RALEIGH – Almost everyone agrees that improving the quality of the educational workforce is an indispensable element of any program to improve school performance.
I use the term “almost” because there is a significant player in North Carolina’s school-reform debate that doesn’t agree: the North Carolina Association of Educators.
Oh, I know that the NCAE and its allies say they favor measures to attract and retain good teachers. But as a practical matter, they oppose virtually all policies that would accomplish the goal – from ending tenure and paying for performance to parental-choice measures that would give parents more freedom to choose schools based on the quality of teachers and academic programs.
As a theoretical matter, this shouldn’t be surprising. As a labor organization seeking to advance the interests of the majority of its members, a teacher union can’t conclude that mediocre education is caused by mediocre educators. It can’t embrace policies based on the assumption that schools would improve if they had the tools they need to replace current teachers with better ones.
Teacher unions like the NCAE simply want the existing public-school workforce to receive higher salaries, richer benefits, and better working conditions. But as serious education analysts across the political spectrum would agree, raising overall teacher pay – or raising pay based on union-backed criteria such as longevity and advanced degrees – will not improve the average quality of teachers. It pays bad and mediocre teachers at least as much as the good ones.
If you’ve ever been tempted to believe the union spin that it’s impossible to design a fair and accurate process for distinguishing the good teachers from the bad ones, bookmark this recent EducationNext forum on teacher quality. Hoover Institution economist Eric Hanushek and Education Trust CEO Kati Haycock approach education policy from different points of view, but they both agree that teacher quality is measurable and important.
Based on research Hanushek and his colleagues have conducted, he argues that while objective measures such as value-added assessments have value, the result doesn’t different much from a more subjective process based on principals watching and evaluating the teachers they manage. His conclusion is worth quoting in full:
The long-run hope would be that we develop both better quantitative measures of a teacher’s value added and better subjective evaluations by principals, supervisors, and peers. This approach is unlikely to satisfy a regulatory view of allocation of quality teachers, but if we are truly interested in improving student achievement, we cannot shy away from incorporating performance information of all sorts into our management decisions.
Unfortunately, state education officials defer to the teacher union on such matters, and the union will never go along with any proposal to allow for large differences in tenure status or pay based on teacher quality – measured either through value-added tests or principal evaluation.
That puts the union squarely opposed to policies embraced by the vast majority of North Carolina voters. It also puts the union squarely opposed to any policy offering a real prospect of improving education for the poorest-served students in our state.
Keep in mind, however, that in few other industries or professions would it be assumed that the interests of producers and consumers are always aligned. If our goal is helping North Carolina youngsters learn, we should adopt policies likely to result in a significant turnover in the teaching profession – as bad teachers are fired, mediocre teachers improve or depart, good teachers are rewarded and retained, and new teachers are brought into the profession by the creation of new schools.
The union will never stand for that. It cannot be persuaded. It must be bypassed.
Hood is president of the John Locke Foundation.