To break the teacher protection racket
Bad teachers — we’ve all had one. Now a Connecticut judge is ordering the state to protect students from that ordeal.
State Superior Court Judge Thomas Moukawsher ruled last week that Connecticut must overhaul how it evaluates and pays public school teachers and expedite firing the worst performers.
Connecticut claims 98 percent of its public-school teachers are competent. The judge smelled a rat. How can that be, he asked, when only 10 percent of Bridgeport’s high-school graduates — yes, graduates — are deemed ready for college or a job?
Connecticut’s teacher-protection racket is similar to what’s going on in most other states. In New York, desperate parents are also suing. The courts are their last resort, because state pols — intimidated by the powerful teachers unions — refuse to reform the system. Never mind the little children who never learn to read.
Reform is mostly a state issue. But Donald Trump is putting a national spotlight on it, taking a stand for “merit pay” and against paying the “bad ones” as much as the “good ones.” Hillary Clinton is endorsed by the unions and wedded to the status quo, giving voters in November a chance to weigh in against the unions’ chokehold on their kids’ schools.
That chokehold is costing Connecticut taxpayers a bundle. The state pays the third-highest teachers’ salaries in the nation.
It’s irrational, says Moukawsher, when teacher pay isn’t in any way linked to teacher quality. Teachers are paid based on seniority and whether they have a master’s degree. Yet there’s no evidence — none — that after the first few years, teachers continue to get better the longer they’re on the job, or that a master’s degree makes a difference.
“Good teachers are the key to a good school system,” Moukawsher argues. He calls the teacher-evaluation system in Connecticut a farce — like “cotton candy in a rainstorm” — virtually nonexistent.
Moukawsher’s ruling also compels Connecticut to adjust the allocation of money among rich and poor school districts. But his key insight is that spending on teachers without evaluating them is money down the rat hole.
Across the country, parents who have watched their own children set back by an awful teacher are going to court challenging teacher-protection laws.
In Minnesota, parents are fighting against granting tenure after a mere three years and shielding teachers with the most seniority from layoffs. Quality needs to be part of the equation.
Quality is never considered in our state. New York and California adhere to a wacky rule called LIFO — “last-in-first-out” — that requires a recently hired teacher to be laid off before a lousy teacher with more seniority.
And in New York City, even after a teacher is tagged unfit, the chances of getting fired are only 5 percent. Yes, it’s that hard to get rid of a bad teacher.
No wonder New York parents’ groups are suing. One plaintiff, the mother of a little girl forced to repeat second grade, explains that “her daughter fell behind due to an incompetent teacher who didn’t assign homework and didn’t help her child read.”
These parents have quit asking politicians to act. They know lip service is all they’ll get.
In his January 2015 State of the State address, Gov. Cuomo ridiculed the notion that over 98 percent of public-school teachers are rated effective or highly effective. He called that “baloney,” and promised teacher evaluations based on independent observers (not the school principal) and student test scores. But now he’s backing away.
It’s the same story everywhere: unions and their Democratic Party allies blocking reform. The biggest victims are poor children, whose parents rarely have an option except their local school.
Donald Trump, who backs school choice and merit pay for teachers, calls it a civil-rights issue: “The Democratic Party has trapped millions of African American and Hispanic youth” in failing schools.
Indeed. And it’s time to put the kids first.
Betsy McCaughey is a senior fellow at the London Center for Policy Research.