If NJ Was In Indiana...

Interesting development in Indiana regarding Race To The Top: the State Superintendent, Tony Bennett, has written a letter to the president of the Indiana State Teachers Association explaining that because union buy-in is so important to wining the federal competition, “I ask for your unequivocal agreement to the following proposals.” If the Union won’t support Indiana’s RTTT application then Indiana won’t even bother applying for the next round in June. (Hat tip: Flypaper.)

Mr. Bennett goes on to stipulate that the application will only be submitted if ISTA agrees to support a requirement that 51% of teacher evaluations be based on student growth data, and new legislation that uses teacher evaluations to inform tenure and compensation decisions. The Union must submit a “strong letter of support and a recommendation that local associations sign on in support.”

Good strategy or not? Arne Duncan has taken some heat for giving blue ribbons to the two states – Delaware and Tennessee -- with almost unanimous union buy-in, so Mr. Bennett’s caution is understandable, as is his desire to lay the weight of a potential loss of several million dollars at the feet of ISTA’s leaders. Rick Hess in Education Week, in fact, argues that making union support a condition for victory rewards weaker proposals, the logic being that really transformational applications would never get state union support:
Tennessee boasted that it had obtained signatures of participation from 100% of Local Education Agency (LEA) superintendents, 100% from the presidents of local school boards, and 93% from the local teachers' union leaders. Delaware bragged that it obtained 100% of the signatures in each category. Is this really a good thing? When Louisiana faced board pushback because of the boldness of its proposals, and when Florida endured an FEA boycott over its own proposed measures, the decision to go with Delaware and Tennessee looks like the triumph of process over substance. If anyone believes that Delaware can get 100%--or even 60%--of districts or union leaders to sign on to efforts to dramatically retool K-12 schooling, I've got a couple of handsome monuments in downtown D.C. I'd like to sell them.
In some ways, Jersey’s DOE/Teacher Union relationship is a caricature of the rest of the nation. (Can’t think of any other state where unions are sending out emails asking God to strike the governor dead, or any other governor advocating that local taxpayers vote down school budgets.) What would happen if Gov. Christie wrote a letter to NJEA Prez Barbara Keshishian requesting union buy-in on, say, tying teacher compensation to student academic growth, or legislation rewriting tenure laws? (Cue in automatic weaponry sound effects.)

If Superintendent Bennett of Indiana is correct and union buy-in is a mandatory component for RTTT winners, then either we throw in the towel now or start our own prayers for enough teachers to get fed up with their representatives’ chicanery and elect new leadership. Do NJEA’s leaders care if the public is angry because union recalcitrance dooms our June application? Probably not; anyway, no one’s buying real estate in Trenton.

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