Yesterday’s New York Times has an op-ed which asks the question: is the Newark Teachers Union spending its resources to wage political warfare, or educate our kids? Blackboards Not Billboards. You might recall that the NTU posted billboards asking for “Help Wanted” to stop the killings in Newark, which kicked up quite a controversy. From the Times:
Why the fight? Because the mayor supports school vouchers. He believes that vouchers would allow students who are trapped in underperforming schools to transfer somewhere better. The union has stood against school vouchers from the very beginning.
In the interest of scaring voters, for example, the union’s parent organization has claimed that there is no evidence that vouchers will improve achievement. But this is false. Study after study has demonstrated that voucher systems improve student achievement, regardless of socioeconomic background. Indeed, the National Research Council issued a report during the Clinton administration recommending that the government finance a large-scale school choice experiment.
Quite simply, union leaders are against vouchers because they fear such efforts will divert money into less unionized, or non-union, schools.
The union claims to have Newark’s best interests at heart. But instead, it has chosen to aggressively oppose the measure most likely to improve Newark’s schools while wasting its resources on billboards that will do little but drive business out of the city.
David White, the author, makes a solid point about the entrenchment of what is essentially a political action committee paid for by mandatory union dues and state funding. This entry at the Whitney Tilson School Reform Blog hammers the point home, citing bleak statistics about the Newark public school system, Horrifying statistics for Newark’s high schools:
There are 42,000 children in Newark’s public schools. There are 15 elementary schools, of which 11 are failing — defined as 80% or more of the children at least one year below grade level. There are 13 high schools in Newark: four magnet schools and nine “comprehensive” schools (read: dumping grounds). Here are the statistics for the typical comprehensive high school (these statistics are not for the worst school):
- 500 students enter 9th grade, of which 350 of them are testing below the 6th grade level — on average, at the 4th-5th grade level.
- Only half of these students make it to 10th grade — a 50% dropout rate in one year!
- By the time senior year starts, the class is down to only 150 students.
- Of these students, 75% make it to the end of the year, but only 27 (18% of those who begin the year and 5.4% of those who started 9th grade) pass the High School Proficiency Assessment, an 8th-grade-level test.
- Of these 27 students (85% of whom are female, by the way), most go to two-year community colleges, where 90% of them require an average of two years of remedial work (essentially repeating 11th and 12th grade), so that it takes the few who graduate about four years to receive a two-year degree.
So what do you think the bureaucracy claims is the graduation rate? 75%. I am not making this up!
I suspect most people would assume that Newark’s schools are underfunded, thanks to heartless, uncaring, wealthy white voters and politicians. Nothing could be further from the truth. Newark spends $1 billion annually on its schools, more than $20,000 per student per year, the highest of any school district in the nation! (Average K-12 public school spending nationwide is about $9,000 annually per pupil.)
The average teacher salary in Newark is $77,000, among the highest in the nation (plus no doubt platinum benefits and, of course, iron-clad job security). Yet teacher quality is dismal and the union contract excuses teachers from any lunch room or hall duty or any obligation to communicate with parents – in short, anything that would involve contact with the very people they’re supposed to be serving: the students and their parents.
Recognizing that Newark teachers have one of the most difficult jobs in America, one would hope that the Teachers Union would act as an agent of change to redeem our schools and provide hope for our kids. The political stunts and distraction from our children’s welfare, however, have only reinforced the status quo of mismanagement of public funds and poor education for these kids. All this to say that if the NTU isn’t part of the solution, it’s obviously a part of the problem.