On Teachers and Teachers Unions

[I originally posted this on the MaDemsForum.  One reader kindly suggested that I also post it here, so that's what I'm doing.]

I’d like to say a few words about unions, particularly teachers unions.  I think there’s a lot of misunderstanding of the role they play and of their importance.

First I should say that I taught public school for 16 years — 13 years teaching junior high, and the last 3 years teaching high school.  For the last 6 of those years I was the president of the local teachers union (a Massachusetts Teachers Association local).  In 1985 I left teaching and have since worked as a software engineer and researcher at various small and large corporations, but I still teach one course a term in the Computer Science department at UMass/Boston.

Many people believe that the main function of teachers unions is to protect those teachers that are minimally competent or outright incompetent.  In my experience, this just isn’t the case.  When I started out teaching, I was surprised to find that the very best teachers in the school — the ones I hoped my kids (not yet born at the time) would have — were also the strongest union members.

I find that the engineers I now work with are astonished when I tell them this.  But there’s a reason for it, as I eventually found out.  The best teachers care passionately about their teaching and about their students.  They are not inclined to follow blindly the latest half-thought-out educational edict of a new principal or superintendent who may well be around for only a few years, who may only be looking to put something on his or her resume. (“I completely overhauled the reading program.”)  Who may be responding to pressure from a well-connected parent with a problem child.  And who in most cases probably knows a lot less about what goes on day to day in classrooms, and knows a lot less about the subject matter, than these teachers do.  So good teachers are often not in fact very well liked by administrators.  And minimally competent teachers, on the other hand, often get by — not to put too fine a point on it — by sucking up.  Unions, by putting a brake on favoritism, enable good teachers to do their job without always looking behind their back.  That’s why typically the best teachers are the most supportive of the union.

Another widely held belief is that there is a conflict of interest between teachers and their students, and that teachers unions, because they work for the interests of teachers, are fundamentally detrimental to education.

This is really a big question, but let me simply point out one thing: in contrast to some other occupations, no one goes into teaching to become rich.  A major motivation of teachers is the joy and satisfaction we all get out of seeing our students learn and grow.  If anything, this works to the disadvantage of teachers, who are grossly underpaid in comparison with the importance of the work they do.  In a very real sense, there is no fundamental conflict of interest between teachers and students, and without seeing that, I don’t think anyone can really understand the dynamics of what goes on in a school and a school system.

So now let me say a word about merit pay.  The first thing to realize is that it has been tried in many cities and towns across the country, for many years, and it has never worked.  Every place that has tried it has abandoned it within a few years.  There are a number of reasons for this.  Here’s one: I once heard a man who had been an assistant principal in a large elementary school.  The school system had implemented merit pay, and of the three third grade teachers in this school, one was getting merit pay.  This poor guy spent all summer on the phone fielding calls from parents who wanted to know why their child wasn’t getting “the teacher with merit pay”.

A more fundamental reason is that it is extremely difficult to evaluate teachers in a way that would justify merit pay.  Honest administrators (and there *are* honest administrators) know this, and find the whole process uncomfortable.  And teachers generally have no confidence in administrator evaluations, partly for the reasons I gave above.  It’s the sort of situation that’s just open to abuse.

But the idea keeps coming back.  It’s pushed notably by business leaders who think that this works in business, and so it ought to work everywhere.  Well, it does work in motivating sales forces — there’s no doubt about that.  But I’ve never been convinced that differential pay motivated software engineers one bit — in fact, engineers are always very quiet about what they get paid.  And teachers are much more like engineers than they are like a sales force.  So when Chris Gabrieli says, as he did in one of the pre-primary debates (I don’t have the exact words, but I believe it was pretty close to this): “It’s really simple — just like in business.  You measure the kids at the beginning of the year, and you measure them at the end.  And that’s how you pay teachers.”  — well, this completely overlooks what motivates teachers; it completely overlooks the destructive effects this would have on curriculum; it completely overlooks the wildly diverse ways that children grow and develop; and I’m sure that most teachers would find it insulting.  I know I would.

In light of all this, I was really taken aback to see the composition of the pre-K-12 Transition Committee working group for the Deval Patrick administration.  Here’s what it consists of:

  2 superintendents of schools
  2 principals
  1 college president
  1 law firm director
  1 director of an education research foundation
  4 heads of organizations partly or solely
  concerned with education.  One of these
  (Chris Gabrieli) is fundamentally a business person.

Not one teacher.  And even more significantly, not one teachers union leader.  These are the people who day in and day out have to give serious thought to the conditions under which teachers work and the conditions under which education takes place.  These are the people who articulate every day the need for support for good teachers, and who have to patiently explain every day why cheap and simplistic solutions to educational problems are doomed to failure.

Please don’t misunderstand me.  I actually don’t know any of these people.  And I’m not saying that any of them are vicious or evil.  But I am saying that to form a working group in this way, without including the authentic voice of teachers, is just outrageous.

How could this have happened?  Well, I saw Deval Patrick several times during the campaign was asked if he was prepared to “stand up” to the teachers unions.  And I’ve seen comments in the press that various pundits are looking to see if he will “pander” to the unions — presumably by providing more money for teacher salaries.  And I’m guessing that this is why the composition of this task force is so awfully skewed.

I’m really disappointed.  And I can only hope that this kind of distorted planning process will change, and change soon.

  –Carl Offner

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57 Comments . Leave a comment below.
  1. Ohmygod THANK YOU!

    Where have you been all my posting life?  Please take a hearty high-five from me, a shit-disturbing, outspoken teacher takes her job seriously with a take-no-prisoners attitude. 

    Yes, you're absolutely right: no classroom teacher or MTA (or AFT) rep sits on this committee.  There it is, writ large.

    Please be vocal.  Please attend a K-12 meeting near you and tell them what you know, believe, fear, and hope. 

    Tangentially, I offer this bottom line.  There are two professions where absolutely everybody thinks they're an expert--and I've worked in both:  medicine and education.  Everybody's a backseat healthcare expert because everybody's been sick and been to an office or clinic.  In education, everybody's a backseat education expert because everybody's been a student.  I've had arguments over the years with people trying to redefine my professional reality or responsibilities, and my response is always this:  Yes, you have a beating heart, you've experienced it's function every day of your life.  Does that make you an expert in cardiology?  What usually follows is the sort of silence associated with growing hair. 

    Thank you, again, Carl, for taking the time to write this.  BTW, as one of those non-traditional students UMass/Boston has so richly served, I thank you for what you've done, for speaking up, and for investing time in those students who take a little bit longer finding their way. 

