19th 2009
Un-”progressive” Boston Teachers Union Gives Important Policy Lesson

Posted under School Choice

If there’s such a thing as being the opposite of “progressive” when it comes to education personnel practices, this example from the Boston Herald is it:

Grinchlike union bosses are blocking at least 200 of Boston’s best teachers from pocketing bonuses for their classroom heroics in a puzzling move that gets a failing grade from education experts.

The Boston Teachers Union staunchly opposes a performance bonus plan for top teachers – launched at the John D. O’Bryant School in 2008 and funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates and Exxon Mobil foundations – insisting the dough be divvied up among all of a school’s teachers, good and bad.

“It’s insanity,” said Jim Stergios, executive director of the nonpartisan Pioneer Institute. “They’re less concerned about promoting the interest of individual members than maintaining control over their members.”

Insanity from the perspective of someone whose first priority is education excellence and student achievement. Business as usual for the Boston Teachers Union.

Teachers union power is good for self-preservation: security, membership and the bottom line of the union. Everything else — including rewards for high-quality teaching — takes a back seat. Without significant outside competition, there is little or no incentive for this fact to change, either.

An important policy lesson to be gleaned for those who have yet to learn it. A valuable reminder for the rest of us.


2 Responses to “Un-”progressive” Boston Teachers Union Gives Important Policy Lesson”

  1. Liz on 20 Nov 2009 at 10:50 am #

    I’m very conflicted by tying teacher pay to student performance. I’ve seen just fabulous teachers stymied by the kid who has issues that the school can’t begin to address (screwed up home life, medical and learning issues). And I’ve seen mediocre teachers still do well, because that year, she or he got the cream of the crop among 2nd-graders. It’s not a cut and dried issue to me at all. I’m just tired of schools that teach to the test — isn’t there a better way? How about this progressive public school that’s profiled in a book, “Lives of Passion, School of Hope?” The students hired the teachers, ran their own government, evaluated their own progress and designed their own curriculum — and the book follows alums as they entered and now live in the real world. And one of the tenets of the school is “understand and deal with the world that is,” so it’s not like they’re all living in la-la land. And it’s not a place that teaches to the test! Can we not have more schools like that, that appear to be human, caring and inspiring?

  2. Ben on 20 Nov 2009 at 12:35 pm #

    Liz, The rewards should be tied to measured student growth, not student status or performance. This is the commonly accepted approach. When one teacher helps most students in her class achieve a half-year’s growth in reading and another teacher helps most of her student achieve two years’ growth in reading, don’t you think the latter teacher should be recognized with some sort of financial incentives?

    If there’s a problem with “teaching to the test,” that suggests there must be some sort of problem with the test. Are the skills & concepts being measured on assessments not connected to real world academic success? Maybe we should improve the tests then. If “teaching to the test” helps a poor student close the gap in his reading or math skills, what’s the matter with it?

    There are plenty of schools out there like the one you profile — that are based on student-centered learning. How do we measure if they’ve been successful or not? No testing system is perfect, but if done well it can provide us with truly useful information.

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