Monday, November 17, 2008

"Reform-minded" Detroit teachers deserve help

Monday, November 17, 2008
Reform-minded Detroit teachers deserve help
The Detroit News

A small band of Detroit teachers is pushing hard for reform in the failing school district. They should have more help from their union, the school administration and the state Legislature.

When Ann Crowley and Ann Turner, two of the teachers, decided to run a reform slate for their union election, they figured they would face nasty attacks. They also suspected some teachers would support them. So far, both hunches have been right.

Crowley and Turner are leading a pro-charter school reform slate in the Detroit Federation of Teachers' Nov. 24-26 election.

The union is one of the nation's most militantly anti-charter locals.

Crowley and Turner have organized the Detroit Children First slate. Made up of 19 diverse classroom teachers, it faces the current union President Virginia Cantrell and a host of other candidates.

The Children First slate's goal is two-fold: First, to begin a reform conversation among teachers who too often are ignored by the district's dysfunctional, bloated bureaucracy. Second, to create its own charter school. Its model: the Green Dot Schools, a Los Angeles nonprofit network of unionized charter high schools that is proving poor, urban and minority students can reach the same academic heights as their white and suburban peers do.

Green Dot has union teachers, but its schools are radically different, and more effective, than Detroit schools.Its schools utilize a comprehensive instructional strategy for teaching urban high school students. In comparison, the Detroit Public Schools has no systemic approach to addressing high school dropout rates or tackling many teenagers' most difficult subject, mathematics.

Green Dot also invests in good teachers. Its rigorous hiring process makes teacher talent a priority.

The program spends money on classrooms, not bureaucrats. Ninety-four percent of every public dollar Green Dot receives is spent in the schools. And it uses a modern union contract that values performance over seniority and tenure.

Crowley rightly sees Green Dot as a model for Detroit. But bureaucracy is blocking her way. Children First teachers have sought support from school Superintendent Connie Calloway, who has said she seeks ideas for successful school models.

The slate also pitched its ideas to local union leaders. There are precedents. The United Federation of Teachers of New York City just opened its own Green Dot charter school.

But in Detroit, both the union and administration shot the reformers down.

It shouldn't be this way. In California, a new law empowers teachers and parents to overhaul their schools.

A majority of either group may vote to turn over the management of their public school to a charter management company.

Michigan's Legislature should provide that option to our teachers and parents, as well.

The Detroit school district is on the verge of fiscal collapse, and its students are among America's most poorly educated young people.

The fact that its leadership won't more seriously consider the proven ideas of its teachers is a testament to its closed-mindedness.

Michigan must act to make sure they do better.

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