By Ben Velderman
BROOKLYN, N.Y. – During his address at the American Federation of Teachers’ recent convention, Vice President Joe Biden warned union members that they “are under full blown assault” by their critics and political opponents.
The vice president was only half right. Many good teachers are, indeed, feeling discouraged and misused, and are leaving the profession in alarming numbers.
But a new study finds many of those educators are frustrated with the antiquated and unjust work rules that are forced upon schools by local teachers unions.
TNTP, an advocacy group concerned with educational equality issues, just released the findings of a two-year study that examined why the nation’s 50 largest school districts are losing thousands of effective, “irreplaceable” teachers every year.
(The group defines “irreplaceable” teachers as those who are so successful at advancing student learning that they are almost impossible to replace, according to MLive.com.)
The most frequently cited reason for why “irreplaceable” teachers are leaving the classroom? Compensation.
“TNTP believes teacher retention is not a priority, pointing to policies or compensation systems that award raises based on seniority and advanced degrees,” MLive.com reports.
This should not surprise anyone.
Back in the 1960s, teacher unions took the rigid, factory-model of worker compensation – based on longevity instead of productivity – and imposed it on public education with predictable results.
Think of how demoralizing it is for young, enthusiastic teachers when it dawns on them that, no matter how hard they work, they will never earn more than the indifferent, burned-out teacher down the hall.
Those “irreplaceable” young teachers will either become discouraged and find another career that actually rewards their hard work and professional skills, or they will become complacent and indifferent like some of their senior colleagues.
The unions are so committed to this assembly-line pay model that they vigorously oppose giving teachers merit pay, lest the idea take hold that some teachers are better – and worth more – than others. This would upend the unions’ view that all teachers are indistinguishable and interchangeable workers in the public education industry.
A principal’s actions (or inactions) are another reason effective teachers are leaving the profession. The TNTP study reveals that principals don’t do enough to encourage “irreplaceable” young teachers to remain in the classroom, and that school leaders don’t do enough to weed out the bad teachers, reports the New York Post.
“The neglect of ‘irreplaceables’ is just one glaring symptom of a wider problem: a profession that has become one of low performance standards and the lack of respect that accompanies them,” the group reports. “Negligent retention sends the dangerous message that great teachers are expendable and that anyone can make a career out of teaching, regardless of how well they perform.”
TNTP suggests that principals can (somewhat) counter feelings of neglect by providing good teachers with positive feedback and public recognition.
That’s a good suggestion, as far as it goes. But teacher unions prevent principals from using the tools that would really make great teachers feel valued.
School leaders are forbidden from using merit pay to reward their premier educators. And when teacher layoffs are necessary, schools are often legally bound to issue pink slips based only on seniority, a disgusting practice known as “last in, first out.” Any efforts to circumvent “LIFO” provokes guaranteed legal action from the union.
In a press release, AFT President Randi Weingarten calls TNTP’s report “puzzling” and blasts the group for assuming that someone “can magically become a good teacher.”
Weingarten offers her usual drivel about providing “all teachers” with “continuous training” and “support systems,” which only reveals how utterly clueless she is about human beings and the things that encourage and motivate them.
Weingarten and her union pals have been preaching the Big Labor gospel of equality and fairness for decades, and look where it’s gotten our public schools: the great educators feel undervalued and are fleeing, while too many mediocre (and tenured) ones remain, content to put their careers on cruise control.
The teaching profession might be under attack, like Vice President Biden says, but the assault is being carried out by union leaders who insist that leading a classroom of students is no different than working on a factory assembly line. That mindset is not only stunningly naïve, but it’s quickly draining our schools of the best and brightest teachers, just when we need them most.