Education

The president of the Jefferson County Teachers Association says Gov. Matt Bevin’s assertion that teachers’ unions hinder schools’ success is unfounded and irresponsible.

Bevin, a Republican, lashed out teachers’ unions on Tuesday at an event in West Louisville to support charter schools. At the event, Bevin said teachers’ unions protect “those who don’t need to be protected” —  namely, by providing job protection for ineffective educators.

Brent McKim, the president of the Jefferson County Teachers Association, said Bevin made a “ridiculous assertion.” McKim said teachers’ unions don’t protect bad teachers, but they do work to protect a “fair process.”

Jefferson County Public Schools has about 6,000 teachers, and about 95 percent are part of the union, McKim said.

“For the governor to try to draw a distinction between teachers and their union in Jefferson County shows a real lack of understanding on his part,” McKim said.

New teachers are subject to a four-year screening process during which they may be dismissed at any time, for any reason, McKim said. The process is meant to weed out ineffective teachers. This comes after teachers have participated in a years-long training program, which includes college and student teaching, McKim said.

“There’s really no reason to believe that we have ineffective teachers when we have that rigorous multi-year screening process to ensure that anyone that gets a continuing contract is effective,” he said.

Teachers receiving a continuing contract following the four-year provisional period can still be ousted, but the district must provide a definitive reason for the firing, McKim said.

Teachers are subject to the state accepted Danielson Framework for Teaching, which allows for what he called a flexible evaluation process to determine effectiveness, McKim said.

While teachers that have progressed beyond the four-year provisional phase of their career should be effective in the classroom, there are rare occasions when a teacher will lose the ability to effectively educate students.

“This does happen,” he said.

A Jefferson County Public Schools spokeswoman said the district keeps a close working relationship with the teachers’ union to ensure educators have the resources they need in the classroom.

Still, McKim said Bevin’s blaming struggling schools in Jefferson County on ineffective teachers is “naive and inaccurate.”

“There are a host of factors that lead to poor performance of a student in school,” he said.

Most of those factors, he said, have nothing to do with teachers, but rather  parents, home-life and “literal trauma” experiences outside the school.

“Blaming teachers for all of these factors, as if they’re in control of all of that, is inaccurate,” he said, adding that teachers account for about 10 to 15 percent of the influence in a student’s educational performance.

McKim encouraged Bevin to give teachers’ unions the “benefit of the doubt.”

He said he’s yet to sit down and discuss the issue with Bevin, though he has attempted to set up a meeting.

Charters are generally state-funded schools operated by organizations outside the local school system.

Jefferson County Teachers Association members don’t see charter schools as the answer to the district’s problem, McKim said.

“What they see is the need for more flexibility among the public schools and the need to invest in our public schools rather than privatizing public education and essentially allowing a corporate takeover of our public schools,” McKim said.

Kentucky is among a handful of states that do not allow charter schools.  Republican state legislators have pushed charter schools in recent years, but Democrats in the House haven’t taken up the issue.

Jacob Ryan is a reporter for the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting.