Let Teachers Teach

After air and water — even before food — the third most basic human need is someone to blame.

When children aren’t getting the quality education some parents and politicians think they should be getting, people don’t go looking for the core problem. They need a scapegoat. And that scapegoat is often the very teachers who are dedicated to helping children learn and succeed.

Blaming teachers for failing children and failing schools is like blaming doctors for sick patients. With run-down facilities, inadequate rooms, books, resources and equipment, teachers are already fighting with one hand tied behind their backs.

Add to that the standardized tests that discriminate against the poor and minority and immigrant children and you have a recipe for failure.

The state-imposed curriculum and standardized tests held up as the gold standard for education have built-in discriminatory culture biases and language. Most affected are the thousands of immigrant children — who struggle with the supplied skimpy, substandard glossaries to make sense of the words — and are guaranteed to fail.

Two lawsuits — now consolidated — take aim at tenure laws designed to protect teachers’ right to due process and job security.

In Davids v. New York, a group called New York City Parents Union, headed by Mona Davids and Sam Pirozzolo, are plaintiffs against the state, claiming that students are being hurt by statutes that prevent removing ineffective teachers from the schools.

Wright v. New York was filed after Keoni Wright perceived a difference in the way his twin daughters were being taught by different teachers in the same school. He and other families brought their suit to fight statutes that they claim “confer permanent employment, prevent the removal of ineffective teachers from the classroom and mandate that layoffs be based on seniority alone, rather than effectiveness.”

The plaintiffs are supported by the advocacy group Partnership for Educational Justice, founded by former CNN correspondent Campbell Brown. Partnership for Educational Justice is funded by a war chest from The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation and Walton Family Foundation.

In August, The New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) moved to intervene in the case as a defender of tenure. Opening arguments in the lawsuits began Wednesday in Staten Island. Meanhile, Campbell Brown and her allies launched a social media campaign against tenure, teachers and public education.

Richard Casagrande, general counsel of NYSUT, said that the plaintiffs base their cases on incorrect facts and skewed data. Tenure, Casagrande argued, comes only after a probation period that can be extended to four years or longer. “Tenure doesn’t protect bad teachers, he said. “It protects good teachers.” Tenure is “essential to attract and retain good teachers” and to protect free expression, including a teacher’s ability to stand up for his or her students.

Casagrande called this campaign part of a “nationwide attack on workers’ rights.” He charged that it removes the focus from the real obstructions to education — including funding cuts that continue school and district-wide inequality.

NYSUT President Karen Magee added, “Tenure is an important safeguard to ensuring children receive a quality education by enabling teachers to speak out in the best interest of their students. Tenure is also a critical safeguard to ensuring all students have an effective teacher, protecting academic freedom and providing educators an environment in which they do not have to be in constant fear of unfair firing.”

Of course, the role of NYSUT and other teachers’ unions is to help and protect teachers. But the ultimate goal — for the teachers and their unions — is to help children learn. And one of the ways to help children learn is for good teachers to feel secure in their jobs and not constantly on trial.

A report from Harvard University School of Education found: “In a study in Harvard Educational Review, ‘Do Teacher Unions Hinder Educational Performance? Lessons Learned from State SAT and ACT Scores,’ researchers Brian Powell, Lala Carr Steelman and Robert M. Carini compared states that are strongly teacher unionized with those that are not and found a clear link between teacher unions and higher state performance on certain standardized tests. This pattern holds even when other factors such as family income, parental education, gender, geographic region, and race are considered.

“‘Teacher unions have been demonized by their critics and canonized by their advocates for years,’ says Powell. ‘Many people assume teacher unions adversely affect students’ performance, but this assumption hasn’t, for the most part, been tested. Our study seriously challenges this assumption.’”

It’s time to stop thinking about finding who to blame … and start thinking about the children.

Instead of battling each other in court, parents and teachers need to work together to find ways to making sure students learn.

The tenure review process itself should be reviewed so that it protects the due-process rights of good teachers while providing for the possibility that teachers who prove to be incompetent or uncaring be removed from the system.

Ultimately, it is the needs of the children that must come first.