I just had a thought-provoking conversation about my Georgetown Public Policy Review/Michelle Rhee interview post with a DCentric reader who was a teacher at his high school alma mater– a “failing urban public school”:
(Jambulapati’s) post is another example of the ongoing villainization of teachers’ unions, which have increasingly become the favorite punching bag of would-be urban school reformers like Rhee. While Teach for America types may position merit pay and increased accountability as the keys to saving America’s inner city youth, my time as both a student and teacher in a failing urban public school has taught me no amount of creativity or passion can be substituted for parents that take an active interest in their parents’ education.
Put simply, America’s schools are not failing because of unions. They are failing because Americans don’t value education. If you need further evidence, just contrast the way teachers and schools are revered in places like India and China with the way many Americans take pride in their anti-elitism and disdain for academics, nerds and other pointy-headed types.
Of course there are groups within America, most notably the socio-economic elite, who have always seen the value of a good education. Those people usually live places with good schools, or take the time and effort to enroll their children in charter, private or magnet schools. Even the simple act of placing your child in a school outside the one they are assigned to is evidence of parental involvement, and indicates a much larger likelihood of success for the child.
But any urban school district like Washington is sure to have a subset of parents who simply will not choose to be involved in their kids’ education, either through lack of understanding, ability or interest. There are efforts underway to address those types of children, but to my knowledge no one has figured out how to help kids if their parents don’t care. And making parents care is a job too big for the unions, or anyone else really.