    • Response to Lightiris

      You asked where Carl has been posting.  He and I moderate a relatively small group called MADemsForum.  That is where Carl has been posting.  You can subscribe by sending an e-mail to mademsforum-subscribe@yahoogroups.com.

      Or you can meet at the Westborough DTC Holiday Party.  In case you have fallen off all my e-mail lists, it is on Sunday December 3 from 2 to 6 PM at 17 Gary Circle in Westborough.  You can meet some famous BMG posters like Susan M, Michael Forbes Wilcox, shiltone and now Carl Offner.  LG elect Tim Murray is also expected.

      See you Sunday?

    • Teachers Union - not the Teamsters

      A friend, a school committee member, was upset when she learned that the teachers union was planning to picket the homes of school committee members.  I don't know what she expected to find on her doorstep, but I told her not to worry.  She was likely to find kindergarten teachers holding a sign complaining about the lack of a contract.  I told her to bring out a plate of cookies.

      We are looking at a profession of people who want to teach, and want to make the world better for our children.  They want the supplies they need, a class size small enough to be effective, and a living wage.  With double-digit increases in housing prices, and pay increases held down by tight municipal finances and Proposition 2.5, it's not easy for our teachers.  Many good young teachers are leaving the state for greener pastures - often a few exits south on I-91 in Connecticut.

      Meanwhile, school committee members are the ones who are publicly accountable for the operation of our schools.  School committee members stand for election, stand before town meetings to defend the budget, stand on corners for overrides to fill the hole in the budget caused by reduced state aid.  School committees come to the collective bargaining table with the teachers union with a couple of pennies in the pocket, not enough to buy some of the improvements (longer school year, longer day) that would help improve student achievement.

      When the State Board of Education decides it wants to change regulations, or place a charter school in town, school committee members got the cheap seats.  School committee members were given two minutes (if they were lucky) to make a comment that was ignored by a bunch of ideologues.  Now we look up at the working group, with no school committee members.  Well, we can sit in the audience and make a statement to the committee, and hope the working group conveys the message in a policy recommendation to our new governor.

      We're looking up at the stage, and who do we see?  State Board of Education member Henry Thomas III.  Deja vu all over again. So now we have two minutes to tell Henry Thomas III that we should remove the State Board of Education and start over, with the hope that Henry Thomas III would send that recommendation off to the new administration?

      • And some of us

        do both--teach in public schools and serve as elected school committee members.  I would urge teachers to get more involved in their local school committees when they don't live in the town/district where they teach.  We bring a lot to the school committee table....

        • CoI laws?

          LI, when I inquired about running for school committe before moving from another town, I was told that conflict of interest laws prevent teachers of one system serving on the school committe of another.  Are regional committees and exception to this, or is this a town-by-town thing?

          sabutai   @   Tue 4 Dec 7:00 PM
          • Not a conflict

            It is not a conflict of interest for a teacher in town A to serve on the school committee for town B.  You only have a conflict of interest if you are serving on a school committee that oversees the school system that employs a teacher.

            There are other conflict of interest laws that apply.  There are conflicts of a lesser degree, in which you need to disclose the potential conflict.  For example, a police officer or a spouse of a district employee may serve, but must disclose the conflict and could be disqualified from participating in certain votes.

            If you, your spouse, your siblings, your parents, or your children have  a financial interest (no matter how small) you cannot participate in decisions pertaining to that action.  For example, your brother works for the local hardware  store, and the district bought a dollar's worth of nails from that store, you can't sign the vendor warrant or approve that payment.

            It does become fun with regional school districts, as you are technically a town empolyee and you are conflicted in every municpality in the district.4a7d3d609129a9296bf7ac0608c2097

            The state ethics commission will give you a ruling on potential conflict of interest questions.  They cannot go after you if you call for advice, faithfully represent your situation, and follow their opinion.  Before doing anything, call them for a free ruling on potential conflicts.

    • Love the cardiology line...

      Like any good teacher - I am going to steal that one from you the next time I argue with someone else.  But I will be sure to quote you!

  2. Amen

    That's probably the best thing I ever read on this site, and given the high-end work of David, Charley et al. this is really saying something.

    Thank you!

  3. Wow, that really upsets me.

    I am disappoined in Patrick for this.  I'm curious though, where do you think the teachers unions and the state could find some common ground?

  4. Also, I hope you voice this directly to the Patrick team.

  5. I agree

    I have sat across the table from the teachers' unions, and I was once a member of the union.  I think you got things right, and part of the problem has been the deliberate villification of the unions by those who want to privatize and profit from public education.  Villify unions, denounce teachers, decrease resources,  that's the agenda of a cynical breed that sees schools as an untapped and lucrative business opportunity.

    Atop the Pioneer Institute's wishlist, vouchers and charters.  James Peyser, the outgoing chair of the State Board of Education, was executive director of the Pioneer Institute.  The forces of privatization have solid control of the State Board of Education.

    State Board of Education member Abigail Thernstrom, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute who is a former member of Pioneer's board of academic advisers authored Pioneer's 1991 book ''School Choice in Massachusetts."

    Now Sandra Stotsky, darling of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute is Romney's newest appointment to the State Board of Education.

    So, we now have State Board of Education member and charter school trustee  Henry Thomas III on the education task force.  We have Chris Gabrieli, investor in for-profit charter schools

    No teachers. No school committee members. The privatization advocates have seats at the table. Not a good situation.

  6. great post

    ...but I'm really confused by this:

    When I started out teaching, I was surprised to find that the very best teachers in the school -- the ones I hoped my kids (not yet born at the time) would have -- were also the strongest union members.

    I find that the engineers I now work with are astonished when I tell them this.

    why would that be surprising? wouldn't it always be the best teachers who are most interested in improving the educational environment?

    • Because strong and strident

      union members are often vilified by the general public as the hack employees trying to protect their turf by doing minimal work.  How many times did Kerry Healey suggest that the biggest obstacle in improving education is the "teachers union"? 

  7. well,

    one of the first times I met Deval I talked to him about the ALL white board of EEC (Department of Early Education and Care that Mitt Romney appointed) and I asked him and I mean" what do  you think of the all white board he said "we ought a change that" we know the board should represent all of the children it is supposedly representing; I know that, you know that, Deval knows that. The question I have is does it have to be a union teacher or will any teacher that wants to shape and mold tomorrows citizen do? (for the record my BEST teachers taught outside of the norm). I believe it needs to be a teacher, capital T.

