Teachers union leader says battle’s just begun

Predicts labor inroads against GOP

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But he said that not everyone with a teaching degree should remain in the classroom. He said it was important for local school districts to develop detailed plans of when and why they fire teachers. Instructors should be given the opportunity to improve, he said, but the process of removal for those who don’t should take “no longer than 12 months.”

Mr. Van Roekel said he strongly supports ridding the system of bad teachers, but also believes the profession’s overall reputation is too closely tied to the worst of the bunch.

“When everybody focuses on whatever percentage they think are bad teachers and need to leave, the rest of them feel like, ‘What did I do?’” he said. “Pick a number. Do you think 5 percent are terrible? Then there’s 95 percent who aren’t. So quit beating them up.”

For the past 30 years, Mr. Van Roekel said, the American education system and the teachers within it have gone from being viewed as a key to the solution to technological and economic challenges to being seen as a problem in and of themselves. He said lawmakers and others need “to get back to not condemning the system” as a whole and instead find ways to fix it.

Specific flaws within the system, he said, have degraded American schools and perpetuated problems such as unacceptably high dropout rates.

“It’s not a system that’s all bad. It is a system that, the way it’s designed, does not deliver for a significant group of students,” Mr. Van Roekel said. “We’ve designed an education system that will graduate about 75 percent of our students, unless you’re African-American or Hispanic, then it’s about 50 percent. I just think that’s wrong.”

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