Give “American Education Week” Some Real Meaning

This week the National Education Association is sponsoring American Education Week. According to the NEA’s website, the purpose of the week is to emphasize, “the importance of providing every child in America with a quality public education from kindergarten through college, and the need for everyone to do his or her part in making public schools great.”

The desire to provide every child with a quality education is a laudable one. In order to compete in an increasingly competitive world, American students need access to top-notch educations. The NEA, unfortunately, has consistently opposed measures like merit pay and vouchers that would make it possible for all students to get the education they deserve.

The NEA might say that everyone should “do his or her part” in improving schools. But when it comes to merit pay for teachers, the NEA has consistently opposed plans that would reward good teachers. Merit pay plans link teacher compensation to student performance so that teachers with exceptional classroom success are rewarded accordingly. Such programs encourage innovation and hard work and make teaching attractive to capable young people who see the current system of seniority pay as a disincentive for entering the profession.

As noted on its website, the NEA would instead base pay on years in the classroom and professional development. As an example of an acceptable “alternative” pay program, the NEA’s John Rosales cites a district in Montana that uses “professional development and service to the school district and community” as measures for pay raises. The program is specifically “not based on any type of test scores.”

This plan is hardly an alternative to the typical compensation program. Service to the school and community is certainly praiseworthy but it does not make a good teacher. Likewise, professional development can also be beneficial, but it does not mean that teachers will improve.

Teaching credentials, hours of follow-up professional development classes, and other teacher training programs do not guarantee good classroom instruction. In fact, a forthcoming study by PRI examined many middle class schools that had fully credentialed teachers in every classroom, but still had large numbers of students scoring below grade-level proficiency.

In my own experience as a high-school history teacher, I learned very little in the hours of “professional development” classes I was required to attend. My time was much better spent planning lessons and grading papers—activities that directly benefited my students and increased their learning. Linking pay to test scores is a concrete way to reward teachers for helping students.

In addition to opposing measures like merit pay, the NEA also emphasizes the importance of “public” education in its statement about American Education Week. This reflects the NEA’s longstanding opposition to school choice, and specifically to vouchers.

According to the website, “NEA and its affiliates have been leaders in the fight to improve public schools— and oppose alternatives that divert attention, energy, and resources” away from the public system.

Yet vouchers are the most effective and immediate answer to failing schools. They allow students trapped in underperforming schools to find better alternatives. Studies show that students in voucher programs feel safer in their schools, and perform better on standardized tests.

If the NEA really wants to give students and parents something to celebrate for American Education Week they should fully support meaningful education reform. Their call for everyone to do “his or her part” will ring hollow until the unions remove self-protecting obstacles to reform that hurt the students they claim to serve.

Nothing contained in this blog is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Pacific Research Institute or as an attempt to thwart or aid the passage of any legislation.

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