    Secondly you listed Chris Gabrieli as "is fundamentally a business person"

    I am sorry, but you cannot be further from the truth. He knows more about after school programs than you can imagine. He was the only candidate (democrat) that understood the disparagies between infant/toddler care and preschool  than anyone. If you wish to debate on the merits of preschool I am up for the task.

    Lastly I believe you are correct a teacher NEEDS to be here . The problem I have is that we ( early childhood professionals) advocate for you "real teachers" and we get what(?????) from you

  8. Your argument does not completely hold water.

    If your assertions are correct then answer the following questions:

    Why do Charter Schools crank out better trained students with higher test scores?  If teachers were judged by their propensity to suck up to administrators, then schools run by Sabis would not be doing so well, would they?

    You cannot generalize from your own situation. The fact that you were hired by a software firm shows your own competence in your field.

    I am sure that Sabis and other Charter school operators have found a way to judge the competence of instructors, something which unions insist is impossible.  If they expended as much effort in devising a way to do it as they did in fighting the concept we would have a better system in place.

    • Not this again.

      "Why charter schools crank out better trained students with higher test scores?"

      rknik, there are so many possible factors as to why students get high test scores besides how their teachers were paid:  family educational background, choice of classroom curriculum, home educational resources (such as internet & calculators), etc.  Please find a study producing a relationship between teacher pay systems and student test scores that controls for socioeconomic background of the student and link to it.

      By the way, exactly what are Sabis' criteria for paying one teacher more than another?

    • Sorry but Charter Schools do not outperform traditional schools

      The best data available on this issue comes from the NAEP exam/study - which is the 'gold standard' of educational achievement data.

      And before you start citing that DOE sponsored piece of propaganda, let's keep in mind that the NAEP data is much more accurate and scientific than the DOE study for a number of reasons:

      1.  The sample is more accurate.  Students who take the NAEP are randomly sampled where as the MCAS is handed out to everyone.

      2.  Unlike the MCAS, NAEP questions are not revealed to teachers, students, parents or the general public prior to the exam. 

      The DOE study is not as valid scientifically as the NAEP - and the NAEP is clear on this issue:  traditional public schools outperform charter schools - everywhere and at every level. 

  9. Shell game

    Charter schools have a self-selective population. Parents who move from apartment to apartment, who rarely check to see if their kids are in school aren't going to apply to get their kids into a charter school.

    Charter schools also get the "average" amount of funding that their host district gets for educating a student. That money is taken away from the host district.

    If you are taking away the easiest-to-educate kids (read: cheapest) and leaving the difficult kids, and are giving the charter school more money than it needs (and the host school less than it needs), the outcome is nearly predetermined.

    That "extra" amount, above and beyond what is needed to educate an easy-to-educate child, is given to the private company as "profit". Nice shell game, huh?

    • 2 corrections

      Another thread, another charter school jihad lurking in the comments. 

      Oh well. 

      1. Small correction: Charter school funding is indexed by student status - for example, if they qualify for free or reduced lunch.  Severe special needs are also factored in. 

      Also, districts get reimbursed for every student who leaves for a charter.  For example, if a Boston 8th grader chooses a charter instead of a district, the district gets $20,000 over 3 years.

      So it's not a pure average. 

      2. I disagree with your assertion about who attends schools of choice.  Of course, I can tell you anecdotes about parents at the charter school where I work and you can respond in kind. 

      So I thought it might be better to use what numbers exist, though they are imperfect. 

      a. Black students in Boston fare the worst academically (though Hispanic achievement is similarly low), which is why charter public schools reach out most aggressively to those families. 

      Boston Charter Public Schools: 65% black, 17% Hispanic, 13% white, 2% Asian. 

      Boston Exam Schools: 26% black, 10% Hispanic, 37% white, 27% Asian. 

      Boston Pilot Schools: 48% black, 20% Hispanic, 22% white, 10% Asian.

      BPS District as a whole: 44% black, 33% Hispanic, 13% white, 9% Asian. 

      b. An irony is that in the early years, circa 1995, charter critics said Boston charters would "cream" all the white kids. 

      Then the opposite happened!

      Instead of admitting they were wrong, some [of the same!] critics said charters were now "segregating" black students. 

      c. Others tried a new argument: charter public schools were taking the "best" minority students.  No data was provided, of course: just assertion -- if choice is involved "the best parents" would automatically sign up. 

      Certainly that's true in some cases. 

      However, one would expect another group of parents to sign up for other schools -- parents whose kids were doing so badly in traditional schools that they were willing to try anything new. 

      In balance, it seems like these groups almost cancel out. 

      Charter: 67% low-income;

      Pilot Schools: 66% low-income;

      BPS: 73% low-income

      Or mild and moderate special needs children (separate special needs students are funded differently)

      Charters: 12%

      Pilots: 12%

      District: 11%

      I'm not disagreeing with you that there is selection-bias in who signs up for an admission lottery.  Regular schools probably have more satisfied parents and more "No clue what's going on" parents.  Charters and pilots probably get more dissatisfied parents whose kids are either underchallenged or failing miserably.  The data suggests that these groups roughly "come out in the wash." 

      I believe it's time to stop viewing innovative approaches as anomalies or threats to traditional public schools and begin seeing them as part of the future of public education.  -John Kerry 

      • Oh, how silly of me

        To think that Goldstein might want to discuss the real question that was raised here.

        The state Board of Education is filled with people from right-wing think tanks who are advancing privatization (Commonwealth charters and vouchers).  It's part of Romney's litmus test for appointees.

        Now, we have a transition team with at least two people with direct ties to the privatization/charterization movement, Henry Thomas III and Chris Gabrieli.  Okay, the charter people on the State Board of Education have a record of shutting public officials out of the discourse, but that doesn't mean Deval should do the same thing.  Here's the complaint.  The people who have invested heart and soul into making public education accountable to the voters, school committee members, are not represented on this transition.  I look at the score as Charters 2, Public 0.

        Goldstein, do you disagree with this assessment?

        Also, Goldstein, there's more to the world than just Boston.  Cross the river.  The people of Cambridge are paying for a charter school that has failed to meet AYP for 7 out of the past eight years.  It's in Restructuring.  How about the Springfield charter school where State Board of Education member Henry Thomas III is founder and current Chairman of the Board of Directors?  It's in Corrective Action.

        Why?  Aren't we supposed to close failing charter schools, or does ideology trump reality at the state Board of Education?  And what kind of learned advice do you think that Henry Thomas III can add to the transition?

