Editorial: sacbee.com, October 27, 2010

Viewpoints: To fix our schools, unions must let go of status quo

The New York City Department of Education's stunning announcement that it intends to release teacher ratings based on student test scores and academic achievement is the latest example of a growing national movement to fix our country's broken public education system.

Despite legal action from the teachers union, these school leaders in New York are standing strong in their commitment to release this crucial information.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and an inspiring group of reform-driven superintendents representing more than 1 million students here in California pushed this movement forward with our state's Race to the Top proposal and legislation to make student academic growth a factor in teacher evaluations. This work continues, mainly through the courage and determination of these districts.

Parents, business leaders, civil rights groups and many teachers have reached their breaking point in hearing the continued excuses of national and state teacher unions that use their power to fight for the status quo and block significant reforms to our broken system.

Our public education system is flawed today. It does not hold the adults who care for our children accountable; it does not allow teacher evaluations based on whether students are being given the tools to succeed; it does not allow for differential pay for teachers serving in our most challenging schools, and it gives lifetime tenure usually after two to three years – making it nearly impossible to lay off ineffective teachers.

The superb documentary "Waiting for 'Superman' " shows how remarkably difficult it is for school districts to dismiss ineffective teachers. We see how one in 67 doctors lose their medical license, one in 37 lawyers lose their accreditation and one in 2,500 teachers lose their position. In California, a teacher can receive tenure after two years – no other profession provides that kind of job security. "Waiting for 'Superman' " reminds us of two truths – most teachers are good and many are great, even heroic, but the teachers unions are the enemy of reform and work to protect the status quo at every turn.

Fixing K-12 public education in America and in California is the civil rights issue of our day. As our country has doubled the amount we spend per pupil in the last few decades, our students' achievement in English, math and science has remained flat, and our poor and minority children continue to lag behind. As a result, our country has fallen behind every other major country on our planet.

Funding our schools is important; however, we must make sure to keep our focus on fixing our broken system so that funding goes to the classroom and supports a system that is based on the accountability and effectiveness of the adults in this system – the teachers, principals and administrators who serve our students.

The publishing of teacher ratings by the Los Angeles Times, and now soon the New York City Department of Education, will hopefully mark a historic turning point for our state and our nation in our quest to fix our public school system.

In California, let us continue to choose the courageous reforms that are best for our students over the status quo of the system.

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