Richard C. Iannuzzi: Teachers unions embracing reform
Updated: 04/02/09 10:19 AM
Twelve blocks from the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center is ground zero of the national debate over education reform.
The East Side is a sad indictment of all that is wrong with society. Children who have committed no offense other than being born into deep poverty go to school hungry; live in neighborhoods infested by drugs and gangs; don’t see a doctor when they’re sick; and, despite heroic work by educators and support staff, drop out in alarming numbers.
Twenty minutes away, however, is an entirely different world. In the suburbs, nine in 10 high school seniors are immersed in the “positive stress” of selecting the college they will attend this fall, beneficiaries of the world-class public education President Obama recently spoke about for every child.
As New York State United Teachers gathers 2,500 local union leaders in this beautiful but beleaguered city, the question of how to reform public schools so we forever end the achievement gap remains our foremost challenge.
Reform is a challenge teachers unions embrace. Yes, that’s right. The record clearly demonstrates the commitment of teachers unions to improving public education. Union leaders understand we have a responsibility to make schools work, especially in our cities where the achievement gap and all its ramifications threaten the vibrancy of local economies.
This deeply held belief in reform is why NYSUT was an early advocate for smaller classes, higher academic standards, strict discipline, quality early childhood education programs and the professional development necessary to provide every child with the most qualified teachers possible.
Obama recently pushed for even more reform — rewarding teacher excellence, holding teachers more accountable and promoting innovation, such as charter schools. Rather than considering those subjects taboo, we have been speaking of the same things.
Dozens of teachers unions in New York have negotiated innovative compensation models — from stipends for those who earn national certification to New York City’s bold experiment in school-based performance pay.
NYSUT proudly represents teachers in more than a dozen charter schools, including five here in Buffalo. Charter schools can provide opportunities for innovation and experimentation. We also believe charters must be accountable for the tax money they receive and transparent in how they spend it, and urge caution so that a proliferation of charters does not undermine full support for traditional public schools.
Under the leadership of Randi Weingarten, the American Federation of Teachers has launched a $1 million innovation fund to implement sustainable reform efforts developed by union members. And local unions in Dunkirk and Fredonia have begun taking part in a National Education Association- funded program to develop “learning communities” that focus on ending the achievement gap.
As someone who taught elementary school for 34 years in a district where three-quarters of the children live in poverty, I clearly recognize that America’s future is at stake. Creating a successful learning experience for every child is a responsibility all teachers take seriously, and we aren’t going to sit on the sidelines waiting for others to lead reform on issues we know the most about. Teachers unions are the solution. Isn’t it time our critics set aside petty politics and ideology and join us?