Thursday, March 13, 2008

Eduwonk Gets Wonked - Et tu NY Times?

Vera Pavone responds to the NY Times triple whammy on Sunday and Monday. As an example of the kind of reporting that doesn't fit the Times' agenda, check out these companion pieces posted at Norm's Notes.

The St. Petersburg Times reports:
60 of 67 Florida districts walk away from fed funds to reward teachers for performance pay.

Teacher Paul Moore's piece on the closing of Florida's once star charter school.

Florida has weak unions and had a pro-corporate governor and 8 years to experiment. How come all the schemes that are coming apart at the seams in the sunny state are ignored by the national press? The Times' former NYC lead ed reporter Abby Goodnough became the Miami bureau chief a while ago. See any stories in the Times about the "results" of the corporate model in Florida? Don't hold your breath.

Guest Editorial

by Vera Pavone

The NY Times Open Ed page of March 10 delivered a one-two punch from Andrew Rotherham (Eduwonk in photo paying tribute to Eduwonkette) and David White (Lexington Institute).

In an introduction to Rotherham’s diatribe against teacher unionism he talks about the success of teachers at two Denver schools in challenging “how time was used, hiring and even pay,” which “ran afoul of the teachers’ contract”.

“While laws like No Child Left Behind take the rhetorical punches for being a straitjacket on schools, it is actually union contracts that have the greatest effect over what teachers can and cannot do. These contracts can cover everything from big-ticket items like pay and health care coverage to the amount of time that teachers can spend on various activities….Reformers have long argued that this is an impediment to effective schools.”

Of course “reformers” here refer to people who want to micromanage teachers, get them to buy into the latest corporate-backed educational program, and force them to work harder and longer. What is the impediment? Are the reformers referring to the number of classes that a teacher teaches? the five-day workweek? the ability to have a free lunch period and preparation periods, a summer vacation, a limited work day?

“Most contracts are throwbacks to when nascent teacher unionism modeled itself on industrial unionism. Then, that approach made sense and resulted in better pay, working conditions and an organized voice. Yet schools are not factories. The work is not interchangeable and it takes more than one kind of school to meet all students’ needs. If teachers’ unions want to stay relevant, they must embrace more than one kind of contract.”

It is the “reformers” who are turning schools into factories (large and small) by insisting on programs that emphasize education-as-test-preparation, high stakes testing, mandated programs, pacing requirements, room arrangements, scripted learning, and adherence to the latest educational jargon. In order to complete the task these “reformers” have colluded with union leaders in various schemes to marginalize and then get rid of experienced teachers whose wealth of skills and knowledge is the only bulwark against this new corporate factory school model.

Rotherham cites how New York City and its union are moving in the right direction by modifying the contract in having a “pay for performance” program in 170 schools and allowing charter schools to have longer days. And he shows how Randi Weingarten has jumped on board by inviting Green Dot to bring their charter outfit to New York.

So, we have it!

Reform equals longer school days plus merit pay.

Most of all reform equals the evisceration of the union contract and unionism itself while at the same time forcing the factory model on teachers and children. And UFT president Weingarten’s support of charter schools and willingness to give up contractual protections for teachers makes her “relevant”, that is, useful to those who want to undermine a truly effective educational system.

White, in “Educators or Kingmakers?” whines about teacher unions determining educational policy because of their political power. Too bad, he says, because the union agenda is often counter to interests of students and teachers. Citing “research”, White claims that (1) union contracts protect ineffective teachers, which leads to poorer student performance; (2) unions fight against merit pay which means that teachers who would stay if they were paid more for performance are deciding instead to leave; (3) unions are against the policy of school choice which improves student achievement.

There have been many challenges to the research claims of the well-funded foundations that teacher quality and school choice are the key elements in improving education. What is truly appalling is that the Times basically ignores these challenges, but what is even more appalling is the silence of UFT leaders.

The day after these op-ed pieces appeared there was a full-page ad paid for by the “Center for Union Facts” on page 15 of the Times which calls teacher unions the biggest bully in schools: “Teacher unions bully principals into keeping bad teachers, scare politicians who support school reform, and block efforts to pay great teachers higher pay.”

It is clear who the bullies are: The corporate backed foundations, eduwonks, and educational “experts” who use dubious statistics and studies to manufacture “facts”, and the politicians and their appointed underlings who take credit for manipulated test scores and push a self-serving agenda.

Teachers have become increasingly demoralized because of the climate of dishonesty and fear that permeates the vast majority of our schools and undermines their ability to teach. Our union leaders have chosen to play a very weak defense, letting these bullies run over our members, and allowing them to destroy public education.

Vera Pavone, an ICE founding member, is a retired secretary and former teacher and had 2 children who attended NYC public schools.

Photoshopping by Eduwonkette at

ED NOTE: See the companion pieces preceding and following this one on how the NY Times is viewed by current and former teachers in the NYC school system.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great job Vera. You hit it right all the way.