        • the score

          1. You say "Discuss the real question here." 

          Actually, I thought the original post was about the representation of teachers, and possibly teachers unions, in DP World.  It was also about merit pay. 

          Then the post got steered to charter public schools. 

          So I responded to all 3 - representation of teachers, merit pay, and charter schools.  Not sure how I'm not "discussing the real question." 

          2. I think an area where we happen to agree is if failing charters should be closed.  Generally, if it's a close call, my opinion is they should be shut. 

          I also think we should shut other chronically failing public schools, which are non-charter. 

          However, I'm sympathetic to the families in failing schools - whether charter public or traditional public.  Sometimes a school is failing but better than the next available option. 

          For example, at the time when Frederick Douglass Charter Academy was closed, it outperformed half of the Boston middle schools in MCAS.  Of course those schools were not closed, and since all the other (high-performing) charters and the higher-performing traditional schools were full, parents inevitably had to send their kids to WORSE schools. 

          3. As for your scoreboard:

          The original post was about whether teachers or union officials were on these committees, and like I said, there's just one union official, though not zero. 

          If you're scoring on support for charter public schools, we've got Bill Clinton, Al Gore, John Kerry, Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, Mark Warner....oh that's not what you meant. 

          I count: 7 not-pro-charter, 2 middle, 2 pro-charter on DP's transition team. 

          Given that charters have 67% support (versus 28% against) among MA residents, isn't that underrepresenation? 

          • 67% support?

            Where do you get that specious statistic?

            • How do you know...

              it's specious if you don't know from where he's getting it?

              • And oh yes...

                GGW, specious or not, where are you getting that? :)

                • where i get all my specious stuff!

                  State House News Poll done by KRC Communications Research in 2006.  Here it is cited by Scot Lehigh in the Globe. 

                  By a ratio of more than 2 to 1 -- 67 percent to 28 percent -- Massachusetts residents support charter schools, it finds. (Conducted March 15 to 17, that survey of 400 state residents has a margin of error of 4.8 percent.)

                  Mammamia, I love how BMG charter school discussion works. 

                  If you show data that charters outperform their sending districts; that there's at most 1 or 2 for-profit charters of 57 in MA; that charters are popular with the public; that they're a Clinton legacy and supported by national Dem leaders -- then the status quo protectors ask for a cite. 

                  But then when you show the cite, they pipe down for a little while so I can go watch some college hoops, but then make the exact same charges a few weeks later -- willfully ignoring the data! 

                  And when you make a good faith BMG effort to pull together some original numbers -- to show that charter wait lists are ginormous, or that demographically charter kids look pretty much like district school kids (and exactly like pilot school kids) -- they go long on histrionics. 

                  Pablo, my friend, you're the Dick Cheney of education policy -- you know a lot of stuff, but when you really want to believe something, it's damn the facts, full spin ahead!  Where's your secret bunker? 

                  • PS

                    i predict some sort of challenging of State House News Polls.  can't win. 

                    • Scott Lehigh

                      Scott Lehigh is the questionable source.

                      Goldstein, you know I support charter schools, and if you ask the question the right way, you will get me to give a positive answer.

                      Do I support pilot schools?  Yes. Do I support Horace Mann charter schools?  Yes. Do I support Commonwealth Charter Schools that have the support of the host community, such as the Lowell Middlesex Academy Charter School?  Yes. Do I support Commonwealth Charters that don't perform well, that are shoved down the throat of the host community?  No. Do I support the funding scheme for Commonwealth Charters?  No.

                      I don't think I am far from mainstream thought on charter schools.

              • Specious is a polite term for...

                Sometimes you need to take the bull by the tail and face the situation at hand. 

                If there was a legitimate, objective study that produced that kind of result, I would know about it.

    • Charter reimbursement.

      There is no charter reimbursement.  It is true that tuition payments out to a charter ramp up during the first four years a charter is open, but in the second year, tuitions already match what is paid for public school choice in or out of most districts.

      After a charter has been open for four years, it is not uncommon for tuition to charters to exceed twice what the tuition is for public school choice.  Public choice is capped at $5,000, while tuition to charter schools often exceeds $12,000 - in some districts hitting $20,000 this year because of a not-very-transparent formula.

      One of Patrick's campaign statements was "Moreover, the funding of charters drains resources from district schools that still educate most of our kids."  I think the correct way to resolve that is by aligning what is paid by localities for public school choice and charter tuition, and then having the state take responsibility as the home district for charter schools to bring their funding up to foundation level plus capital budget and transportation.

      Meanwhile, on the subject of whether charters "score higher" than public schools - that question is moot when compared with the scores that will be mandated under Mass law and No Child Left Behind in a few years.  Most charter schools will be labeled as "chronically underperforming" by 2012, as will most traditional public schools. 

  10. kathleen kelley

    Patrick's transition team -- 19 people with loftier status than the 200+ "committee members" -- has 2 education people. 

    One is the retired head of the teachers union. 

    • No balance

      We have the charter school trustee and State Board of Education member. We have the for-profit charter school investor. Where's the school committee members?  Where's the representatives of public governance?  Where's the people who sit across the negotiating table with the teachers unions?

  11. hypothetical


    Let's say teachers in a school vote for X new policy b/c they think it will benefit kids. 

    Union official rushes over.  "Don't do X," they say.  "If you do it voluntarily, and it works, then Administration will want everyone else do it."

    And if the teachers push back, then the union official says "Well at the very least let's nix it for now, and then I'll have one more chip at the bargaining table.  So when they propose to raise our health premiums, I can offer X instead." 

    1. Do you think this this poses a "conflict" between union interests and student interests?

    2. Do you think this ever happens? 

    • answering own question

      Since Carl passed on this one, I'll offer an answer:

      It just happened. 

      Two weeks ago, Boston teachers just voted 30 to 7 to turn their school into a pilot school.  The teachers believed having a more flexible school, waiving many union rules, controlling some of their budget....would help kids. 

      The Boston Teachers Union, which has been frustrated in negotiating their new contract, and very cool to pilot school expansion, objected.  They had a chat with the offending teachers.

      Result: New vote - 8 teachers flipped (and it takes 2 thirds to become a pilot).


      1. Teachers at a school believe X will help kids 2. Union 're-educates' teachers 3. No X


      4. (Prediction: X becomes bargaining chip for BTU in negotiations)

      • $quot;Since Carl passes...$quot;

        You seem to want to dare me to get into a verbal fight with you about an issue that I know nothing about.  And I'd guess that you also know nothing about it, as well.  I'll make just a few general points (since I can't make any specific ones), and leave it at that.

