For 40 years, education reformers have aimed at the heart of teacher-union power by seeking to establish charter schools and voucher programs, and to dilute union-security and check-off provisions. Relatively feeble attacks have also been made on teacher tenure and seniority practices. These efforts have not been without result: About 5 percent of K–12 students now attend charter schools.
But a lot of energy has been wasted. Despite their validation by the Supreme Court in the Zelman case, for example, voucher schemes benefit far less than 1 percent of students. So-called “accountability” reforms, meanwhile, may have actually had perverse effects: They promote uniformity in instruction, over-testing, teaching to the test, and neglect of history, geography, foreign languages, art, and music. On a deeper level, arguments about whether reforms have worked center almost entirely on test scores, without discussion of whether the reforms promote individual or family responsibility, instill better values in students, promote maturity, or are consistent with what Judge Learned Hand once called “the preservation of personality.”
There follow some suggestions that shatter the unions’ preferred narrative. For they advance not “privatization” but a sensible model of a public school that the unions and their sympathizers reject.
Such a school is:
1. A school in which teachers and principals retain control over student discipline, without fear of “disparate impact” claims, procedural steeplechases, or ruinous attorneys’ fee awards;
2. A school in which disruptive students are promptly removed from the classroom, so as not to delay or disturb the education of other students;
3. A school in which the hiring of teachers is reposed at the building level, without seniority “bumping” and other curtailments of schools’ ability to build a team;
4. A school in which the principal is selected by and responsible to a building-level board that enlists the energies of parents, teachers, and community members with relevant expertise;
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