birth" informs the zeal with which he approaches the issue of grammar schools and selection.

He knows the emotion the issue provokes. His party bears the scars of a dispute that still simmers. The audience on Radio 4's Any Questions? recently roared its approval when the columnist Peter Hitchens called for a return to grammar schools. The view is one that exercises readers of The Daily Telegraph. My colleague Simon Heffer is one of their most eloquent champions.

"People know there is something wrong with our education system and they know the rot set in the Sixties," Mr Gove says. He insists he, too, wants a return to traditional teaching, to narrative history built around a chronology, to teachers as respected figures who introduce children to an inheritance of knowledge, to the proper place for science and mathematics,

"So when Peter Hitchens evokes grammar schools, or Simon Heffer does, or Jeff Randall does, all of them are absolutely hitting the sweet spot of public concern. Because people know that the place of knowledge at the heart of our curriculum is not what it was and not what it should be. More and more children should be given access to that kind of education. A proper knowledge-based curriculum should be available to all rather than just a few."

But surely that cannot be done without selection? It is a "difficulty" in the debate, he admits. Excellence should be for all. "I hope Simon Heffer wouldn't have any objection to all children enjoying the sort of education that he enjoyed. Simon's fear, I think, is that in order to have a good education you have to ration it to a minority. If you open it too widely, you dilute the quality."

Mr Gove's favourite school is Mossbourne Academy in Hackney, where the teachers wear ties, the pupils rise whenever an adult enters the room, and all students follow an academic curriculum until 16. And it is a state comprehensive. "For a school what matters is not its intake, but its ethos."

Mr Gove wants to turn every comprehensive into a grammar, but without the selection: "We will ensure that the curriculum your children are taught reflects your values, your concerns and your priorities."

To achieve that, he proposes a number of supply-side reforms, the most important being an end to local-authority control over the supply of school places, allowing funding to follow pupils wherever they go, and a pupil "premium" for those in poor areas to give an incentive to new providers – charities, livery companies, private firms – to set up new independent academies.

It is a priority for the first Queen's Speech of a new administration, but he fears some on his own side do not quite understand how serious Mr Cameron is about education. "We are going to have in David Cameron a Prime Minister who has made it explicitly clear that anyone who gets in his way will be blown out of the way," he says, before acknowledging the doubts some have about his leader.

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1 comment:

Jack Reylan said...

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