Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Democrats: All On Board in Attack on Teacher Unions

Revised 8/26, 11:30 pm- for The Wave, School Scope column to be published Friday, Aug. 29.

We've been pointing out that when it comes to the ed reform movement, Democrats have not been all that far away from the Republican agenda. Joel Klein, Joe Williams, Al Sharpton, Cory Booker and the rest of the Educational Equality Project gang are Democratic Party (I won't call them democratic because they are in favor of dictatorship over the schools of poor minority kids while white suburban parents get to vote on school boards and budgets.)

A typical anti-union cartoon

The Bigger, Bolder approach would seem more in line with traditional values of the Party but as Phylissa Cramer and Kelly Vaughan have been pointing out at Gotham Schools, they may not be all that different. Are the EEP and Bigger, Bolder approaches all that far apart? Both call for accountability. But what does that mean? Where is the accountability on the part of politicians and the business community?

Kelly writes:

And as a society, it makes no sense to put the whole burden on schools. I will know that our nation really wants to leave no child behind when I see a complete package of funded legislation that takes on health care (physical and mental), housing, environmental justice, early childhood education, and a host of other issues that affect the development and opportunities of our kids. “Our schools are failing,” is nothing but an excuse when the rest is left unaddressed.

To me, it looks like common sense: no excuses schools in a no excuses society.

Let’s move beyond the “false choice” and explore what two-way accountability could look like in practice. Anyone?

When Randi Weingarten jumps on the one-way accountability bandwagon - "Yes, we do want to be accountable" - we know we are in trouble. I've been asking Randi for a decade, "Accountable for what and to whom?" Listen, I jumped on her from the day she first uttered her support for mayoral control in 2001 when I knew from the Chicago experience that the only answers politicians will have is to blame teachers and their union.

What I want my union leader to say is: We have always been accountable to our children and to our parents and to our principals. But to some federal, state and city government that raises itself above accountability? No way!

So yesterday she had a golden opportunity in her speech at the Democratic convention to make an important point for teachers. Naturally, she failed the test.

Chapter leader Lisa North commented on ICE-mail:

Wow, Randi's speech basically said nothing about education except that public education is important and too must testing is not a good idea. It seemed very weak.

Lisa, I didn't expect anything more. Like did you hear her mention class size and the studies that support it? Did you hear her call for full funding of education instead of wars and bailouts? Did you hear her call them on No Excuses - on their part?

Randi has always tried to play both sides against the middle by bending over backwards to try to show she is a reasonable union leader and "progressive" in a willingness to give up teachers.
To be perfectly fair, she is just following the trail blazed by Al Shanker back in the early 80's when he jumped on board the same bandwagon. (plug- plug - get a pdf of our review of the Kahlenberg book on Shanker.)

But what good as it done the AFT/UFT as they still keep coming under attack? Thus, read yesterday''s Michelle O'Neill report at Ed Week

Union Tensions at DNC

The education event that followed the NEA luncheon showed the growing tensions within the Democratic Party over school reform, and the role of teachers’ unions.

Though it’s no surprise an event sponsored by the Democrats for Education Reform would have a slight anti-union message; many of the speakers at the event took several shots at unions during the press conference announcing the Education Equality Project in June.

Today, the sentiment was strong and persistent at standing-room-only, three-hour forum called Ed Challenge for Change. In fact, some of the big-city mayors who participated predicted that had such a forum been held four years ago, a mere five souls would have showed.

Here at the Denver Art Museum, Democratic mayors from Newark, N.J., Washington D.C., and Denver joined education reform darlings including New York City’s Joel Klein and Washington D.C.’s Michelle Rhee. The group was referred to as the “misfits” of the Democratic Party by DFER's Joe Williams, a nod to their willingness to speak up against the influence of teachers’ unions, which have formed the backbone of the party.

The educators, along with the Rev. Al Sharpton, kicked off the event with a nearly hour-long press conference to tout the event. There, Rhee (who left early to catch a flight home; D.C. schools open on Monday), took the Democrats to task, saying the party is “supposed to be the party that looks out for poor and minority kids,” when that’s not actually happening.

The anti-union sentiment spilled over into policy forums that followed. The fight against the teachers’ unions and other special interests is a “battle at the heart of the Democratic Party,” said Newark Mayor Cory Booker. “As Democrats, we have been wrong on education. It’s time to get right.”

Even former Colorado Gov. Roy Romer, who has tried to avoid controversy in his position as the ED in ’08 leader, earned some murmurs from the audience when he said that reformers cannot be “wedded to someone else’s union rules and that politicians, practically speaking, need to work with unions even thought they are “wedded to the past.”

See more reports at Slate and Dana Goldstein at The American Prospect who says:

if ...teachers... embrace the Democrats for Education Reform agenda -- giving up tenure in exchange for higher starting salaries and merit pay tied to student achievement -- the unions will have to get with the program. If they don't, they'll risk becoming irrelevant to their own members.

Unions are already becoming irrlevant (how many vote in elections?) to their own members for the opposite reasons: capitulation to the BloomKlein Educational Equality Project agenda. Unfortunately, Randi Weingarten will not resist the "advice" Dana Goldstein offers and will continue to lead the teacher union movement into oblivion.


  1. Thanks for your prospective. I especially love the part of what you'd like your union to be saying.

    I had a problem with my mayor and his hand picked "chancellor of schools" speaking at this horrible anti-union and thereby anti-teacher event.

    Oh, there is so much more to say about this topic, but I'm just unable to come up with the words for it right now.

  2. I wrote something just yesterday (here) about what's looking like the signs of Weingarten's backing off tenure.

    I was talking about her starting the school year off without commiserating by letter, email, speech, or telepathy with the ATRs who still don't have positions. Last time we heard from any execs was June 2nd, and she wasn't even there. Mendel ran it.

    Here's an extract of what I said:

    "When the Prez is not talking to us and pretending we don't exist, and no one's saying anything about holding onto tenure in the next contract (a year or so from now), you know they're not going to keep fighting for us ATRs too much longer. Why should they: they've got our dues, and the tenure issue is just another bargaining chip.

    "You want proof?

    "Look at Weingarten's welcome wagon for the Teach for America recruits, written up on p.35 of the current NY Teacher and online here. Not too many of those guys care about tenure, since most of them didn't sign up to stay in this job more than a couple of years anyway. What do they care about tenure. Weingarten knows that. She tells them, according to Isaac: "We have won a 43 percent raise over six years [that's a $$$ issue], but we have been fighting not only for pay and benefits [again $$$] but also for working conditions and the respect that make our profession more attractive and teaching more satisfying." Like I said: no mention of tenure, which has always been right up there near the top of the list for most people who don't see this profession as just a jump start to a corporate career."

  3. Sorry, the link to the NY Teacher in the last para should have been this .


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