“Put Kids First” issues contract on Minneapolis teachers


Is it any wonder that the teaching profession no longer attracts the best and the brightest talent? With an achievement gap that is a national shame, we need to gain and then retain the most qualified teachers we can. Our kids need great teachers. Focusing, almost exclusively, on getting rid of bad teachers while ignoring the problem of keeping good ones does not serve our children. No one argues that ineffective teachers have to go. The equation has two sides though. Recruitment and retention, almost universally ignored by these “reformers” is the other side.

The latest onslaught against the teaching profession comes from the group Put Kids First Minneapolis. These are progressive, noble, heartfelt folks. They are trying to do noble, progressive, heartfelt things. They are also pounding another nail into the teaching profession with their contract on teachers. The contract, has several good ideas, but their is no context or balance.

Put Kids First comes off as just another group trying to reform the human resources office, not the education classroom. They arrogantly claim that teacher contracts have always put adult needs ahead of kids. They say this as if support and well being of teachers can be divorced from their ability to teachers.

Imagine there are three major problems with the teaching profession. One, attracting top quality and talent of new professionals. Two, retaining those top professionals. Lastly, getting rid of inefficient teachers. All three problems need solving. Of the three, which will have the biggest impact on our kids? Which one should we focus on?

There is absolutely zero correlation between due process rights, collective bargaining, and seniority rules and student achievement. Zero. On the other hand, there is a huge correlation between teacher turnover and student achievement. There is also a strong correlation between expert teacher staff and student achievement.

For example, “For instance, black and Hispanic students are twice as likely as white students to be taught by out-of-field teachers (Education Trust 2008)”. It’s all well and good to get rid of bad teachers, but there is obviously not a flood of qualified teachers trying to get into these urban schools. You can treat teachers like indentured servants, and force them to teach where they don’t want to, or you can entice them to. Right now, the reformers are making it almost insane for anyone to want to teach in the toughest schools.

Kids First claims to have the research, so let’s take a look. My claim is that there is zero correlation between unions and achievement, therefore there is no good reason to try and diminish teacher rights. I make no claim that unions cause achievement, but they certainly have not harmed achievement.

This is from Harvard Educational Review:

Comparison of standardized test scores and degree of teacher unionization in states found a statistically significant and positive relationship between the presence of teacher unions and stronger state performance on tests. Taking into account the percentage of students taking the tests, states with greater percentages of teachers in unions reported higher test performance. (Contains 95 references.)

States with more unions had better test scores. Why make unions the focus of your attacks? How about finding ways to get the best teachers, while still working on getting rid of the bad ones?

Andy Rotherman, of Bellweather Education Partners says, “Sweeping statements one way or the other on this should be viewed with suspicion.”

I would go as far as to say that the “reformers” relentless pursuit of human resources office reform is harmful to student achievement. The environment for teachers is acidic. Wisconsin just experienced a massive brain drain because of the way they treated teachers. Why is it so hard to understand that how you treat teachers effects students too?

Teacher turnover in our toughest schools is 20%. According to Forbes Magazine research, teacher turnover has substantial costs, and undermines at-risk schools. At-risk schools could recoup these costs by better teacher retention. The costs approach seven billion. At-risk schools are twice as likely to have inexperienced teachers.

I have taught for ten years in at-risk, large, urban schools. I have been through three NCLB restructurings. Each time I have been selected for retention because I am good at what I do. Each time I have stayed because of the kids. However, it is becoming harder and harder to be  a teacher. There is no respect for the profession any more. It hurts even more when it comes from historical allies and fellow progressives. It is not evil for teachers to fight for good working conditions. It is not even harmful. I wish folks would quit trying to reform the labor movement and focus on our kids and educational issues.

Districts that are seeking to raise achievement should consider seeking teachers with the observable characteristics that are associated with effectiveness: Certification, academic credentials, and experience. In addition, districts might consider consciously placing teachers who are likely to be effective in schools with low-income and minority students. (From the Center For Public Education)