Oct 5, 2008

In The Name of Education Reform

Democrats Host Union-Bashers
by Candi Peterson
published in Labor Notes Magazine , No. 355 October 2008

Here in Washington, DC schools chief Michelle Rhee contends that her education reform plan will be done either with teachers - or to teachers. She argues that urban schools do poorly due to union contracts that prevent schools from firing bad teachers. Teachers' seniority rights, she says, stand in the way of the best education for our children.

Odd Bedfellows
Rhee and DC Mayor Adrian Fenty were invited to a forum before the Democratic National Convention in Denver last August to sell their management scam. They appeared with N.Y. Chancellor Joel Klein and Reverend Al Sharpton for a panel discussion that bashed teachers unions.

These self-styled education reformers can't document a case where slashing teacher seniority and tenure has led to higher student achievement. The platform presented at the Denver forum clashes with the Democrats' historical alliance with teachers union and stated commitment to workers' rights.

In Rhee's typical style, she vowed to impose her educational reform if contract talks with the union continue to stall. This doesn't fit the Democrats, which claim support for teachers unions and public education.

These anti-union plans support more privatization and outsourcing of public education while gutting hard-earned job protections. In exchange, teachers would be bought off with hefty raises and bonuses.

Fight Under-Funding, Not Teachers
Rhee and the people who invited her to speak before a crowd of Democrats, whose convention delegates were 25 percent union members, need to refocus. If half of the energy they spend fighting teachers went to fighting the under-funding of public education and budget cuts, our children would be much better off.

The nationwide assault on teachers unions from corporations and conservatives has intensified in recent years. N.Y. public schools have doled out millions of dollars to private contractors. DC is following suit, and millions more will be spent on hefty contracts with groups such as Teach for America and New Teacher Project - an approach that encourages a teaching force that will have a high turnover rate and an equally high number of novice teachers.

Without teachers unions and experienced teachers who are willing to speak out against budget cuts, understaffed schools, high-stakes testing and unsound educational practices, schools may become the personal plantations of principals beholden to corporate forces.

Our union allows us to pool our resources, knowledge and lobbying power to ensure better working conditions and better schools, and fight off attacks like the one we face in DC.

A Political Battle
The major party alternative to the Denver forum is certainly no better. Senator McCain regularly bashes teachers and public education. He supports private vouchers with no proven track record for raising student achievement. Obama meanwhile supports a compensation package developed with teachers, not imposed on them, and has said he would close failing charter schools. Rather than blaming teachers for the ills of our education system, he pledges more funding for public education.

For a long time, the obstacle to school reform has been political. We know how to make schools better. But we simply have not had political backing to separate education funding from local property taxes, which guarantees abundance for some schools and poverty for others. Seeing Rhee's deeply misguided ideas trumpeted in front of Democratic audiences makes one wonder which direction the party is heading. Posted by The Washington Teacher.


teacherinshaw said...

dear candi,

in this post you wrote:

"These self-styled education reformers can't document a case where slashing teacher seniority and tenure has led to higher student achievement. The platform presented at the Denver forum clashes with the Democrats' historical alliance with teachers union and stated commitment to workers' rights."

i have two questions:

1. other than the usual arguments about what is best for the adults in the system (instead of what is best for the students), can you make a clear and well-reasoned argument for tenure and teacher seniority? can you show a case of an urban school system where tenure and teacher seniority have led to student achievement?

2. yes, the democratic party has historically been in bed with teachers' unions. just because the two have been allied in the past, does it mean that the democratic party has to fall in lock-step with everything the teachers unions support? if you have that much of a problem with it, vote for another party.

Candi Peterson said...

Dear Teacherinshaw:
1. You have simply turned around my initial request - so I will ask it again, and this time I will use your phraseology so you can recognize it. Please make a clear and well-reasoned argument for slashing tenure and seniority? Can you show a case of an urban school system where slashing tenure and teacher seniority have lead to student achievement?

Now, if you cannot site examples, just say so and let's move on to some research based practices that actually have merit. I direct you to the website on my blog:

Nevertheless, there is solid evidence that policies aimed directly at education-related, social and economic disadvantages can improve school performance and student achievement. The persistent failure of policymakers to act on that evidence in tandem with a schools-only approach is a major reason why the association between disadvantaged and low student achievement remains so strong.