        1.  If you start from the assumption that unions are opposed to the interests of students and education, then you can certainly fit anything you want into that view.  And using terms like "re-educated" and "offending teachers" is just a cheap way of making an inflammatory point without justifying it.

        2.  While I have no idea what happened in the situation you're talking about, I do know that in my own experience, union leadership is far from the top of the power pecking order in any school system.  Administrators have the power to order teachers to do things.  Union leaders don't.  When I was a local president, I never had the ability to tell anyone to do anything.  I spent my time persuading people, with more or less success.  And I spent a lot of time being told what to do, and was once told in a general membership meeting not to publish an article I had written (not that anyone disagreed with it; they just thought it shouldn't be published at that point).  I disagreed with that decision, but it wasn't mine to make.

        And the same holds for the MTA (which was our parent statewide union).  So the notion that union leaders could "muscle" members into changing their vote just doesn't ring true to me.

        3.  What might have happened (and again, I really don't know) is that the union had some considerations that some of the members hadn't thought of.  This is not unusual, because union leaders have to deal day-to-day with issues that are often not at the top of most people's minds.  So they presented these issues and convinced some members to change their minds.  I don't see anything wrong or undemocratic or unprofessional about this.

        And it doesn't automatically happen that way in any case.  For instance, our members generally had a lot of respect for our negotiating team, and almost always deferred to their judgments.  But on one occasion the general membership voted down a contract settlement that had been provisionally accepted by the negotiating team and was supported by the local president (and the MTA rep), forcing the negotiations to be reopened.

        That's the sum total of my wisdom on this topic.  I don't see any purpose in continuing this, because I have absolutely no knowledge of the particular case.  Someone who does would be better able to speak to this, assuming it even needs to be spoken to at all.

          --Carl Offner

  12. Thank you Carl....

    I too am a teacher.  And I like to believe a dedicated, hardworking one at that.  I cannot thank you enough for your post - especially given a few of the pro-charter school postings that I have read here and on other dem sites.

    As a teacher in the Boston Public Schools, and as a very active member and building rep in the BTU, I would like to ad a few observations with regards to merit pay.

    Another fundamental flaw with the whole "measure them at the beginning and measure them at the end" kind of thinking is that Education Reform is leading to the resegregation of students in Boston.  And when I say resegregation, I do not mean strictly on the basis of race but on the basis of 'readiness to learn'.

    Essentially, what is happening in Boston is that a three tier system is being created - with the exam schools and a few elite charters on the top, then the pilots and k-8's in the middle, and "the rest" on the bottom. 

    The kids and families who are best prepared to participate in the educational process are "choosing" the schools in the top two tiers.  And the children who we are now, by law, not supposed to "leave behind" are being left in the bottom tier schools.

    Many of these kids are so incredibly damaged that it is impossible to teach them in any way that resembles what most of us think of as a conventional classroom experience.  Now don't get me wrong - I have worked with many of these kids, and love them with all my heart and soul (despite the fact that I have been bitten, scratched, punched, kicked, harrassed and threatened by these kids too many times to count). 

    These children rank among the most neglected, disempowered and abused members of our society - and we owe them all of the love and resources that can be brought to bear to improve their lot in life.  But there is just no way to measure the academic and emotional progress of these kids in a way that is fair and objective to either them or the teachers.

    Some may say "use their MCAS scores".  That would be nice if we could get them to actually sit down and take the MCAS.  And even then, get them to attempt to answer the questions.  You can force these children to do anything that they don't want to do - and forcing them into situations that make them feel inadequate or "unintelligent" (ie. taking the MCAS test) usually leads to emotional and violent outbursts.

    But back to merit pay - it sounds great on paper, but in practice how are we going to attract the best and brightest teachers to deal with the most desperate children and families when the system segregates these kids and then punishes the teachers who want to work with them?

    Conventional merit pay (which is to say "punitive" merit pay) will never, ever work in education - especially in populations that need the most support.

    In closing, thanks again Carl for your thoughtful and considerate defense of our profession and our unions (and yes, in Boston the best teachers are also the staunchest union advocates and participants as well).

    • howard, what do you think of denver merit pay?

      Teachers in Denver Public Schools are steadily streaming into district headquarters this week to enroll in a new merit pay plan viewed as revolutionary by supporters nationwide.

      The plan is explained here [http://www.hoover.or...].

      Veteran teachers like you get to pick if they want to join.  New teachers automatically sign up. 

      1. Would you opt in?

      2. If no, would you support other Boston teachers being able to choose for themselves? 

      • I haven't read the Denver plan

        and I'm not a teacher (yet), but I am taking the MTELs this spring now that I have finished grad school and I hope to be in front of a classroom full time come next fall.  Having worked in schools (as a sub, volunteer and guest speaker) before I am incredibly excited about it and am certainly not doing it for the money, knowing I could make far more in the private sector. 

        Still, I am a young man up to my eyeballs in student debt and living paycheck to paycheck.  If there was a plan so that I could get a couple extra grand in my pocket at the end of the year I would absolutly work that extra bit harder to ensure that I got it.I'd skip the beers with my buddies to stay home on a Friday night and grade papers with extra comments.  I'd forgo coaching (something I also want to do) so that I could stay longer after school with kids who needed even more extra help.

        If I were still in college and sure that I wanted to teach I would have studied physics instead, if math and science teachers got paid more, as they deserve to.  I might even have volunteered to teach in failing schools if a hazard pay bonus was added on.

        I want to reiterate that I am not going into teaching for the money.  I'm doing it because I loved when a kid ran up to me in the hall and told me that the essay I helped him with got him into his first choice college.  I loved the look on the face of the student when she finally got the algebra equasion.  I'm doing it for all the 'right' reasons, but that doesn't mean that if I can get paid more to do it then I won't jump at the chance.

      • I would have to read the plan...

        And I haven't had a chance to do that yet.  You should also know that there is an initiative in either Cleveland or Cinncinnati that was endorsed and actively supported by the unions.  I went to a plenary session about it at the AFT Quest conference two years ago.

        Essentially, the only kinds of merit awards that will and can work are ones that award teachers for pursuing professional development, which is essentially what we have right now in our pay scales.

        Teachers salaries are generally laid out on a table (years of service going down and education level going across).  Each year for the first ten or twelve years teachers go up a "step" in pay.  Additionally, you can earn more if you continue to take classes and move from lane to land (Bachelor's, Master's, Master's +15 credits, Masters +30, etc.,)

        In Boston our contract goes all the way up to 75.  Most other cities only go to 60.

