McNeilly: Will DPS stand up to union bullies?

Greg McNeilly

Don’t kids in Detroit deserve better?

That’s the question parents keep asking as Detroit Public Schools takes center stage in a new and seemingly unending parade of media stories and political power plays.

With a new rescue plan from Gov. Rick Snyder, an illegal teacher strike, and the release of maddeningly unrealistic new teacher evaluation data this spring, DPS can’t get itself out of the statewide education spotlight—or out of its own way.

If all the attention has made anything clear, it’s that children in Detroit won’t get the kind of quality education they deserve until policymakers force the adults in the district to focus on kids, not union politics.

If Detroit school leaders won’t defend Detroit school children, Lansing should.

The best place to start? Standing up to the Detroit Federation of Teachers and their President Steve Conn.

Three weeks ago, hundreds of members of the Detroit Federation of Teachers, led by Conn, staged an illegal teacher strike so they could chant their same tired slogans in front of the State Capitol.

Teachers walked out on their classrooms without a day’s notice, shuttering 18 schools and forcing an estimated 10,000 students out of the classroom and onto the street.

Parents were understandably furious.

Teacher strikes are illegal in Michigan, with teachers participating in illegal strikes subject to disciplinary action, including fines and opening the door for termination by the District.

All the consequences in the world don’t amount to anything unless there’s an adult willing to impose them.

DPS doesn’t simply let union leaders like Conn get away with hurting kids, they go out of their way to defend them. The district proved it once again this spring when it published the results of its annual teacher effectiveness evaluations.

According to data filed with the Michigan Department of Education and first reported by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, DPS rated 79 percent of their teachers “highly effective,” and another 17 percent “effective.”

Only two percent were rated “ineffective.”

The statewide average for “highly effective” teachers is only 38 percent.

Given the district’s education results, it’s hard to believe anyone could report an analysis like that with a straight face.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, only 8 percent of Detroit 8th graders are proficient in reading. Only 3 percent are proficient in math. The national proficiency averages in large cities like Detroit are 23 and 21 percent, respectively, putting DPS at the very bottom of the barrel.

It’s understandable that parents might question how a district where 79 percent of teachers are “highly effective” could leave 97 percent of students behind in math and another 92 percent behind in reading.

With 60 percent of Detroit charter schools outperforming their DPS counterparts among the same student population, according to a 2015 study from Stanford University, those proficiency numbers aren’t a Detroit problem—they’re a Detroit Public Schools and Detroit Federation of Teachers problem.

Still, that didn’t stop DFT union bosses from walking out on their students or the District from claiming wildly ineffective union leaders are doing a swell job in the classroom.

Conn explained to the media that the purpose of the strike was to provide “a testament to the teachers union’s power.” Not to improve outcomes for kids. Not to deliver results for students.

When public sector unions begin bragging about their ability—and their willingness—to hurt kids, it’s time policymakers examine whether or under what regulations public sector unions deserve to even exist.

DPS isn’t willing to stand up to Steve Conn, so Lansing may have to do it for them.

Greg McNeilly is president of the Michigan Freedom Fund.