Monday, January 26, 2015

Even Democrats are taking on teachers and their unions? Good for them!

Reading this in the Economist reminded me of the election-time strike in Chicago by members of the teachers union there and had lost track of whatever happened after the strike; now, I know at least this much:
Some of the toughest decisions Mr Emanuel had to make in his first term concerned schools. He demanded merit pay for teachers and a longer school day (Chicago’s was only 5 hours 45 minutes) and earmarked for closure 50 half-empty schools in poor districts. Teachers went on strike for the first time in 25 years, but Mr Emanuel got the longer day and the closures went ahead in 2013. The teachers kept their seniority-based pay system.
Mr Emanuel ploughed some of the money saved by closures into charter schools, which made him even more unpopular with the teachers’ unions. But charter schools have worked well in Chicago.
 Emanuel was, if you recall, the aggressive White House Chief of Staff in the first couple of years of Obama's presidency.  Chicago pols are some tough people, I suppose.

But taking on that safe Democratic votes of teachers and unions?

It turns out that Emanuel is not the lone Democrat on this issue.  Consider the following that was directed at "a teacher union member who said he represents the students":
“You represent the teachers. Teacher salaries, teacher pensions, teacher tenure, teacher vacation rights. I respect that. But don’t say you represent the students.”
Ouch!  And that was not from Wisconsin's Scott Walker, but from, get this, Andrew Cuomo!  Yep, from that blue state of New York.   The son of Mario Cuomo.

And, he said more:
Cuomo referred to the teacher unions and the entrenched education establishment as an “industry” that is more interested in protecting the rights of its members than improving the system for the kids it is supposed to be serving.
“Somewhere along the way, I believe we flipped the purpose of this,” Cuomo said. “This was never a teacher employment program and this was never an industry to hire superintendents and teachers.
“This was a program to educate kids.” ...

You think that maybe, perhaps, even the Democrats are beginning to wonder if the teachers' unions have drifted far from their mission?  Even if you had doubts, all you had to do was read the opening lines in a powerful essay in the New Yorker a few years ago, in 2009:
In a windowless room in a shabby office building at Seventh Avenue and Twenty-eighth Street, in Manhattan, a poster is taped to a wall, whose message could easily be the mission statement for a day-care center: “Children are fragile. Handle with care.” It’s a June morning, and there are fifteen people in the room, four of them fast asleep, their heads lying on a card table. Three are playing a board game. Most of the others stand around chatting. Two are arguing over one of the folding chairs. But there are no children here. The inhabitants are all New York City schoolteachers who have been sent to what is officially called a Temporary Reassignment Center but which everyone calls the Rubber Room.
These fifteen teachers, along with about six hundred others, in six larger Rubber Rooms in the city’s five boroughs, have been accused of misconduct, such as hitting or molesting a student, or, in some cases, of incompetence, in a system that rarely calls anyone incompetent. The teachers have been in the Rubber Room for an average of about three years, doing the same thing every day—which is pretty much nothing at all. Watched over by two private security guards and two city Department of Education supervisors, they punch a time clock for the same hours that they would have kept at school—typically, eight-fifteen to three-fifteen. Like all teachers, they have the summer off. The city’s contract with their union, the United Federation of Teachers, requires that charges against them be heard by an arbitrator, and until the charges are resolved—the process is often endless—they will continue to draw their salaries and accrue pensions and other benefits.
“You can never appreciate how irrational the system is until you’ve lived with it,” says Joel Klein, the city’s schools chancellor, who was appointed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg seven years ago.
Yep, that was the Rubber Room!

That same essay noted:
Leading Democrats often talk about the need to reform public education, but they almost never openly criticize the teachers’ unions, which are perhaps the Party’s most powerful support group.
And now it is happening. In Chicago. In the state of New York. And more.

As Reason observes:
The fact that this fiery anti-union tirade passed the lips of a blue state Democrat tells you everything you need to know about just how thoroughly teaches union have alienated many of their natural political allies. And this isn't merely some quirk of New York politics, as the same thing has happened on a local scale in numerous cities such as Chicago, Detroit, and Los Angeles. Democratic politicians everywhere are more willing to take on teachers unions than ever before.
I bet this will be some interesting political theatre. Get ready.


Ramesh said...

This post is from a "teacher". The case is rested !

Teacher unions in schools are a massive problem in many countries - same is the situation in the UK. They care two hoots for the students and everything about themselves and then hide under the cloak of a honourable profession.

Sriram Khé said...

Not only from a teacher... but also a teacher who is not a member of the union--an act of defiance that has caused a great deal of problems ;)

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