        But I digress.  The real point of merit pay is not to pay some teachers more, but to rationalize and justify why the vast majority of teachers are underpaid.


        • And why?

          Each year for the first ten or twelve years teachers go up a "step" in pay.

          And why is that?  Here's a hypothetical for you: 

          Let's say I'm a 7th-grade math teacher with 5 year's experience.  I have the same contractual obligations as any other 7th-grade math teacher in the district.  Yet, my colleague gets more pay and protections than I do.  Forget the fact that my students make more gains, that I am computer literate and have constructed a website for students/parents.  Forget that I am consistently at the building until 5PM while my better compensated/protected colleague is gone after the last bell.  Forget that I volunteer to chaperone dances, participate in the Blue Ribbon committees, and hold early-morning homework sessions for any struggling student, not just my own.  Forget that when the next resource action comes, I'll be ahead of my colleague on the layoff list.

          You have a cynical view of other salary structures.  Employers  use salary as means to incentivize and reward workers.  They also use salary to address labor market shortages.  I'm really tired of hearing about how teachers are underpaid.  Had I stayed in teaching rather than moving to the high-tech industry, I would have been making a comparable salary as I am in the private sector, but I would have had better benefits.  Something to consider:

          In FY05, the average teacher's salary in Boston was $67,632.  The average household income in Boston was $72,783. 

          In other words, the average teacher individually makes nearly as much as an entire household in the community they serve.  A two-teacher household living in town would actually be one of the better compensated families in Boston. 

  13. Amen

    What a wonderful post.  Well done.

    I've always been a big fan of unions, especially the teachers unions, as a clear countervalence to decision making prrocesses that are poorly understood and often improperly implemented.  Your post validates this to me and provides a warning: if we are to protect against poor quality teachers ( a worthy goal) how, are we to protect against poor quality administrators??  And aren't the incentives of the job that you mentioned at least some protection against, if not incompetence, then people who lack serious ambition in the field?  What guarantees do we have in this regard with the beauracracy?

    After all, what is a union but a adjunct governor (in the mechanical sense) in the decision making process: a protection against the worst impulse of administration?

    And you are correct that merit pay is an attempt at direct mapping of warmed over business theory (sic) to educational endeavors: in fact, the lone and sole tenant of business theory is just this willingness to throw money at problems. Gabrieli is an exemplar at this.  Throw money at the problem is his one and only tactic.

    What amazes me most of all is that the claim 'it works in business' is just so patently ridiculous  Having been neck deep in the telecommunications industry for several business cycles now (boom bust boom... diddy bop!) I can attest that business often works in spite of itself...  Don't take my word for it. Just read Dilbert.  It's funny because it's so so true.

    • Yes, unions provide an important counterforce

      and protect vulnerable teachers, who are public employees, against the political winds of change.  I like the term you use: adjunct governor.  Without the unions, there would be much less stability in the system.  Some change can be good, but over the long term, stability is important for children and families and the community, despite what everyone with a new "great idea" for public education wants you to think.  Imagine if every new great idea could be implemented what a crazy hodge-podge that would be!  Mostly people need to know what to expect.  School creates a space--a safe space (hopefully)--for children to learn. I happen to believe that children basically educate themselves, at their own pace, over time, and that teachers guide that learning.  Every child has different interests and different needs.  Teachers protect that learning impulse, and foster it.  Ideally.

      Stability, and SMALLER CLASS SIZE (lower student/teacher ratio), are what is needed. 

      Money is important but what is more important is the relationship between teachers and students, and the teacher's ability to protect the space for children to learn about themselves and the world, and to develop intellectual skills for future growth. 

      Whenever I hear people talk about the whole "business model" for raising and educating children, I wonder how much they think mothers should charge their fetuses to house and feed them for the next 25 years.  It isn't about the money.

  14. Very Good Points, Carl.

    It is very fashionable in our society to depict teachers' unions as a greedy beast that must be tamed.  That false assumption was the basis for Jon Keller's debate question about to which constituencies a candidate had told "no."  No child benefits by the uncritical repetition of this meme.

    I wish more people could read your post.  Especially Deval Patrick.

    • fear not

      The teachers unions gave the Governor Elect several million $ reasons to view them in a certain way.

      • Ya know,

        that's exactly the kind of disparaging insinuation that does nothing to further discourse or constructively move people or children forward.  Your comment is exactly the sort of thing this diarist is talking about.  So feel free to suggest that Deval Patrick was bought and/or is beholden to the "teachers unions," but rest assured that's sort of rhetoric that actually hurts children. 

        • There ya go

          So feel free to suggest that Deval Patrick was bought and/or is beholden to the "teachers unions," but rest assured that's sort of rhetoric that actually hurts children. 

          Goldsteingonewild hurts children.  Oh well, spare the rod...

          • Read more carefully:

            ...that's the sort of rhetoric that actually hurt children. 

            Must have gone to a public school, eh?

            • Huh

              1. I read your remark and understood it in the same way, that GGW hurts children with his opinion, err, rhetoric.

              2. Where's the connection between a political opinion about the writer's view of the potential relationship between the union and Deval's administration and the effect that opinion will have on children? This seems to be more of a beef about the effect of political contributions on policy-making, not pedagogy.

              3. Is your remark indicative of the type of comments we're likely to read in the future, whenever somebody disagrees with your position?

              4. What does your remark "Must have gone to a public school, eh?" mean? That the writer is stupid because he went to public school or because he didn't? 

  15. On teachers and teachers unions

    Carl, I have been in education in Massachusetts for over 30 years, 16 as a teacher and 17 as a principal.  I have worked in five different school districts in this state.  I have been an MTA local president and an administrator.

    It is true that teachers unions do protect incompetent or mediocre teachers from being properly dismissed.  I had an MTA rep once tell me that his job was not to protect the great teachers (they didn't need his help) it was to protect the mediocre teachers.  He told this to me when I was the local president, thinking I was on his side.  In most schools there are very few incompetent teachers, but they do exist.  The MTA certainly puts roadblocks in the way of administrators who are trying to move these very few out of the classroom.  It is possible to move these teachers out, but it is extremely difficult, and incredibly expensive to do it.  This is a fact and not disputable.

