Tough fight for school reform

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By Shawn Dobbs, Contributor

 

Less than halfway into 2012, and school reform has proven to be a tough sell to lawmakers.  Measures designed to improve teacher and administrator accountability in both Virginia and California have failed. This may come as a surprise to many, considering education consistently ranks among the highest concerns of voters.

Not as surprising to most, the teachers themselves seem to be the biggest culprits behind the rejection of measures designed to improve our children’s education. After all, if the question has been answered that “our children are not learning,” then it stands to reason that much of the blame can be attributed to the ones entrusted with our children’s education. It would be in that party’s interest to shift the blame and deny involvement.

In the private sector, it would be inconceivable to run a business without periodic evaluations for quality, safety and efficiency. Government has not historically been known to excel at monitoring its own activity, but lately even that has come into question as public outcry builds over government activities such as Operation Fast and Furious, the GSA’s expense account and the Secret Service’s “recreational activities” in Latin American countries.

The federal government has been more than willing to impose strict regulations on the energy industry, the finance industry, the auto industry and a multitude of others. Why the reluctance to mandate evaluations and strict performance standards in the education industry? Much of the blame can be attributed to an expansive and overarching union presence.

The measure in Virginia would have eliminated permanent tenure, subjecting teachers to periodic evaluations and linking pay to performance. Also gone would be the “last in, first out” policy that grants near-immunity to educators who have taught for many years, regardless of whether they are effective or not. Not surprisingly, each of these measures are strongly opposed by the teacher’s unions, and the vote to enact the measures was divided almost completely along party lines, with every Democrat in the legislature voting against.

In 2008 alone, the NEA (National Education Association, the national teachers’ union) spent over $100 million, more than 20 percent of their budget, on political donations, contributions, gifts and grants at the federal and state levels. Unions as a whole give more money to politicians than all corporate donations combined. Ninety-five percent of NEA contributions went to Democratic candidates and causes, even though only 50 percent of union members identify themselves as Democrats. In fact, when given the option to withhold dues for political contributions under Paycheck Protection acts, contributions to political parties dropped by half. The NEA and other unions are strongly opposed to Paycheck Protection laws. They are also opposed to the establishment of charter schools, government grants for private schools and school choice in general. This will be covered in the next installment.

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