Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

NEA Should Hold Teachers to High Standard

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

NEA Should Hold Teachers to High Standard

Article excerpt

Speaking at the National Press Club recently, I ventured to say that there are indeed some bad teachers in America's schools and that it's the job of the teachers union to help those few bad apples to improve or - failing that - to counsel them to leave the profession.

Traditionalists in our ranks attacked this as heresy - a threat to union solidarity. Outsiders attacked it as hypocrisy. Said one teacher-union basher: "I'd like to know how they can take money from a teacher for dues and then not defend a teacher who is accused of incompetence. It's a lot of rhetoric."

Heresy? Hype? The fact is that nearly a dozen local teachers unions are already taking the initiative in removing problem teachers. For example, our National Education Association local in Columbus, Ohio, designates senior teachers to help colleagues whose performance does not measure up. When a teacher fails to improve, our local union counsels him or her to leave the profession; when necessary, the union recommends dismissal. In Columbus, this union intervention is not heresy. It works, and enjoys strong support among teachers. What's more, I am committed to spreading the Columbus model to NEA locals across the country. This is just one piece of an ambitious plan to reinvent America's largest labor union - for the second time. In the 1960s, we transformed NEA from a quiet, genteel professional association into an assertive, even militant, teachers' union. Our union has won important improvements in public education, including smaller class sizes and decent salaries to attract and retain better teachers. Too often, though, these gains have been won through confrontation or after bitter strikes. Such tactics are utterly unsuited to the next stage of school reform. Bear in mind that, increasingly, teachers are being thrust into new roles that blur the line between labor and management. For example, public charter schools - many of them founded and run by teachers - are proliferating rapidly. …

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