Corresponding quite nicely with a discussion led by a student in my Enhancing Youth Literacy course this week, a steady flow articles has recently been emerging about teacher’s unions as barriers to state applications for Race to the Top funding. Here is a sampling:
- LAUSD, Other Districts Miss Out on Race to the Top as Unions Won’t Sign Applications
- L.A. Schools Fail to Gain Union Backing for Grant Application
- Portland Public Schools Give up on Race to the Top Effort
Looking at the language of these titles alone is enough to get a sense of what the authors of these articles think about the union’s decision not to support district applications for this federal funding. Schools in Las Vegas “miss out” because their unions “won’t sign,” Los Angeles schools “fail,” and our local Portland schools “give up.”
This negative language surrounding teachers unions is nothing new, but it feels like the negativity is building and that teacher’s unions and their reluctance to sign documents using student test scores as part of teacher evaluations is one of the dominating conversations about education today. While there is much scholarly reporting that indicates that teacher’s unions may actually improve student learning in the end (see Carini, Powell and Steelman in their Harvard Educational Review article titled “Do Teacher Unions Hinder Educational Performance,” for example), mass media continues to paint unions in an unfavorable light.
Why is this? And are unions shortsighted and narrowly focused enough to turn their backs on additional school funding for no reason? Or is Race to the Top offering something that some districts and states question for other reasons as well? Is this issue of merit pay and evaluating teachers based on student test scores a red herring that distracts us from talking about the real barriers to better education for all? Is the Race to the Top model something that teachers support? Will this competitive framework leave us with a better public school system for all? Is the money offered even substantial enough for us to know if a program like Race to the Top could lead to bigger success?
As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts, dear readers!