By Ben Velderman
OAKLAND, Calif. –The holidays are still weeks away, but teacher union leaders in two large California school districts are behaving like the Grinch Who Stole Christmas by stopping the development of a high-quality math curriculum that would have benefitted academically challenged elementary and middle school students.
Leaders in the Oakland and San Francisco school districts had hoped to use $30 million in federal “Race to the Top” grant money to infuse classrooms with laptops and software programs that would have transformed how students study math and how teachers track their progress, reports SFGate.com.
But those upgrades won’t be happening because San Francisco and Oakland teacher union leaders have refused to allow teacher evaluations to be linked to student achievement, SFGate.com reports.
Districts are required to meet both conditions – tougher teacher evaluations and union acceptance of that concept – to qualify for money from President Obama’s Race to the Top program.
In other words, school leaders can only access those dollars if they play “Mother, May I?” with their local unions. And increasingly, the unions are answering that question with a firm ‘no.’
Even though teacher unions never miss an opportunity to whine for more K-12 money, the labor groups are so ideologically opposed to using student standardized test scores in teacher performance assessments that they’re willing to walk away from millions.
Four other California school districts have declined Race to the Top money because their unions refused to cooperate, according to SFGate.com.
While we’re skeptical that money alone can improve any school’s performance, we have to admit students in both the Oakland and San Francisco districts might have benefitted from this technology infusion.
According to statistics from the California Department of Education, 35 percent of Oakland’s seventh- graders rated as “below basic” or “far below basic” on the math portion of the California Standards Test. In San Francisco, 18 percent of students rated as below or far below in basic math skills.
We’ll never know how the innovative math program would have helped those students, which is a shame because President Obama’s Race to the Top was designed to help such children.
While the unions deserve most of the blame for this mess, President Obama deserves some criticism, too. The president clearly wants to help disadvantaged students, but he’s unwilling to anger his loyal teacher union supporters by imposing reforms without their approval. Subjecting all of these programs to union approval has the practical effect of doing nothing at all. That means teacher unions can retain their bulletproof job protections while students struggle through an adult-focused educational system.
One education reformer described the demise of the two districts’ high-quality math program as “a huge missed opportunity.”
We think that’s a good description of President Obama’s Race to the Top program, too.