It’s Not in the Contract

If you think the key to education reform is all about changing union contract rules…think again.

An article I wrote (with my colleague Kate Walsh) for the Fall issue of Education Next (“Invisible Ink in Teacher Contracts,” now available online) explores how states are the real powerhouses behind improving teacher quality.

While union contracts certainly play a big role in determining a teacher’s pay, work schedule and benefits, the policies with the biggest impact on teacher quality, such as those covering tenure and evaluations, come from the states. State power has steadily increased over the decades, especially in recent years, as federal initiatives like No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top have pushed states to assume more authority over education.

Take, for example, new legislation in Colorado, inspired by RTT. Among other reforms, the state now requires annual evaluations of all teachers, with 50 percent of the evaluation tied to student performance. Because the law was backed by a coalition of advocacy groups like Stand for Children and Democrats for Education Reform, even opposition from the 40,000-member Colorado Education Association couldn’t stand in the way.

Local control—although it’s still brandished when expedient—is today more myth than reality, at least when it comes to matters involving teachers.

NB: Mike Petrilli and I discuss some of the issues raised in the article in a new video posted on the EdNext website:

Emily Cohen is district policy director at the National Council for Teacher Quality.

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