The Maryland Governor's Commission on Quality Education recommended 30 ways to improve education in Maryland, but don't expect the report to get a fair hearing if the Maryland State Teachers Association and its affiliates get their way.
The commission suggested that teachers should have portable pensions. Patricia Foerster, president of the teachers union, responded, "Recommending portability . . . is not the way to go when you look at how difficult it is for us to retain teachers."
By advancing the idea that keeping teachers requires a captive labor force, the union is being unrealistic. A portable plan is the right response to attracting teachers, because most will change jobs during their careers and switch in and out of teaching.
The commission recommended higher salaries in subject areas with teacher shortages. In response, Baltimore Teachers' Union President Marietta English said, "What is to say that your subject is more important than mine?" But salaries generally are based on the availability of workers who can perform the job, not on the subjectively determined "importance" of a position.
By not differentiating pay, schools send the signal that the demand for elementary school and history teacher positions, for which there are more applicants than jobs, is the same as the demand for math, science and special-education positions, which have more jobs than applicants. Nothing is unfair about paying teachers more when demand outstrips supply. The real unfairness is to Maryland's children, who will lack the teachers they need until schools begin paying more for hard-to-fill positions.
The commission recommended adopting the American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence's test as a route to teacher certification, which the union also opposes. Maryland now requires 180 to 270 hours of study to obtain certification, which discourages many qualified candidates. Kate Walsh of the Baltimore-based Abell Foundation reviewed more than 150 studies and found no link between traditional certification and student achievement. By keeping good candidates out, the union is perpetuating teacher shortages.
If the union believes its own arguments, then it is out of touch with today's job market, in which most workers negotiate their own pay, save for their own retirement and face few barriers to career switches. But the union's opposition appears to be more about politics than ideology.
For instance, Foerster said, "Other recommendations are an assault on the current collective bargaining process," but the report didn't even address this topic. The union also didn't credit the commission for recommending tuition waivers for prospective teachers, a big oversight for an organization that is an advocate for teachers' benefits. Nor did it endorse the commission's recommendation for tests that better track the progress of individual students -- an idea the National Education Association endorsed in a statement it co-signed with dozens of other organizations last year.
Instead of attacking the report because a Republican administration issued it, the teachers union should give the Steele commission a chance. Maybe then the schools -- and teachers' work life -- could improve.
-- Tom Neumark
an independent, ran for
the Montgomery County Board
of Education in 2002.