A gentle reminder ...

The goal of this blog initially was for Mr. Mc to show his students and friends what he doing while in Pennsylvania and DC in 2011. Now it's being used as a place for him, travelling colleagues and former students to discuss edumacation and history related "stuff" as well as ... well, anything which pops into his head. Mr. Mc would never knowingly embarrass either the school he loves or the family he is devoted to. By joining in the discussion, he expects the same of you.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Should we leave teacher's unions behind?

I watched Waiting for Superman yesterday and am still thinking about it. It is a documentary from a couple years ago and follows five families from across the country and socioeconomic backgrounds in their quest to get a better education for their children. You fall in love with these kids and you become angry at a system which is failing them.

The focus of the filmmaker's wrath are teacher's unions. There is innovation going on and its the unions that are stifling it. They target tenure and unwieldy teacher contracts and a severance process that keeps terrible teachers in the classroom. They profile Harlem Success and the KIPPS schools as examples of what can happen without the unions and when the playing field is evened.

There is a scene in the movie that is haunting me. A little girl named Daisy lives in SC LA. She has applied for a KIPPS school and they have to hold a lottery for the spots--one spot for each five or six applicants, I think. She sits at the lottery as the numbers are called. No real emotion on her face, but her eyes ... her eyes say volumes and I couldn't help but feel the sadness and helplessness her father must have been feeling.

I watched this at the same time I'm reading Creating Innovators by Tony Wagner and working on curriculum for the new year. And I'm struggling with what can be done to make things better. I'm struggling with unions. I've heard the horror stories from teachers I travel with see it in public schools my children attend or have attended. But ... the person who was amongst the most influential to me as a young man and whom was one of the finest educators I've ever known is a leader in the NEA. I trust this man and he is passionate about the need for the union. 

The reality is that I teach at a private school. Smaller class sizes. My students have their own struggles but poverty and violence aren't a constant in their world. I am considered an expert in my field and expected to constantly push myself to be better in both content and pedagogy. The bureaucracy is negligible. While my work isn't challenge free, I know I'm blessed and I'm where I'm supposed to be. I work with a passionate, creative and student-centered group of teachers and administrators. And, I adore these kids.

So here is my question. Is there a balance to be found in public schools? (BTW-my sons attend public schools so I do have skin in the game.) Unions can't be all bad, but can they be made better? Do we need to scuttle the whole system (We had to ditch the Articles of Confederation to make way for the Constitution?) and start over?



  1. Ellie writes:
    I haven't seen Waiting for Superman, but I have followed the political discourse over teacher's unions and charter schools. My concern is the assumption that charter schools are inherently better than public schools. Innovation is a great thing, but there is a reason that not every new idea succeeds. Charter schools are a place for testing new ideas and they can certainly have great results, but they also make missteps. When I make changes in the classroom, I evaluate their impact with pre- and post-tests.

    I'm all for ensuring that only the best teachers are kept in the school system (although the implication is that there is some vast pool of great teachers to draw from). However, I want to see evidence-based metrics for evaluating what makes a good teacher. Evaluation by student test scores is a terrible method.

    To me, unions and tenure in public school systems can (although don't always) serve the purpose they were originally intended to - they keeps top-notch teachers in the system when they are being wooed by private and charter schools with more resources.

    1. Ellie, the movie does, I think, a fair job of showing that charter schools are not perfect. It points to a Harlem Success and KIPPS as often being the exceptions even in charter-style schools.
      I agree with your response about metrics. How can we assess what a teacher does in the classroom in order to help them become a btter teacher as well as cycle out teachers who no longer or will never be a good fit in the classroom?
      I'm still wrestling with the idea of tenure. I worked so long outside of education that tenure is still foreign to me. I understand its need in theory but ... most other professions don't need it so why does teaching? (Still working this idea out so, friends, please don't beat me up to badly).