the tricks and spin continue from Bennett.....this guy has no shame and has got to go. Luckily a few reporters like up in Fort Wayne and concerned citizens are starting to speak out.
In Washington, public school teachers are reeling after the revelation that a multimillion-dollar deficit used to justify the layoffs of 266 educators last fall was actually a $34 million surplus.
Not unreasonably, the union questioned the credibility of the schools’ leader, placing on hold a contract agreement that would have changed the way they are paid and evaluated.
“We want to have a first-class school system,” Frazier O’Leary, a 40-year English literature teacher, told National Public Radio, “Reform is needed, but reform without trust doesn’t work.”
Sadly, that’s the same climate created in Indiana, where Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett has attacked the Indiana State Teachers Association and the Indiana Federation of Teachers for refusing to sign off on the state’s application for the second round of federal Race to the Top funds.
He issued an ultimatum this month:
“While the labor unions have bemoaned the difficult financial status of Indiana’s schools, it doesn’t appear they are willing to support any change that could bring an additional $250M to our state,” he stated in a news release. The superintendent goes on to invite leaders of ISTA and IFT to discuss “specific reform plan components.” Bennett has invited the media and states that he will post video of the meeting on the department’s website after the session.
It’s a well-staged publicity stunt, given that he’s set up conditions to ensure the unions won’t play along. Bennett wants the organizations to endorse legislation requiring teacher evaluations based on student test scores. Those evaluations would be the basis for decisions on hiring, salary, retention, transfers and layoffs.
Evaluating teachers based on student test scores is a complex issue. The task of developing sound evaluation procedures isn’t impossible, but teachers would be foolish to trust the process sight unseen to the Indiana Department of Education, which eliminated more than 100 positions last year and is struggling to handle its current responsibilities.
Union representatives met with Bennett and his staff in at least four two-hour meetings before the first-round application, but each side left with a different impression of what the teachers’ associations had agreed to support. ISTA President Nate Schnellenberger said the union believed it had “sort of an umbrella agreement.”
“Our intent was always to sit down and hammer out details,” he said Wednesday.
“He (Bennett) thinks there were some tenets we agreed to that we really didn’t. For example, in order for a (Race to the Top) proposal to be considered by the U.S. Department of Education, it would require 51 percent of evaluations to be based on test scores. That’s not even the case with the states that won.”
Schnellenberger said Bennett’s directive for him to attend without any ISTA staff suggested the state superintendent wasn’t serious about working out the details.
“I do not believe a single meeting in your office, with the media in attendance, can begin to produce the kind of work that needs to be accomplished to create a viable plan for funding in the program’s second round,” he wrote in a letter hand-delivered to the superintendent’s office.
In a letter to ISTA members, Schnellenberger explained that the state, in spite of repeated requests, never shared with ISTA or any other education organization the contents of Indiana’s plan to overhaul education.
“Yet now, when time is short and pressure is deep, Dr. Bennett expects me to give an unequivocal agreement on his (Race to the Top) demands,” Schnellenberger wrote. “In Delaware and Tennessee, the two states that received round-one funding, state education leaders solicited and included meaningful input from their teachers’ association leaders through collaborative meetings and work sessions at every step of the process. That type of collaboration did not occur in Indiana.”
Bennett made an end-run around the unions and sent an e-mail message to all Indiana teachers, criticizing the ISTA president and attacking union rules regarding reduction-in-force. If Bennett’s intent was to divide the teachers association from its membership, it’s not working.
A Fort Wayne teacher said his co-workers are “incensed” by Bennett’s remarks about teachers.
“When you treat teachers and their representatives badly, do you think we will trust you more?” wrote another teacher in response to Bennett’s request for feedback. “When you insult veteran teachers, do you think tens of thousands of private-sector people will quit and line up and replace us so they can receive that kind of abuse?”
Indiana’s poor showing on the first round of Race to the Top funding – 23rd out of 40 states – can’t be blamed entirely on the unions, as the scoring clearly demonstrates. Bennett is wrong to use the promise of federal money to force an agreement with teachers.
As the individuals in the classrooms and closest to students, they deserve a bigger role in developing key policy. Bennett needs to restore a broken trust before any reform can take place.