It has long been no secret that the long-running campaign to fund elementary and high school public education with vouchers has been strongly motivated by a desire to break teachers’ unions, which are an important election component of the Democratic Party. Whether intentionally designed or not, the charter school movement relies almost entirely on non-unionized teachers: only about five percent of charter school teachers are unionized and the bulk of them teach in Los Angeles, California. Even the focus on high stakes testing during the past decade has been tied to using test results to evaluate and possibly get rid of tenured and heavily unionized teachers.
How have charter schools performed with their high component of non-unionized teachers? Perhaps the most comprehensive study of charter schools has been done by Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes, which found that “of the 2,403 charter schools tracked from 2006 to 2008, only 17 percent had better math test results than the public schools in their area, while 37 percent had results that were ‘significantly below’ those of the public schools and 46 pencent had results that were ‘significantly indistinguishable’ from their public school counterparts.” (1)
The contention of some education reformers that teachers’ evaluations be tied closely to student performance on high-stakes testing is contradicted by a study done by the National Center for Educational Development, which found that in high-performing public schools, ongoing teacher collaboration and monitoring, and using tests for diagnostic, rather than evaluative purposes, produces better results. (2)
To cite just one more study of the relationship of high-stakes testing to student performance, the Brookings Institute found no relationship between testing standards and student performance, yet standardized tests remain the dominant measure for schools. (3)
Studies of student achievement are consistent in identifying the dominant factor is in the home and family, meaning that teachers in poverty-stricken areas face a big hurdle in getting a good evaluation.
Although the following is not directly related to what appears above, the Chicago teachers’ strike this fall illustrates how attacks on teachers’ unions backfire in the civil rights arena. Given the fact that teaching, at least in major cities, is a profession in which minorities are heavily represented, when erstwhile reformers say that we need to take down teachers’ unions to give more opportunity to minority youth, they come perilously close to saying, “We need to destroy the black middle class to save it.”
(1) Harold Meyerson, “Teachers’ Unions Aren’t Villains in School Reform,” The Albuquerque Journal, September 22, 2012.