I have recently published several posts about a new effort led by former CNN journalist Campbell Brown to eliminate or restrict teacher and other job protections for teachers. (You can see them here, here, here and here.) Brown has appeared on numerous television shows recently arguing that legal job protections for teachers have a negative impact on student achievement; critics say there is no research showing a connection between teacher tenure laws and lower rates of student achievement. In the following post, Brown responds to the posts I have published as well as other criticism of her activism. Readers, as always, are welcome to respond.
By Campbell Brown
This blog has devoted considerable space lately to covering me, and while I believe in the value of opinion writing, I also think some sense of fairness still matters. I have been falsely accused of perpetuating racism, blaming teachers, opposing due process and manipulating public opinion – and that was just in one blog post alone.
To go point by point on it all would miss the point, because the debate that really matters is not about me or my critics. It is about the best ways to improve education.
What readers should know is that the effort of which I am a part is designed to ensure that all public school children in New York have access to a quality teacher. Period. That is the motivation of the parents who have sued the state. It is why my organization supports them. It is the foundation for challenging a state that constitutionally promises a sound education for all and yet does not provide it.
We want a system that supports, protects and properly pays good teachers and makes it possible, in a responsible, fair and timely way, to remove teachers judged to be incompetent. We also want to eliminate the scenario in which excellent teachers get lesser layoff protections than other teachers simply based on seniority.
Our approach, a lawsuit, is borne of years of parental frustration and based on a successful suit in California that tackled the same basic issues: tenure, teacher dismissal and seniority. The judge in that case found that the evidence about the harmful effects of “grossly ineffective teachers on students” was so compelling that “it shocks the conscience.” He rendered all the laws in question unconstitutional.
So was that ruling an attack on all teachers? Of course not. Was it a new way to help ensure that substandard teaching is never sanctioned in California schools? Yes.
That is what we want in New York. On tenure, we agree with the nation’s top school official, Education Secretary Arne Duncan. Due process is vital. But awarding added tenure protection to someone with no record of improving student achievement “doesn’t respect the craft of teaching, and it doesn’t serve children well.”
The idea of connecting quality on the job to whether teachers essentially get to keep their jobs indefinitely is hardly radical. Most professions consistently demand quality in return for employment. Why would we not expect that for our children?
What’s more, tenure is only one part of the case.
We think the state’s dismissal laws are flawed not because they provide due process, but because the process can be onerous to the point of absurdity. And we think that if budget cuts prompt schools to fire teachers, the criteria for who loses a job ought to be a little more thoughtful than simply who walked in the door last.
The parents who put their names and reputations on this suit know their schools have caring, dependable, inspiring teachers – and that is not their worry. What exasperates them is the other side of the story, the minority of educators who blatantly do not do their job and get away with it because the state allows it.
So here is the question for critics: What would you do if your child had those teachers in class? Nothing? Attack the motives of people trying to do something? Cast the effort as anti-teacher when in fact it is designed to get more good teachers?
A lawsuit is a serious matter, and we look forward to a fair, dispassionate review in the courts. We have never portrayed this, however, as a solution to everything.
This blog has done a good job of raising other issues that matter significantly to the quality of education and demand more attention: innovation, leadership, professional development, parental engagement, poverty. We agree in every case.
And finally, there has been the focus on me. My responsibility to take on questions is a legitimate part of this, as I am using my platform as a former television anchor to give lift to these concerns and to the case of the parents. I happen to think that is exactly what a person with a platform ought to do – to use it to draw attention to a problem and to ask for support with the solution. Criticism is part of any tough fight.
Anyone who really listens to me, though, hears my target: Laws that directly work against our ability to provide quality teachers to all our children. Anyone is entitled to care, and that includes me. When the clever Stephen Colbert made a joke that I was playing the “good-for-child card,” he was being funny. When the author of this blog picked up that Colbert line, she derisively added: “Which, of course, she was.”
Actually, no one is playing a card. No one is playing a game. This is for real. And if you are going to take a stand, perhaps the best one possible is the one good for the child.