2. I don't have a problem with whom is in bed with whom. What I do find concernining is that everyone is long on critique yet short on resolutions. As a matter of fact, most resolutions end at Fire the Workers. In the words of someone we both know, If you think you're going to fire your way to improving student achievement---you're delirious (okay, I may have misquoted the original speaker on this matter).

Why not ask the Democratic Party to develop a plan for public education- one that provides a quality education for ALL children not one that simply shuffles the pieces on the board ? Maybe something like the No Child Left Behind Legislation. Not !

Peace said...

AMERICAN PUBLIC EDUCATION TEACHER'S MARCH WITH WASHINGTON ! WE WANT FAIR BALANCE ON FUNDING ! WE WANT ALL AMERICAN SCHOOL BUILDINGS TO HAVE OPERATIONAL NEEDS MET!WE WANT THE RE-AUTHORIZATION TEAM ON NCLB AS SPEAKERS AT THE EVENT!IT'S ALSO A FUND RAISING EVENT TO SUPPORT OUR INNER CITY SCHOOLS IN AMERICA ! We'll have a blast on the freight train to get there !"SHAKE RATTLE AND ROLL !" MARCH BABY MARCH FOR YOUR CLASSROOM OF STUDENTS!CALL THE JUDGES AND ASK FOR A PERMISSION SLIP!Can a teacher be prohibited from encouraging or paticipating in demonstration ? No. Such a broad prohibition would violate a teacher's constitutional rights. This was the ruling of a federal court on Alabama,where the legislature barred raises to any teacher which "participates in,encourages or condones.... any extracurricular demonstration."The court acknowledgeed that a state may punish a teacher who disrupts schooling.(It'll be on a Saturday or a holiday school break).Under the legislature's vague policy,however,teacher's can be punished for encouraging a peaceful demonstration.ACCORDING TO THE COURT,THIS POLICY IS A "COMPREHENSIVE INTERFERENCE WITH ASSOCIATIONAL FREEDOM WHICH GOES FAR BEYOND WHAT MIGHT BE JUSTIFIED IN THE PROTECTION OF THE STATE'S LEGITIMATE INTEREST." (Out of respect we still want to touch base with the Mayors,Gov.and Senators of every state !They like to know all the postive ,fun things going on for education !Also,all school boards and educational associations !It would be cool if the president could speak after the NCLB re-authorization team does !Whatever works and they can decide who goes first !Are we allowed to design a T-shirt that says,"WE'D NEVER LEAVE A CHILD BEHIND." T-shirts get complicated legally when it comes to education but if it's for a positive benefit then they may say okay.It could be our oath of allegiance for the day's march and event.The goals of loyalty oaths for teachers have varied according to the times and the legislature that enacted them.The oaths for debate get complicated and let's just get a "go for it" cleared and jump on the freight train to get there !We the people of the United States,in order to form a more perfect union,establish justice,insure domestic tranquility provide for the common defense,promote general welfare,and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and posterity do ordain and establish this constitution for the United States of America.Thank-you !

Peace said...

SET SAIL FOR SCHOOLS ! A CELEBRATION FOR PUBLIC EDUCATION !A teacher just walked into her principle's office in need of DSS and social services for a student. An hour later,another teacher walks in and tells her about a student at the shelter in need of medical care.Later on that day,the administration learns from the police that there is a dangerous situation occurring and another school just went into lock down. Another child, hours later walked into a child's psychologist office,worried about a gang in his neighborhood. His friends are buying and selling drugs and preasuring him to join. On top of the social life,he or she is failing behind academically and may be held back another year.From teacher's and administrators,to the students and their counselors,we send a positive message.It's time to say thank-you and join in celebrating all the hard work our educators put forth.Time and time again our courts have stated that the purpose of the tenure provisions of the school code is the maintenance of an adequate and competent teaching staff,free from political or arbitrary interference whereby capable and competent teacher's might feel secure,and more efficiently perform their duty of instruction.Our proposal is a March with Washington for all United States teachers and those associated with education !The planning of this event is underway and we look foward to your participation.(Acknowledgement written above needs revision and edit viewing typo)It's a start for thought and considerations with the welcome of your revisions. Have a great day and keep the faith ! Roger that !