In the fight to reform American schools, former Florida Gov. and outspoken education advocate Jeb Bush on Tuesday took direct aim at labor groups and joined a growing chorus who believe real change must start by loosening the grip of teachers unions.
“We need to have a teacher evaluation system that is based on teachers being professionals, not part of some collective trade union bargaining process,” said Mr. Bush, chairman of the Foundation for Excellence in Education Reform, which kicked off its national summit in D.C. on Tuesday.
“We have a system to reward teachers that’s based on an industrialized, unionized model that is completely inappropriate for the 21st century,” Mr. Bush continued. “There are incredibly fine teachers that get paid less even though they’re doing the Lord’s work consistently over time, and there are teachers that are mediocre that get paid more because they’ve been there longer.”
Teacher evaluation systems and seniority pay scales have been at the center of school reform fights across the nation, most recently during the Chicago teachers strike earlier this fall. The nation’s teachers unions — the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers — have remained weary of evaluation systems that too strongly tie teacher reviews to student test scores. Such an idea, they argue, is especially problematic in low-income school districts, where test scores tend to be lower.
But more and more state and national leaders, along with reform advocates from both sides of the aisle, have begin to more openly challenge the power of the NEA and the AFT over American public schools. Groups such as Democrats for Education Reform, Parent Revolution and others have called for more parental involvement and control and less union bureaucracy in schools.
Mr. Bush said that movement is growing and pointed to the first successful use of a “parent trigger” law at a California elementary school last month. Such laws, which exist in seven states, allow parents to engineer major changes to local schools — including drastic steps such as converting it to a charter school or ousting the current administration — if the school isn’t meeting the community’s expectations.
The parent trigger movement, opposed by unions, is gaining in popularity across the nation.
“This is one of those great places where center, left, right coalitions need to work together. And that’s exactly what’s happened,” Mr. Bush said.
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Ben Wolfgang is a national reporter for The Washington Times. Before coming to the Times, he spent four years as a political reporter in Pennsylvania. His focus is on education and science policy. Ben lives in southeast D.C. and has played guitar in several bands while still in Pennsylvania. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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