Labor unions, and especially the two major teachers unions, are key political legs for Democrats, and especially progressives. Labor is a core constituency for many legislators.
The problem is that middle, and lower-middle, class parents are also important constituencies. Now, there is a split emerging as more and more parents are questioning what kind of education they can expect for their children.
The charter school movement was the first shot across the bow at reforming education policy. Now, the tenure that protects teachers could be at stake.
Tenure is not a privilege that only public school teachers enjoy. many government employees have some kind of job protection and representation. For example, in many city positions, an employee can be moved to another department or position if he or she is about to be laid off. That is a protection.
What upsets parents, and should upset everyone, is that problematic teachers are too protected. Tenure for teachers can be mended instead of ended, if the unions want it. Historically, however, labor does not always choose to mend.
The unions should come to the table and accept evaluations that tell the good, bad, and ugly of what is happening in classrooms. In exchange for that, their pensions, promotions and tenure should not be as vulnerable.
Teaching in New York City’s public schools is a different ballgame compared to other parts of the country, and there needs to be some job safety involved. To fire a teacher in his mid-40s, for example, without a strong reason is not only to let that person go. It also means leaving that former teacher with almost no other place to work.
Educators are special in their skill set; they cannot always take their wares to an entirely different industry. Some modicum of job safety is not going to ruin education. The system does need an overhaul so as to keep dangerous, poor-performing or clock-watching educators less protected.
We are about six months into Mayor Bill de Blasio’s first term and there is no reason to assume he will not come down on the side of preserving tenure. Governor Andrew Cuomo, however, may see it differently.
This is a situation that requires a careful, pragmatic solution. The public education workforce is so large that it requires time to find a lasting solution.
What we have learned from investigative reporting, statistics, and documentaries like Waiting for Superman, is that not all teachers are perfect (or even effective). A new plan needs to protect those who are getting results and trying to find new ways to reach students.
The old axiom “those who can’t...teach” does not work anymore. People from Ivy League schools want careers in education right from the beginning. Maybe some of them are starry-eyed idealists, but all the more reason not to scare them off by slashing benefits.
In fact, those energetic, young teachers may even welcome fixing the current system to make it more efficient. This is an important policy debate that, once settled, will have lasting effects on our school system.