"Whenever you look at a D or F school, that's not fair to the children and it's not fair to the parents. We want exceptional schools here in Arkansas and that includes Little Rock. No one should be left behind or left out."
Leave it to Asa Hutchinson to rise above the snark and insults, and put things plain. And call out for reason. He always had the level head. As union bosses and upset teachers and editorial writers were prepping their bombing runs, the governor of Arkansas was defusing the situation. And standing firm on his principles. Doing both isn't easy.
The debate about whether to grant a waiver to the Little Rock School District so it can get around that No Bad Teacher Left Behind law was getting nasty. Or at least approaching nasty. Johnny Key, the commissioner of education, wants an easier path toward getting rid of the worst teachers in failing schools. He'd like permission to do so as needed, without having to wait up to two years while bad teachers appeal and stall--while losing another class or two of students to the streets.
Union bosses, knowing that even bad teachers pay union dues, have frowned on the idea. Negotiations, they say, are on-going.
An old editorial writer once told us never to take on the opposition's weakest argument. Take on its strongest. So here are the union bosses' arguments, as we can tell from speeches, news releases and fliers:
• The Little Rock Education Association put this out in a news release over the weekend: "This is about the disrespect and disdain that has been shown to the city of Little Rock community since the state takeover. The contract situation is just the latest in a series of slaps to the face that our students, educators, families and community has endured."
Hmmm. We doubt fewer people have more respect for teachers than somebody like Johnny Key, who sees their work every day as commissioner of education in this state. As for the governor, he went out of his way to tell the papers about all the wonderful things teachers do daily. (See Tuesday's front-page story.)
We wouldn't think the negotiation over dismissal waivers is about respect, dis- or otherwise. It's about the end results coming out of the classroom. Johnny Key says any waiver action would be used as a scalpel, not a chainsaw. Because if it's pert-near impossible to remove a bad teacher from a failing school, one who misses most Fridays, one whose students make not a bit of progress in the subject matter after a semester of classes, one sleep-walking to retirement, then how are schools going to improve?
A better question: How many whole student classes must be lost over the years while bad teachers use their contract and their union to stall a removal? Is one whole class of students worth it? Maybe two? Three?
A large part of the "Little Rock community" agrees with us. For proof, see the waiting lists to get into charter schools.
• The unions might tell you that this whole thing is a scam so the state can fire a massive amount of teachers. Fliers saying just that have been distributed at meetings.
But the education commissioner, who would do the firings, said this earlier this week: "The academic success of nearly 11,000 LRSD students in these schools depends on having all administrative tools available. The outstanding teachers, administrators and support staff who come to work every day with the sole focus of helping our students achieve their potential have no reason to worry."
That's the point. He has only asked for waivers in failing schools. Should the self-esteem of teachers in F-rated schools be a higher priority than the education, and the future, of Little Rock's school children? We know what our answer would be.
• One program at a union meeting over the weekend accused Johnny Key of wanting a contract that would "grant him the right to fire teachers without cause."
Does "without cause" include being an unsuccessful teacher?
One theory being publicized by the unions is that the state just wants to get rid of union representation in the Little Rock School District. And these are the first steps.
That makes no sense. If the union really thought that, its bosses would compromise on the waiver issue, and sign a new contract. Bingo. Problem solved.
The fact is that if the union makes this a sticking point, Johnny Key and the state have other options. Other districts have dropped unions as the bargaining agents for teachers. Then implementing waivers wouldn't be a problem at all.
The unions could continue to follow past practice, and follow their rhetoric, and follow those who'd put the employment of bad teachers ahead of kids on the priority list. And follow it all over a cliff, figuratively speaking.
But we'll bet before that happens, more level-headed types will figure it out.
As the Book says, come, let us reason together. In good faith, and with the best intentions.
Editorial on 11/02/2018