Detroit Public Schools teachers are following a suicidal path if the union members continue to be the major obstacle to reforming the city's schools.
They have to accept their share of the responsibility for the district's failure and recognize their jobs depend on regaining the confidence of parents who are increasingly choosing other education options.
The Detroit Federation of Teachers is among the country's most militant education unions. It has fought efforts to improve teacher quality, instructional rigor and more effective spending. The union's resistance to change, combined with the incompetence of Detroit administrators, has placed the school system at risk.There are plenty of articles and reports out there about the decline in the public school system in the city. Nancy over at Teacher in a Strange Land has lived and worked in Michigan for many years and has her own unique insight on the issues. I can only look at things as an outsider as such, but the kinds of roadblocks described ring just as true here.
I'm not convinced that charter schools or other private initiatives will solve any of the problems. We still have the same students, families, and accountability measures. In many cases, we have the same teachers and administrators. I would agree that significant changes to the system may be necessary, but I think its shameful that the schools themselves don't make the push for it.
Those Detroit teachers who want a better working model and better results from their classrooms should not allow themselves to be held hostage by union factions.
The union is holding leadership elections this fall. Teachers who want change should use those elections to make an impact. Currently, militant members tend to control the union.
But in other cities, teachers tired of their union's knee-jerk resistance to change are making their voices heard. And in some case, they're actually leading the reform movement.
In Los Angeles, teachers have voted to turn over their public school to a charter operator that puts students' needs first.
The New York United Federation of Teachers is teaming up with the charter school operator Green Dot to open a high-performing school. The Chicago affiliate is exploring such a venture as well. Green Dot is unionized, but under a contract that rewards performance rather than seniority.
AFT-Michigan President David Hecker says his union would be interested in working with Green Dot to transform an existing troubled Michigan public school. It's a small step, but potentially an important one.
By now, Detroit teachers must realize the path they're on leads to destruction. Their tired cry for more state money has gone unanswered and, given the economy, will continue to be. Their only hope for maintaining their jobs, and what for many is their life's calling, is to embrace reform.
Teachers who wield union contracts to block changes that could benefit students will find themselves on the street, and that's where they belong.