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Teachers Are Rightfully Demanding Better for Themselves, But What Are They Bringing to the Table?

How Are the Children?

Behold, the Chicago model of educator noisemaking has gone national, and now public school teachers have emerged as an indomitable political force using loud, large, theatrical swarms of red T-shirts at school board meetings and state capitals to demand the only thing that truly unites us as Americans. Money.

Explaining this warlike fight, the National Education Association (NEA) says, “We’re raising our voices together for our students, for our schools and for ourselves as educators,” but the idea that they prioritize students has some moments of truth followed by many hours of discredit.

Putting a high-quality teacher in every American classroom should be the goal of any responsible leader. Yet, if a new report by the National Council on Teacher Quality is any indication, not only is this not the goal, the opposite is likely true.

The report shows that the number of states requiring teachers be evaluated using research-supported objective measures (beyond simply “satisfactory” or “unsatisfactory”) increased from 15 in 2009 to 43 in 2015. That progress lasted into the zenith of President Obama’s education policy agenda but has receded in the four years between 2015 and 2019. In that time the number of states not requiring “objective measures of student growth” in their teacher evaluation systems more than doubled. 

Today, fewer states require their teachers to be evaluated earnestly. Ten states plus the District of Columbia have retreated on requiring the use of student growth data in evaluations of educators; 18 states have failed to enact or have struck down required improvement plans for struggling teachers and principals; 29 states haven’t enacted or have overturned expectations that teachers and principals be evaluated each year. New Mexico even dropped the use of teacher attendance as part of evaluations. Even the expectation of showing up for work was too much.

With decades of research telling us that teacher quality is the most important in-school factor impacting student achievement, how can we ignore teacher evaluation or fail to pursue improvements in teacher quality even as we negotiate things like better pay and working conditions?

We can’t. There has to be an artful and honest give and take between the public and teachers. That requires us to balance teachers’ concerns with the needs of children, and no, those aims aren’t always aligned. Teachers have unions, money and power. Students have no such army.

Yet, teachers have pushed an agenda that is all gimme and not give. More money, fewer expectations.

HOW ARE THE CHILDREN? This is a weekly column by Education Post CEO Chris Stewart where he cuts through the noise of politicians, policies and politics and focuses on the one thing that truly matters.
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Chris Stewart
Chris Stewart is the Chief Executive Officer of Education Post, a media project of the Results in Education Foundation. He is a lifelong activist and 20-year supporter of nonprofit and education-related causes. Stewart has served as the director of outreach and external affairs for Education Post, the executive director of the African American Leadership Forum (AALF), and an elected member of the Minneapolis Public Schools Board of Education.

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