Teachers unions have been cast as the villain for depriving students of a quality education for so long that any attempt now to rebut the charge is probably an exercise in futility. The latest reminder of their alleged pernicious influence was an editorial in the New York Observer on Sept. 28 that recited the usual bill of particulars ("Head of the Class"). But there is another side to the story that needs to be heard. The best way to do so is to look at what would happen if teachers unions were outlawed. Would their disappearance make a significant difference ...


With great fanfare, the George W. Bush Institute announced on Sept. 29 that it plans to mount an ambitious campaign to recruit principals from outside educational circles. The initiative, called the Alliance to Reform Education Leadership, will look for candidates with business, sports and military backgrounds in the belief that a new breed of school leadership is sorely needed. School districts are indeed faced with waves of principal retirements, as baby boomers reach the end of their careers. But whether the Bush Institute can produce the 50,000 K-12 principals by its target date of 2020 is doubtful. According to ...


When the Los Angeles Times decided to publish the rankings of 6,000 third- through fifth-grade teachers based on how much progress their students made in English and math on standardized tests, it rationalized the move by arguing that taxpayers have the right to know the results. On August 30, I wrote that the Times had made a serious mistake ("Why Not Name and Shame Teachers?). But I never imagined for a minute that it would have such a tragic outcome. On Sept. 28, the Times ran a story about the suicide of 39-year-old Rigoberto Ruelas, who taught fifth grade ...


Who would have thought that public schools would be the subject of so many movies released at the same time? I was going to write "star" instead of "subject," but the former connotes admiration and awe, which is hardly what the recent list of films has in mind. On the contrary, their intent is to depict public education in this country as a disaster, with teachers unions as the villain. Documentaries, of course, have always come in many different flavors. But I don't ever recall a spate that is so utterly unnuanced as the present crop. The top contender for ...


Today's reformers rightly demand to know how well teachers are teaching and students are learning. The trouble is that statistics are the only evidence they will accept. Numbers by themselves, however, are not sacrosanct. They are subject to manipulation by special interests and to misinterpretation by unsophisticated readers. I first learned how this is done by a piece that was published in Harper's in October 1964. Otto Friedrich wrote "There Are 00 Trees in Russia." He showed how even "the most careful checking of facts by a platoon of researchers does not necessarily add up to the whole truth." He ...


High school seniors who plan to attend a four-year college or university may want to rethink their choices if getting a job is their primary concern. The Wall Street Journal published the results of its survey of top corporate recruiters in a front-page story on Sept. 13 ("Penn State Tops Recruiter Rankings"). It found that they preferred graduates of state universities over the Ivies and elite liberal arts colleges. Recruiters said that graduates of top public universities possess the practical skills that their corporate employers are seeking. As a result, prospective students are being advised by their counselors to ask ...


In the midst of today's deep recession when unions would be expected to be indivisible, a nascent movement is calling that view into question. Since it began in March in New York City, Educators 4 Excellence has signed up 700 teachers who believe that the United Federation of Teachers does not represent its priorities in educating students in the nation's largest school district. Although the new group's membership pales in comparison with the 80,000 teachers in the UFT, it is a counterintuitive development that warrants closer examination. The immediate cause of the formation of Educators 4 Excellence is the ...


The data released by the Census Department on Sept. 16 are grim. The percentage of Americans living in poverty is the highest in 15 years, with children feeling the rise most acutely. The news has direct implications for reformers intent on narrowing the academic achievement gap and for states competing for the Race to the Top funds. With one in five children affected - more than 15 million - and with little relief in sight, teachers will find their best efforts unlikely to be enough to turn around the worst schools. That's because most failing schools are disproportionately populated by ...


Although the primary election on Sept. 14 in Washington D.C. was billed as a contest between Mayor Adrian Fenty and Council Chairman Vincent Gray, in actuality it was a referendum on Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee. That's because the differences between the two candidates on the ballot ultimately came down to their views on her leadership of the troubled school district. Rhee made this clear when she unabashedly campaigned for Fenty, who had appointed her soon after he was successful in getting legislation passed that eliminated D.C.'s elected school board and gave him full control on June 1, ...


In theory, parental choice of schools is supposed to assure educational equity. But in practice, the strategy has not always worked out that way. Reports from Los Angeles, Philadelphia, San Francisco and New York City, for example, illustrate why the devil is always in the details. For starters, the system is terribly confusing to even the most sophisticated parents. In an attempt to provide all parents with the opportunity to enroll their children in schools that best meet their needs and interests, officials have created rules worthy of a Solomon to decipher. Los Angeles uses a points system for parents ...


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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