    • A reply (from the original poster)

      At the root of much of the negative responses to what I wrote, and of this response in particular, it seems to me, is the plain fact that there are better and worse teachers, and some teachers are just dreadful.  There's no question about that, at least in my mind.  The question then is how to look at this and what can be done about it.  I don't think there are particularly easy answers to this, but here are some thoughts:

      1.  I don't think that the range of ability among teachers is much different from that in many other occupations.  The problem is that we really care about our children, and when we see something that is wrong in the way they are being treated (or even see something that we think is wrong), we get really worked up about it.  Having had two children, I can certainly speak from personal experience here.  And my children had on the whole very good teachers, but there were a few that were awful.  There was one that in my opinion was actually incompetent -- simply had no grasp of the subject matter.  In this case, my wife and I actually spoke to the principal about this teacher.  The principal, who had even less of a grasp of this particular subject, had no idea what we were talking about, but said he would deal with the teacher.  What he evidently did, after reaming the teacher out, was to insist that the teacher "talk about the why, not just the what".  Well, sure, except that neither he nor the teacher had any idea of what that would mean, and nothing actually changed.  He certainly didn't try to get rid of the teacher, which I think he probably could have.

      But while this was very unpleasant, teachers like this were a rare exception, both in the schools our children attended, and the school district where I had previously taught.  Most teachers, as I think someone else pointed out, are average, and a few are outstanding.

      2.  The real question, I would like to suggest, is this: what can be done to improve the teaching of competent but average teachers, and what can be done to encourage better qualified people to enter the teaching profession?

      One obvious thing that would help, I think, is to encourage teachers to go to professional conferences, to meet other people in their disciplines.  This can be tremendously invigorating for people.  When I was teaching, this never happened, at least in my school district.  Partly I think it was a matter of money, and partly a matter of ideology.  Teachers were not regarded by our upper administrators as people to be taken very seriously.  But I still think this, and similar policies, could have helped a lot.

      As far as getting more highly qualified people to enter teaching, I think the answer is really fairly simple: teaching has to become a profession with a lot more respect than it has now.  Respect involves at least two components: the way teachers are talked about and treated, and the way they are paid.  And of the two, I would guess that pay is probably the more fundamental -- it's not sufficient, but it's absolutely necessary.  And as far as how teachers are talked about and treated, my own experience in moving from being a teacher to being a software engineer was illuminating.  On my first day on my new job, I got the keys to the building.  When I was a teacher, I had a key to my classroom and that was it.  And since the supply budget was always the first thing to be cut, we all knew that the only way to get supplies was to "steal" them -- we knew when the supply closet was unlocked the day before school opened, and we'd sneak in and take what we could and hope it lasted the year.  And we bought supplies ourselves as well.  It took me a year as an engineer to stop feeling like I was sneaking around when I went to get a pad of paper.  Another thing that I found remarkable was that after one year as an engineer, it occurred to me that no one had called my commitment into question.  Teachers get hit with this all the time, or at least they did when I was teaching.  ("If you really cared about the kids, you'd do XYZ additional things around the school for no additional compensation.")  Well, I thought that I cared about the kids a lot more than the people who told me this; I put a lot of effort into what I was doing, both in the classroom and outside it, and I quite resented the insinuation.

      Shortly after I started my new job, I gave a talk at an informal lunchtime seminar at my new job on a technical topic.  People really liked the talk, and one person told me, "It's interesting to see how a professional explains things."  It occurred to me that in 16 years of teaching, no one had referred to me that way.

      In addition, things like sending teachers to professional meetings, as I suggested above, also amount to treating them with respect, and are important from that point alone.

      3.  Now finally, let me address the narrow issue that you raised (and which as a matter of fact I didn't address): what to do about really dreadful teachers.  Actually, the phrase you used was "incompetent or mediocre".  I assume you really meant "incompetent".  It would certainly be nice to have a situation in which all teachers were above average, but I'm sure you would agree there are certain problems with that.

      So let me say a few things that you undoubtedly know but that many people reading this may not.  What protects teachers from being improperly dismissed is not a teachers union.  It is what is commonly called the "tenure" law, which is rewritten from time to time, but is basically a fair dismissal act.  It enumerates grounds for dismissal of a teacher once that teacher has passed a probationary period.  One of those grounds is incompetence.

      Now the way collective bargaining works is that in return for being the sole bargaining agent on behalf of teachers, the union has an obligation to represent every teacher, whether or not that teacher belongs to the union.  That involves providing legal advice, and it may involve more representation, depending on the situation.  But it does not automatically involve going to the wall in every case.  I personally saw two teachers fired under the tenure laws when I was teaching. In the first case, the teacher got his own lawyer, who advised him that his case was hopeless.  In the second case (this was when I was the local president), I went as an official observer to a meeting between this teacher and the superintendent.  The upshot of that meeting was that the superintendent offered him a graceful way to resign (not involving any pay-off, as I remember), and he accepted it.  If he had told me he intended to fight it, I would have gotten him some preliminary legal advice from the MTA, and I would also have advised the MTA that while we certainly wanted this process to proceed properly and fairly, this was not an issue that the local felt compelled to pursue at great length.

      As far as competent teachers go, let me relate an experience I had when I was teaching high school.  One of my students was an sports hero who was actually quite intelligent but who was also unfortunately very lazy and really excellent at cheating on tests.  I don't know how he did it, but I still marvel at his ability in this area.  At one point I really clamped down.  I remember literally standing over him during an examination, and not taking my eyes off him for the entire period -- he flunked that test, really badly.  His father, who I believe was somewhat influential in town, called me at home a few days later, yelled at me, and concluded by telling me he was going to get me fired.  Sure enough, the next day the assistant principal called me in and wanted to see my grade book.  So I showed it to him.  He added up the grades three times, got the same answer every time, handed the book back to me, and that was the end of it.  If it hadn't been for the tenure laws, I'm sure it would have been a lot easer to fire me than to stand up to this father.  And at the same time, I'm sure that he told the father, "Sure I agree with you but we can't fire him -- he has tenure."  (I actually did see our principal say something like this to a group of parents once, at which point I pointed out that the tenure law was actually a fair dismissal act.  Their jaws dropped.)

      Does that mean that it's easy to fire an incompetent teacher?  Probably not.  And it shouldn't be easy to fire a teacher in any case.  There's just too much outside pressure that can be brought to bear, and there are just enough administrators who would do what is convenient rather than what is right.  But it certainly is possible to fire incompetent teachers, and I'm sure it happens every year.

      I don't want to get into a pissing contest about this.  I'm sure that from a good administrator's point of view, there are teachers that s/he thinks are just detrimental, and that should be removed.  I'm just pointing out that there is a reason for the safeguards that are in place in this area, and that without those safeguards, education might well be worse, not better.

