Stephen Brill Pens Another Hit Piece on Teacher Unions

NY Times CoverNY Times CoverThis Sunday's NY Times Magazine featured a cover story by Seven Brill titled The Teacher Unions’ Last Stand. Its a compelling narrative on behalf of the self-styled education reformer-entrepreneurs. It happens to be the same narrative that drives the strategies of Arne Duncan’s Ed Department and the Gates Foundation. It’s the new narrative of the education establishment. The problem with the narrative is that it is based on a foundation of faulty facts. Brill and company know the facts they assert are wrong, but their readers may not.

1. Brill claims that K-12 teachers have life-long tenure once they pass their probationary period, like college professors. This is just not true. The word "tenure" should not be used to describe what obtains for public school teachers. Simple due process rights bear no similarity to "tenure" for college professors. Brill creates a false impression by not clarifying what tenure really means.

2. The Harlem Children’s Zone charter school, which gets better results in the same neighborhood, hand-picks their students. The poverty rate is much lower. In the first two years they were not getting the results so they dismissed the students, recruited different ones and got better results. Brill neglects to provide this important piece of information when he compares the schools.

3. In the only credible national study of charter schools, the 2009 CREDO study conducted by Margaret Raymond, from Stanford, charter schools, on average, get worse results than neighborhood public schools. Brill Implies the opposite.

4. Brill claims mayoral control a success in NYC and Chicago, but those cities NAEP scores belie that claim. Brill takes the improvement on state tests as his measure although state test results are more sensitive to test-prep than real learning. On NAEP, the nation's report card, the astounding fact is that progress being made before NCLB has actually slowed, nationwide, since 2003. The reforms Brill champions have failed, but the myth persists.

5. And then getting to the core of Brill's thesis in "Teacher Unions Last Stand," most teacher unions just don't fit Brill's myth-making stereotype. Union locals have recently proposed and have engaged in implementing new, forward-thinking directions in Philadelphia, Los Angeles, New Haven, Seattle, Milwaukee, Chatanooga, Montgomery County(MD), Portland(OR), Minneapolis, and too many other places to name. The true track record of unions was just too complicated and nuanced. It is a shame that the New York Times has lowered itself to publishing a mythical narrative that does not stand up to the scrutiny of existing research.