Issuing a Call for a Higher Quality Public Debate About Education

Robert Gordon, a former education policy advisor to John Kerry, has written a provocative article in The New Republic magazine about the Democratic Party’s actions on educational matters.
Ed Achorn has recently commented on the article here, noting:

…Mr. Gordon contends that Democrats should stop letting Republicans eat their lunch on education. Democrats, given their traditional support of a vigorous government and their historic allegiance to the belief that America should be a country “where birth doesn’t dictate destiny,” should be strong advocates of education reform. They should be carrying the flag especially for minority children in poor school districts.
Instead, Mr. Gordon notes, they too often march in lockstep with the teachers’ unions, chanting their mantra of “money, money, money” while mounting “unprincipled attacks” against reform. Even if Democratic politicians (including Mr. Kerry) support reform in theory, Mr. Gordon observes, their principles “wither in the heat of Democratic politics.”
As a result, Republicans have been leading the charge on education reform — and voters are noticing…
There seems to be a lesson here for many Rhode Island Democrats, too, who may be turning off parents and taxpayers with their apparent lack of compassion for children in public schools, and their slavish devotion to the state’s very powerful and often arrogant teachers’ unions.
The state has among the nation’s highest per-pupil costs, fueling skyrocketing property taxes — and the absolute highest per-pupil costs devoted to teacher compensation — but its students, on average, perform poorly on tests. Rhode Island’s young are being poorly prepared to compete in a world where brainpower will be essential.
…Experience confirms what common sense would argue: Accountability, high standards and excellent teachers are the key. Mr. Gordon cites a study by the Education Trust that had found that “good teachers are the single most important factor in good schools — affecting student achievement more than race, poverty, or parental education.”
Unfortunately, teachers’ unions have become an impediment to such achievement, because they fiercely defend a culture of mediocrity over merit. “Onerous hiring procedures discourage able candidates, while the lockstep pay scale rewards seniority and accumulated degrees, not success,” Mr. Gordon writes. Tenure makes it almost impossible to fire bad teachers…
Mr. Gordon offers rational reforms for Democrats to embrace:

Change the pay system to stop rewarding mediocrity and start rewarding effort and merit. The “usual liberal solution — across-the-board pay hikes — perpetuates the maldistribution of good teachers and reinforces the irrelevance of achievement.”
Use bonuses to attract good teachers to poor schools.
Attract better people to the profession with promises of higher pay for better results.
Develop methods for evaluating teachers fairly, so that they are not punished arbitrarily or for political reasons — then reward the best performers and weed out the worst. With peer and principals’ involvement, teacher evaluations could be at least as fair as those “in other professions where performance pay is the norm.”

Why should Democrats tackle this problem? Because their traditional values argue for helping children — especially the poor — get a better education, and have a fairer shot at the American dream…
Voters — and one hears this constantly in Rhode Island, certainly — are coming to the conclusion that throwing more money at the schools is useless if the money simply goes for lavish adult entitlements, mediocre performance and a tax-them-into-the-stone-age political machine.
To make changes, Democratic politicians will have to put the interests of children ahead of the demands of one of the most important and powerful elements of the Democrats’ political base. “But there has to be a distinction between supporting the rights of unions and supporting their every demand,” Mr. Gordon notes…
…If [progressives] give up on that philosophy to serve the greed of a powerful interest group, they will continue to lose their once-dominant edge as the party of education…

I would encourage you to read the entire Gordon article.
For further information on the magnitude of the performance problems in American education, go here.
Let’s focus on the one thing that matters most: Providing a quality education to all children in America so each of them gets a fair shot at living the American Dream.

In a nutshell, here is what I think the negotiating position of the East Greenwich School Committee should be on some of the key financial terms of the contract.
Other postings include:
Background Information on the East Greenwich NEA Labor Dispute
The NEA’s Disinformation Campaign
East Greenwich Salary & Benefits Data
More Bad Faith Behavior by the NEA
The Debate About Retroactive Pay
Would You Hurt Our Children Just To Win Better Contract Terms?
The Question Remains Open & Unanswered: Are We/They Doing Right By Our Children?
Will The East Greenwich Teachers’ Union Stop Their Attempts to Legally Extort Residents?
You Have To Read This Posting To Believe It! The Delusional World of the NEA Teachers’ Union
So What Else is New? Teachers’ Union Continues Non-Productive Behaviors in East Greenwich Labor Talks
“Bargaining Rights are Civil Rights”
The NEA-Rhode Island’s Pathetic Attempts to Manipulate East Greenwich Residents
In addition to financial issues, management rights are the other big teachers’ union contract issue. “Work-to-rule” or “contract compliance” only can become an issue because of how management rights are defined in union contracts. The best reading on this subject is the recent report by The Education Partnership. It is must reading.
Other editorials and postings include:
ProJo editorial: Derailing the R.I. gravy train
ProJo editorial: RI public unions work to reduce your family’s quality of life
ProJo editorial: Breaking the taxpayer: How R.I. teachers get 12% pay hikes
Selfish Focus of Teachers Unions: Everything But What Is Good For Our Kids
Tom Coyne – RI Schools: Big Bucks Have Not Brought Good Results
The NEA: There They Go, Again!
A Response: Why Teachers’ Unions (Not Teachers!) Are Bad For Education
“A Girl From The Projects” Gets an Opportunity to Live the American Dream
Doing Right By Our Children in Public Education Requires Thinking Outside The Box
Debating Rhode Island Public Education Issues
The Cocoon in which Entitled State Employees Live
Are Teachers Fairly Compensated?
Warwick Teachers’ Union Throws Public Tantrum
Blocking More Charter Schools Means Hurting Our Children
RI Educational Establishment: Your Days of No Vigorous Public Oversight & No Accountability Are Ending
The Deep Performance Problems with American Public Education
Freedom, Hard Work & Quality Education: Making The American Dream Possible For ALL Americans
Parents or Government/Unions: Who Should Control Our Children’s Educational Decisions?
Now Here is a Good Idea
Milton Friedman on School Choice

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