- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Another respected poll is out that shows the American public overwhelmingly favors school reforms opposed by the union that is misnamed the National Education Association. On two issues in particular, the public is far ahead of the NEA.

The annual poll, released late last month by Phi Delta Kappa International, a professional association for educators, in conjunction with Gallup, demonstrated strong majority support for charter schools and merit-pay systems for teachers. But the power-hungry union consistently puts roadblocks or stultifying restrictions on these reforms.

The poll found that nearly two out of three Americans favor charter schools. The NEA, however, hedges: “Charter schools should be subject to the same public sector labor relations statutes as traditional public schools, and charter school employees should have the same collective bargaining rights as their counterparts in traditional public schools.” That contradicts an essential feature of good charter systems, according to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. Its relevant position paper says: “States should repeal provisions that require some or all charter schools to be bound by the district collective bargaining agreements.”

Consider one example of how collective bargaining undermines charter schools. On Sept. 2, CNN highlighted the sad case of the KIPP Ujima Village Academy in Baltimore. It is “consistently one of the highest performing middle schools in the state,” but its “very program is threatened because it doesn’t conform with … Baltimore City’s collective bargaining agreement.” The academy had to lay off staff and shorten its school day to comply with union demands even though the longer school day is part of what makes the school successful.

Likewise, nearly three out of four Americans support merit pay that rewards good teachers. But the NEA’s Web site says: “Merit pay schemes are a weak answer to the national teacher compensation crisis. Merit pay systems force teachers to compete, rather than cooperate. They create a disincentive for teachers to share information and teaching techniques.”

Those excuses are humbug. Competition is good, not bad. And parents have a right to demand high, measurable performance from those who would teach their children. Lawmakers should listen to the public, with its common sense born of experience, not to the union bosses who want more benefits for less work.