      4.  Finally, I remember noticing that administrators actually on the whole were not very interested in getting rid of incompetent teachers in any case.  I think there are several reasons for this: First, as in the case of the teacher I mentioned at the beginning, the administrator simply couldn't recognize the incompetence to begin with.  Second, as I mentioned in my original posting, many administrators have no problem at all with incompetent teachers -- they get along quite well with them until something blows up.

      But there's another reason, which I think affects even good and honest administrators: It's hard to find good teachers.  It's not like there is a big pool of wonderful teachers waiting to be hired.  And I know from experience that starting a job at a new school is a very high-stress position to be in from a teacher's point of view.  I'm sure that it also involves a lot of extra work from an administrator's point of view as well.  If someone is really not very good -- maybe even really pretty bad -- but you might not get anyone better even if you got rid of him or her, maybe you'll just let the situation drift for while and go fight other fires.  In fact, it seemed to me that even the best principals spent a lot of their time just sitting in their office waiting (figuratively) for a bomb to explode.  If they got through the day without an explosion, the day had been a success.

      And this in turn is related to the fact that we have been nickel-and-diming our schools for so long that it's going to take a real concerted effort to break out of this cycle.  It's going to involve serious political discussion, and serious money.  And teachers, and teachers unions, have an important role -- in fact, a key role -- to play in this.

        --Carl Offner

  16. Much ado about not much

    As has been pointed out above, teachers have key representation on the main transition committee. It seems that the education committee is part fig leaf (to illustrate Deval's independence from unions) and part think tank (to have a broad spectrum of opinions and backgrounds available for vetting job candidates and review initial policy proposals). In the end, this committee's job is done come inauguration day and the teachers and their union will have a seat at the table for the next four years.

    Again, an important factor the Deval must have considered in establishing these committees is diversity of opinion. The education committee has a good mix of backgrounds and opinions, though it could've had a teacher or unionist on the panel for parity's sake. Even so, I think it's a healthy blend and one which will be checked by the main transition committee (which has teacher representation on it) and the administration itself.

    To Gabrieli's credit, the work he has done himself and with others through Massachusetts 2020 (which is more than simply throwing gobs of his money at a problem) has produced the most innovative and effective reforms to the state's public education system since the 1993 ed reform legislation, namely the Extended Learning Time initiative which the Legislature passed using Mass 2020's exact draft language.

    Indeed, I'm excited to see what the future holds. Between Tim Murray's work as the Chairman of the Worcester School Committee and its "smaller learning communities" reform of the city's secondary schools and ideas like those of Gabrieli's, the pro-teacher, pro-union, and pro-student administration will hopefully move public education forward in a meaningful way.

    • What progress?

      I see the impact of the 1993 Education Reform in every school in the Commonwealth.

      To Gabrieli's credit, the work he has done himself and with others through Massachusetts 2020 (which is more than simply throwing gobs of his money at a problem) has produced the most innovative and effective reforms to the state's public education system since the 1993 ed reform legislation, namely the Extended Learning Time initiative which the Legislature passed using Mass 2020's exact draft language.

      However, when I walk to my neighborhood school, I find no sign of any extended learning time initiative.  Parents are still paying user fees for all-day kindergarten.  The school day still ends in mid-afternoon.

      I think a couple of school committee members, who have the responsibility for establishing policy and voting budgets for public school districts, would be a valuable and diverse viewpoint for the transition. 

      • FYI

        The Extended Learning Time program is a voluntary opt-in program which school districts apply for through the DOE. The DOE fronts the cash for the district's development process, then the state pays additional funds per student to the district to pay for the extra time on top of regular Chapter 70 funds. If you're interested in ELT and want your neighborhood school to participate, you should lobby your school committee and administration to have them apply for the program.

        Also, check out Mass 2020's ELT page to learn more about how it works and how to get the process moving. Why ELT is so innovative is that it prompts districts to analyze how to best restructure their school days to accomodate both faculty and student needs. The results have largely been an increase in both the quality as well as quantity of learning time.

        I served on a school committee and understand how the 1993 Ed Reform law works. My biggest problem with it has been the obsession with (1) money and (2) "standards and accountability", i.e. MCAS testing. Ed Reform needs to go further and assist schools and school districts in actually reforming how education is delivered, how to best organize buildings, how to best empower faculty, and how to ensure student ownership and parental involvement in the educational process. 1993 did little to actually reform education. Indeed, the term "ed reform" means little more than money and testing. I guess it's time to talk about revolutionizing education instead. And yes, I'd want teachers at the table!

        Finally, Lt. Gov-elect Tim Murray is the current Chairman of the Worcester School Committee, which is educational policy background I certainly hope the new administration exploits to the fullest. So school committees and systems have a permanent voice in the new government, not just a transitional one.

        • we tried

          The planning before the planning of the application process is much too difficult (cumbersome, complicated) for all but the largest school districts.

          The money was a critical and important part of education reform.  Sitting from a town that started above foundation, it doesn't seem radical.  However, for poorer districts, the foundation budget and the commitment to bring all districts up to foundation was big for children in disadvantaged systems.

          Of course, we now have a foundation budget that is inadequate, which is part of the current problem.  At 115-120% of foundation, we can't adequately fund education reform mandates, and rely on user fees to provide services that are calculated in the foundation budget.

          As for Tim Murray, he has been an outstanding member of the Worcester School Committee.  He clearly understands the issues facing local educators.  I share your enthusiasm and hope that he has a prominent place in the new administration.

          • Cool...

            This is productive. Some of the districts who have been accepted into the ELT program in this recent round are smaller and poorer. Perhaps the DOE, Mass 2020, or some other organization could provide technical assistance to make it easier.

            I agree that money was key, but it can only do so much. Indeed, no matter how much money one pours into a structurally broken machine, the product is still going to be poor. I served on the school committee in a relatively poor district and the additional funds did help. However, the system is chronically deficient due to the fundamental problem of its organization. Business as usual failed the system.

            Aside from money, the role the state should take on is one of providing technical assistance to districts that seek to review their organization, how personnel and resources are utilized, and how to best reorganize to most effectively deploy and employ them. Most districts, like the one I once served in, don't have the capability to conduct such an effective review-and-restructuring project. The state should help. ELT is currently the only state-funded source to conduct a project even remotely similar to what I have in mind.

            Worcester is an example of a success in restructuring and revolutionizing public education, but it did so with a ton of non-profit investment because of its size. Most districts aren't big enough to draw that kind of attention from large philanthropic foundations. Nonetheless, Worcester serves as a good model for the state to look to in exploring 21st century ed reform.

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