Teachers’ unions aren’t to blame for our schools’ problems, writes Diane Ravitch in American Educator, the magazine of the American Federation of Teachers. Unions serve as a check against incompetent administrators.
If scores are low, the critics say it must be because of the teachers’ contract, not because the district has a weak curriculum or lacks resources or has mediocre leadership. If some teachers are incompetent, it must be because of the contract, not because the district has a flawed, bureaucratic hiring process or has failed to evaluate new teachers before awarding them tenure.
Corporate-style reformers believe “the way to fix low-performing schools is to install an autocratic principal who rules with an iron fist,” Ravitch writes.
Many new principals have been trained in quickie programs of a year or less, which try to teach them to think like corporate leaders. Many of the graduates of these new principal programs have little classroom experience, and some have none at all. Many of them lack the judgment and knowledge to make wise decisions about curriculum and instruction or to evaluate seasoned teachers.
When experienced teachers must work under the control of an inexperienced principal, they need the protection of their union against arbitrary and unwise decisions.
Education Gadfly worries that Ravitch’s “checks and balances” approach could be all check and no balance, ending in paralysis.
To us, that’s part of the appeal of charter schools, where educators can coalesce around a shared educational vision, avoiding the us-versus-them mentality that permeates today’s debates. Would that their visions were always worth coalescing around!
I do wonder how many non-teachers can make good principals and superintendents — a retired admiral to run LA schools? — but complaints about incompetent administrators predate the reform era. I think they predate the Pleistocene Era.
By the way, Ravitch is a professor and author of numerous books, including Left Back: A Century of Failed School Reforms and The Language Police. Her latest book is The English Reader. Though she was writing in a teachers’ union magazine, she is not a union member.