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Draconian Teacher-Licensing Proposal

The reductio ad absurdum of the accountability movement was recently seen in a proposal by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to strip underperforming teachers not only of their licenses but also of their ability to ever teach in the state again ("Mass. Teachers Defeat Corporate Ed Reform Bill Through Rank-and-File Power," In These Times, Nov. 18). Although the DESE caved after an angry three-week campaign by the Massachusetts Teachers Association, similar plans are likely to appear in other states.

I support efforts to remove teachers from the classroom who are persistently failing, despite efforts to help them.  But firing a teacher in one district should not be the basis for barring the teacher from ever applying to another district. Ineffectiveness can sometimes be the result of lack of chemistry between certain teachers and certain students.  It could also be the result of lack of professional experience and personal immaturity.

Consider the case of the great Jaime Escalante, who posted remarkable results in Garfield High School in East Los Angeles but was unable to duplicate his outcomes when he transferred to Hiram Johnson High School in Sacramento.  He was the same outstanding teacher, but the students were totally different.  Should Escalante have lost his license to teach in California as a result?

The Massachusetts proposal, if it had been adopted, would have effectively eliminated tenure, made teachers' jobs totally dependent on their supervisors' goodwill, and caused teachers to flee low-income districts.  I'm surprised that the proposal didn't also require putting underperforming teachers in stocks in the town square for their final humiliation.

The only good news to come out of this travesty is that it demonstrated what a unified teachers' union can accomplish.  I applaud the five thousand members of the MTA who refused to take the proposal lying down.  But I expect modified versions of the Massachusetts proposal to appear elsewhere.  It's open season on teachers.

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The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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