(originally published on Washington Times Communities)
Education reform may be one of the few political issues that appears to have bipartisan support. That being said, solutions so far have failed to achieve encouraging results.
Especially alarming is the fact that increased funding seems to have no effect on solving the problem. Since 1960, real (inflation-adjusted) education spending per student has more than tripled. However, test scores and graduation rates have not seen any improvement.
The award-winning documentary, “Waiting for Superman,” persuasively argues for much-needed reform in America’s education system. By following the stories of five children who are looking for better school opportunities, the movie demonstrates the many flaws with the current system.
The movie describes a “dance of the lemons,” in which bad teachers are shuffled from school to school because they cannot be fired. Good teachers are of paramount importance, the movie argues. Whereas good teachers can often cover as much as 150 percent of the required curriculum, bad teachers can cover as little as 50 percent.
Why do we not distinguish between good and bad teachers? Because, until recently, almost all attempts at merit pay (teachers’ salaries based on performance rather than years teaching) have been rebuffed by the two largest teachers’ unions, the National Education Association (NEA) and American Federation of Teachers (AFT).
Last November, New Jersey governor Chris Christie compromised with the AFT to implement a merit pay plan for Newark’s teachers. The plan marks a sudden change in the traditional conflict over this issue. Despite the AFT’s willingness to compromise, however, the NEA continues to oppose the merit pay measures.
“Teachers’ unions fear vouchers, as students choosing to attend private schools cut into their market share and curtail the primary source of their revenue and political power, the dues of their unionized members.”
Although unions can sometimes serve a valuable purpose, many argue the NEA has overstepped its boundaries. The NEA consistently supports and articulates pro-choice and pro-gay marriage positions, inviting criticism that these issues are irrelevant to helping teachers improve education.
Teachers who do not wish to join or support the union often have no choice, facing possible termination if they do not pay union dues. The NEA needs this revenue in order to maintain their place as the highest campaign contributor. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the NEA spent $56.3 million in the 2008 election cycle. Though corporations are often criticized for their alleged spending power, the NEA spent more than ExxonMobil, Microsoft, Walmart, and the AFL-CIO combined.
Even statements from the organization itself offer a jarring truth:
“Why is the NEA an effective advocate? Despite what some among us would like to believe it is not because of our creative ideas; it is not because of the merit of our positions; it is not because we care about children; and it is not because we have a vision of a great public school for every child.
The NEA and its affiliates are effective advocates because we have power.”
As long as the NEA continues to oppose these school reform measures and stand in the way of new ideas, American schools will still be “waiting for Superman.”