Putting Education Reform To The Test

Some Teachers’ Unions Changing Their Approach To School Reform

Joe Raedle / Getty News Images

Teachers rally in support of education funding last year.

The Washington Post published a story looking at the Montgomery County teachers’ union, and how union leadership has worked with the school district on training teachers, firing low-performing teacher and setting budget priorities.

The cooperation is one reason the suburban D.C. district is one of the nation’s best public school systems, according to some quoted in the story.

It’s not all positive: Critics argue the school board has promised unsustainable pay and benefits.

But the Post story argues Montgomery County is getting more done by working together:

The Montgomery union has sought to counter that criticism head-on. It helped create a “Peer Assistance and Review” system of evaluating and supporting teachers more than a decade ago. Struggling teachers are paired with mentors and given help, and those who fail to show progress after a year can be fired. Their cases are overseen by a committee of teachers and administrators.

Since 2001, the process has led to the dismissal of 245 teachers and the resignation of 300. In the decade before, a handful were terminated for poor performance. Teacher firings across the country are rare. “As a union, we have to be concerned about protecting our profession, not protecting everything that breathes,” Lloyd said. The union is also proud that the program has helped thousands of teachers improve and stay in the classroom.

Montgomery refused to join Maryland’s successful bid in 2010 for a federal Race to the Top school-reform grant because union and school leaders found it out of sync with the evaluation system they had created.

Florida’s teacher unions are less than monolithic in their approach towards new education policies.

The Hillsborough County Classroom Teacher’s Association in Tampa, as noted by redefinED, is led by open-minded president Jean Clements who has worked with district leadership to develop a cutting-edge teacher evaluation system. The program is funded with a $100 million Gates Foundation grant.

Elsewhere, such as Flagler County, the union and school district leadership are battling over just how to implement the state-mandated evaluations.

Can unions be an advocate for overhauling public education? Should they work with district and state leadership to improve new policies?


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