Here's a recap of how various people reacted to the decision:
Joel Klein: The sky is falling, and it's all the union's fault
Randi Weingarten: We don't need no stinkin' standardized tests
The NY Times: It's not a good idea, and it wasted valuable time
The Quick and The Ed: It's bad . . . and anyone who argues it's not is stupid
Education Notes: It's good . . . and nobody is honestly refuting my argument
The Socratic Method: It's both unnecessary and stupid
Eduwonkette: People are overreacting
Sherman Dorn: Let's not forget that it's a moratorium, not a ban
My guess is that the way people view this law is largely the same as the way the view unions. If they don't like unions, they don't like the law; and vice-versa. And that's really a shame, because it's the sort of polarizing pseudo-argument that overly-partisan politicians in Washington use to paralyze our country.
The reality, in this situation, (as it always seems to be) is somewhere in between. The idea that unions are either purely good or purely bad is pure nonsense. In this case, unions went out of their way to push a law that may or may not have been unnecessary, but probably won't really hurt anyone in the short-run, though it could prove harmful if it became permanent. In the meantime, it's possible that the state government would have been more productive if they'd been doing something else. What? Exactly. Let's break this down:
The Means: Unions clearly used the back door route to pressure politicians to tuck what they wanted in an unrelated large bill. I can't fault anybody who doesn't like the way they did it -- they're not exactly setting a stellar example here.
The Ends: Districts aren't allowed to use data from state tests to make decisions on teacher tenure for the next two years. This might be a bit extreme, but I see little evidence that the data would have radically transformed decision-making. The last time I checked, the state English test was given in Mid-January and the state Math test was given in Mid-March (approximately 55% and 75% of the way through the school year). Furthermore, I'm not sure that the tests are designed to be used as value-added assessments (meaning that you can compare the results from one year to those from the previous year to see how much a student learned) as they are in TN and some other states. Throw in the fact that the majority of teachers do not teach 3rd-8th grade Math or English, and you have a set of information that is far from perfect. Maybe two years from now they'll have a better system, but right now I don't see any compelling reason to believe that a district or principal gains much from using the data or loses much from not using the data. Meanwhile, the possibility that inaccurate data is used to decide whether a teacher stays or goes is eliminated.
The Context: How much of an effect the law has over the next two years largely depends on how many principals and districts were planning on using the data from state tests to make decisions on tenure over the next two years. If nobody was planning on doing it, then the law was a gigantic waste of time for everybody involved. If a lot of people were moving in that direction, then the state just intervened in a heavy-handed way that might result in fairer tenure decisions over the next two years.
So, in the end, these are really the questions we should be answering:
- Did the ends justify the means?
- How can we obtain better information on teacher performance than is currently available?
- Is it possible for all of us to say the word "union" and remain rational?