Demand tougher teacher standards (Thomen)

August 25, 2014
The News Journal

Demand tougher teacher standards

We have been hearing a lot about school reform for a long time now. There always seems to be a new program to distract us from the ongoing deterioration of student acquisition of knowledge and thinking skills. The one thing that has remained constant is the control of public education by the teaching profession. Today, in New Castle County, the school boards (Red Clay, Colonial, Brandywine and Christiana) are all dominated by members who are members of, or have significant connections with, the teacher’s union.

Until taxpayers vote to change this, no changes of significance will happen. Until control is wrestled away from union apparatus and returned to local principals and superintendents who have both the authority and direct responsibility for results, improvement will not happen. This undoubtedly means turning down federal aid and shaking off the shackles that come with federal money.

All the players in the system – teachers, principals, superintendents and school boards support the status quo. They have a vested interest in the current arrangements. That is why we have a failed system. While voters can have a positive effect over the long haul, immediate change can be achieved through legislative action, now. For example, state financial support could be made contingent on a teacher pay scale that recognizes good performance and penalizes poor performance. No new funds would be needed – just more equitable distribution of existing funds based on contribution to student learning. I hope I live long enough to see such change. In the meantime, I’ll watch the exodus of students from regular public schools to the schoolrooms of private and charter schools.

James R. Thomen
Montchan


SAFE Editor’s comment: Linking the teacher pay scale to performance might not have the desired effects unless current deficiencies in evaluating performance were also corrected. Delaware Chatter, 8/24/14. See below for a response that appeared in the News Journal:


8/27/14, A7, Unions don’t control school boards, Harrie Ellen Minnehan, Newark – The writer takes issue with Jim Thomen’s Aug. 25 letter for stating that:

“The one thing that has remained constant is the control of public education by the teaching profession. Today, in New Castle County, the school boards (Red Clay, Colonial, Brandywine and Christiana) are all dominated by members who are members of, or have significant connections with, the teacher’s union.” Her proof to the contrary: A teacher cannot be a board member in the district in which they teach. She personally is a member of the Christina Board of Education, but retired as a teacher in 2010 and has no ties to the union now. And “no other member of the Christina Board even comes close to having a ‘significant connection’ to the teachers’ union, unless he calls being a parent of a child taught by a teacher who might be a union member a connection.” Also, the union’s function is to represent its members, “not to establish, direct or manage board policy.”

SAFE Editor’s comment: As is well known, school board elections are purposely scheduled on a day other than the general elections and turnout is small. A reasonable surmise might be that the intent is to allow teachers and supporters to control the outcome in most cases.

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