Brian Jones taught in New York City public elementary schools for nine years. He is now pursuing a Ph.D. in urban education at the CUNY Graduate Center. He co-narrated the film "The Inconvenient Truth Behind Waiting for Superman" and contributed to the book "Education and Capitalism: Struggles for Learning and Liberation." He also writes a blog.
September 11, 2012
The so-called education reform movement decided long ago that change could come only through confrontation. Teachers figured that out when the secretary of education, Arne Duncan, called Hurricane Katrina “the best thing that happened to the education system in New Orleans"; seven years later the teachers union is washed away and the public schools are mostly charter-ized. They figured that out when the White House celebrated the firing of the entire teaching staff in Central Falls, R.I., because of students’ low test scores. And it became clearer to them when Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York published teachers' names alongside standardized test results of their students.
Now, finally, a unionized group of teachers has decided to meet this confrontation head-on.
If evaluating teachers based on standardized test scores is a bad idea for teaching and learning, then the Chicago Teachers Union strike is good for teachers and students. If small class sizes are good for teaching and learning, then the strike is good for teachers and students. For that matter, if air-conditioning is good for teaching and learning, then the strike is good for teachers and students.
Tying teacher pay, tenure and even employment status to standardized test scores corrupts the teacher-student relationship and inspires no one. This carrot-and-stick routine won’t retain great teachers, and may turn our best teachers into test prep tutors. Any experienced classroom teacher will tell you that punishments and rewards at best encourage obedience, but will not promote creativity, intelligence or initiative.
I taught in three different public schools in New York City. Where I was able to be my best depended as much on the class sizes, the conditions, the financing, the materials available to me, the support staff for teachers, the support for students and the climate created by administration, as it did on my own efforts and abilities.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s “reforms” in Chicago will not improve any of those very important factors, and are deleterious to all of them. By confronting the mayor and standing up for things teachers and students desperately need to actually improve our schools, the union is likely to do more to retain the best teachers, and to help more teachers to do their best, than any merit pay scheme ever could.