2008-03-27 / Letters to the Editor

Time to rework teacher contracts

The results of the New England Common Assessment Program proficiency tests (NECAP) administered to the states eleventh graders last year were truly disturbing. Only 61 percent were found to be totally proficient in reading, 36 percent in writing and 22 percent in math.

These results are the just the latest evidence that Rhode Islands public schools are failing to prepare our students to take their place in the hitech world we live in.

I urge all readers that are outraged by the NECAP results to do what I did and review the teacher contract for your town. Most of them can be found on the Education Partnerships web site (www.edpartnership. org). The first thing you will see is that these lengthy documents have nothing to do with providing our children with a good education and everything to do with protecting jobs and benefits and restricting the demands placed on teachers. The most glaring shortcoming of these contracts, however, is their failure to hold teachers responsible for student achievement.

The contracts set forth compensation plans based exclusively on years of service and degrees earned. Under this system all teachers with the same years of service and degrees held receive the same pay regardless of whether they are outstanding or ineffective. Making things worse, provisions of the contracts and of state law make it virtually impossible to terminate ineffective teachers.

It is time to scrap the present tenure based compensation plans and begin work on developing and implementing plans that permit principals to reward teachers for outstanding performance and for possessing strong skills in math and science.

The industrial-style teacher contracts now in place are totally inappropriate for dealing with a professional workforce. They impose highly specific work rules governing all aspects of day-to-day school activities, denying principals the flexibility required to effectively manage their schools. A strong argument can be made that work rules should not be the subject of collective bargaining.

The NECAP scores should serve as a wakeup call to school committees throughout the state that it is time to stand up to the unions and take back management rights that over the years have been negotiated away. In order to turn around our public education system it will be necessary for school committees around the state to band together and bring pressure on the General Assembly to modify state laws regarding collective bargaining, tenure based compensation and seniority rights which now restrict their ability to provide their students with a quality education.

Robert Ziegler


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