I would not defend teachers or principals unions in all cases; indeed, I agree with Megan McCardle that their resistance, in some parts of the country, to paying professionals a bonus for working in low-income schools isn’t in the best interests of children. That isn’t merit pay tied to test scores or other factors a teacher can’t fully control — it’s simply paying professionals more for agreeing to do a much more difficult job, which would in turn attract better teachers and principals to where they are most needed. But by crediting the break-up of the New Orleans teacher’s union with a subsequent small improvement in test scores there, Megan ignores many of the other factors at play in the Big Easy overhaul. Here’s how the New York Times describes it:
Since Hurricane Katrina, most of the schools here have been taken over by the state, and are run either by [Superintendent] Vallas or as citizen-controlled charter schools. The local school board and administration — long notorious for corruption and political interference — have been neutered.
Classes are smaller, many of the teachers are youthful imports brought in by groups like Teach for America, principals have been reshuffled or removed, school-hours remedial programs have been intensified, and after-school programs to help students increased.
Still, the challenge remains substantial in a school district of 32,000, where 85 percent of the students are at least several years below their grade levels.
Just as it’s easy to pick out circumstances in which the interests of teachers unions seem antithetical to the interests of children, it’s easy to point to times when the two are in sync. Teachers unions advocate for smaller class sizes. Teacher’s unions advocate for newer, better supplies, from textbooks, to chairs and desks, to cleaner classrooms. Teacher’s unions advocate for more support staff, such as guidance counselors, psychologists to deal with learning disabilities and problems at home, and classroom assistants. All of that is very good for kids.
cross-posted at TAPPED