Thursday, January 7, 2010

Unions v. Race to the Top

States are waiting for Arne Duncan.

Is the Obama Administration going to side with school reformers, or will it reward state and local teachers union affiliates that defend the status quo? This is a question states are asking as they prepare their applications for $4.35 billion in Race to the Top competitive grants. Some guidance from Education Secretary Arne Duncan would be helpful.
Teachers unions in Minnesota and Florida are currently threatening to withhold support for their state Race to the Top applications, which are due later this month. So is the school boards association in Louisiana. This matters because the Administration has placed a premium on states garnering "local school district support" in order to win a grant. Not having union buy-in isn't fatal, but it definitely hurts a state's chances of getting federal funds.
States will be evaluated on a 500-point system, with the largest number of points (138) going to states that improve teacher effectiveness by using student performance to help rate instructors. States are awarded 45 additional points for getting "local education agencies" to sign off on their applications—about the same number of points they get for turning around failing schools.
Unions are mainly opposed to teacher accountability reforms. Both Florida and Minnesota want to implement or expand systems that tie teacher pay to student test scores. The irony is that both President Obama and Secretary Duncan have expressed support for such programs, yet Race to the Top is giving leverage to reform opponents who would eliminate or weaken these policies, and it punishes states that want to expand them over union objections.
Collective-bargaining agreements that protect bad teachers also harm children. Unions, which put the interests of their members above those of students, aren't bothered by this. But state reformers who are trying to correct the problem don't deserve to be penalized on their Race to the Top applications. They deserve some political cover from "the top," meaning Mr. Duncan.
Race to the Top awards are supposed to go to states demonstrating "a coordinated and deep-seated commitment to reform." Letting unions undermine state reform applications is a race to nowhere.


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