UK's Todd criticizes teachers unions for blocking some policies; Union leader explains position

02/07/2011 07:24 PM

Teachers unions are blocking policies that would better serve Kentucky students, especially in math and science education, said University of Kentucky President Lee T. Todd Jr.

“I think they are looking out in too many cases for their own good and not for the good of the students,” Todd said of the unions on Monday’s edition of Pure Politics.

Specifically, he cited the Jefferson County Teachers Association for resisting participating in a program aimed at expanding and improving Advanced Placement classes.

The AdvancedKentucky program provides funding for training — and bonuses — for teachers of Advanced Placement classes in math, science and English. Teachers of those classes can receive up to $3,000 cash bonuses if enough students score high enough of the AP tests to earn college credits, usually with scores of four or five on a five-point scale.

Todd praised the AdvanceKentucky program, which started in 2007 with 12 schools. It has now expanded to 44.

The program is funded through the Kentucky Science and Technology Corporation and received $13 million from Exxon Mobil Corp. and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. It has inspired a bill, Senate Bill 13 sponsored by Republican Sen. Ken Winters of Murray, that would expand the program to all public school AP teachers in math and science.

Todd also lamented that some legislators and leaders too often support unions because of the campaign donations they make.

“It’s not just the teachers unions. It’s the politicians that need to step up and make some decisions on the fact that we’ve got to make some changes,” Todd said.

Todd, in the interview, also said he thought Kentucky’s General Assembly erred by not approving charter schools last year, which might have helped Kentucky score better in the national Race to the Top program through the U.S. Department of Education. The state could have received nearly $200 million in extra education funds if it was selected as a winner. Kentucky was a finalist twice last year for funding but came up short.

“Some people might call it prostitution, but other states went forward with some proposals that addressed charter schools in such a way” that they received the 30 points on the Race to the Top scorecard, he said.

Brent McKim, president of the Jefferson County Teachers Association since 2001, said the union and Jefferson County Schools Superintendent Sheldon Berman objected to participating in the AdvanceKentucky program because disparity it might cause.

“There can be unintended consequences,” McKim said. He said some schools might have more AP classes than others and such incentives for AP teachers might cause a run on teacher jobs at better performing schools with better prepared students.

“When we have a challenging school and we’re trying to keep teachers there, do you really want to create a $7,500 incentive to leave the challenging setting” and go to another school district with better prepared students, he said.

- Ryan Alessi


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