Tuesday, December 13, 2011

With Friends Like These—NEA Adopts Kapo Evaluation System For Teachers

Your New Evaluator or Your New Job? (Image from Flickr, Senor Codo)
The National Education Association (NEA) has released a plan that would do away with tenure and seniority, according to an article in the Washington TimesBottom of Form. Under the new plan launched by the nation’s largest labor union, performance, not seniority, would become the primary factor determining whether teachers keep their jobs.

The new plan veers dramatically from the union’s traditional stance, which was to defend seniority and tenure. Madaline Fennell, the chair of the NEA’s Commission on Effective Teachers and Teaching, told the Times that the new system replaces the need for tenure.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Tenure is designed to protect teachers from arbitrary, vindictive or punitive firing. The new system does not replace tenure with any sort of equivalent protection. Consequently, teachers could be stifled from advocating for students, criticizing bad policies and collaborating freely and openly with colleagues and administrators out of fear that saying the wrong thing could get them canned.

The NEA is calling for the establishment of 100 peer-review programs across the country over the next three years, to be created in collaboration between district administrators and teachers. However, this simply turns teachers into snitches and weasels and will make them distrust each other. It is the boss’ job to fire, hire, evaluate and discipline, not the employees’. Of course if the teachers truly ran the show and administrators were completely abolished this would be another matter. In reality, this new system sounds more like the Kapo system used in Nazi concentration camps, where the “trustees” were expected to police the other prisoners.

The union is correct in asserting that feedback and criticism from fellow teachers are very effective ways to drive improvement. However, this should not be connected to disciplinary actions or firings. In many districts, peer review already exists as a way to support teachers who are struggling or who have received bad reviews from their administrators. A union should support teachers in this way and certainly not be complicit in their members’ firings.

This puts the union in the impossible position of potentially having to defend teachers against other teachers. If a teacher gets a bad review from an administrator and wishes to grieve it, the situation is very clear cut: the union represents the employee against the employer. However, if a teacher gets a bad evaluation from other teachers and wishes to grieve the matter, the union must defend one teacher against one or more other teachers, all of whom belong to the same union and are entitled to the same union protections and services.

The union is also pushing a three-tiered pathway for teachers, with more “effective” teachers earning more money. Novice teachers would have to prove themselves before they could become “professional teachers” and earn higher salaries, while “master teachers” would work year-round, earn the most money, and mentor younger colleagues.

All this begs the questions of what constitutes an “effective” teacher? What if a teacher has excellent technique, content knowledge and relationships with his or her students, but still has a lot of Fs and low test scores—will they get fired or forever consigned to the lowest pay scale and status? Will those teachers who volunteer for all the committees and extracurricular programs and who embrace every administrator-led reform quickly rise to the top, while single mothers and others who are unable to work 16 hours a day remain forever in the “novice” category? Will only those teachers who are trying all the latest new techniques and reforms be considered top notch, while an “old school” teacher who nonetheless has a great rapport with students, motivates them, inspires a love of learning and succeeds in getting them to learn be relegated?

NEA President Dennis Van Roekel said in the Times article that the goal was to weed out ineffective teachers before they get into the system. The NEA believes the fact that 47% of teachers leave the profession within five years is evidence that some of those instructors shouldn’t have made it into the classroom in the first place.
Huck/Konopacki Labor Cartoons
 However, it is more likely that this incredibly high attrition rate is due to the low pay, low status, high stress, and overwork the job involves. Certainly there are some people who aren’t cut out for the job, but what about all those who really are passionate about teaching and who are highly skilled, but who simply got chewed up and spit out by the system without sufficient support from their administrators or unions?

In fact, to suggest that 47% of employees in any industry quit because they aren’t any good at their job is not only absurd, but it is cynical and heartless. It does not take into account the steep learning curve and long hours required those first two to three years. It does not give credit to the phenomenal amount of patience and tolerance for confusing, conflicting and sometimes stupid rules and regulations the job requires. It completely discounts the endless empathy and compassion required to deal with children who come to school hungry, homeless, sick, depressed, abused, frightened, or unable to speak a word of English, not to mention those who are suffering from anxiety, anorexia, post-traumatic stress disorder, sickle cell, addiction, or the grief and horror of surviving a PG&E gas line explosion or seeing their father murder their mother.

For the 53% of us who survived those first five years, it was not simply because we were competent or effective. We also had a high threshold for pain and suffering (ours and our students’), a willingness to work much harder and longer than we were paid, and the support and understanding of colleagues, mentors, friends, family and our unions.

Unfortunately, the NEA would rather serve as the police force for the bosses, than act like a fighting union that supports the interests and wellbeing of its members. They would rather accept all the assertions and accusations of the Ed Deformers than resist the ones that are detrimental to students and teachers.


  1. The NEA is going the wrong way. Backlash against education deform is brewing and this plan is well behind the curve. The system has enough snitches without mandating we all should be so.

    Also, I thought unions were supposed to protect worker rights and fight for more. Maybe I was absent the day they taught labor history but I am pretty sure unions are not supposed to give away the farm like this.

  2. Unfortunately, the NEA is really more of a professional organization than a true union, which kind of explains their obsession with appearing reasonable and legitimate to the Ed Deformers.

    I think a lot of NEA officials are the ones who cut their labor history classes.

  3. ALL of the affiliates of the NEA need to be decertified; they are basically worthless anyway. I don't know if AFT is any better, but perhaps teachers should look to the Teamsters to represent them.

  4. Watch the public school documentary "Waiting for Superman"

  5. Why? If I want to see a good education comedy I can watch Fast Times At Ridgemont High.