-By Larry Sand
Weingarten is schooled by WSJ’s Jason Riley; Van Roekel is clueless as usual.
The National Education Association and the American Federation of teachers represent over 4.5 million teachers and educational support workers across the United States. These two unions have been under attack for the past few years by reformers who point to their slavish clinging to the status quo as a major barrier to badly needed education reform.
Since the election in November when American citizens voted forward thinking legislators and governors into office, education reform has made great strides across the country. The elected officials have been attacking the union’s sacred cows with a ferocity that hasn’t been seen before – eliminating seniority and tenure, introducing merit pay, defining teacher accountability, more school choice programs, etc. are all on the agenda.
The unions, feeling the heat, have decided to take their case to the public.
In an article on the NEA website, NEA President Dennis Van Roekel tries to take on what he calls the “anti-seniority crowd.” He claims that bad teachers shouldn’t be in the classroom. “If a teacher isn’t qualified, he or she shouldn’t be in the classroom. There are procedures in place in every school district to terminate unqualified or incompetent teachers, and administrators shouldn’t wait for a budget crisis to remove them. The fair dismissal process should be transparent, efficient and fair. We owe it to everyone concerned – especially students – to resolve cases as quickly as possible.”
As quickly as possible?
As you can see in this typical flow chart, getting rid of one incompetent teacher is a Byzantine procedure – 27 union mandated steps, 2 to 5 years to circumnavigate the process and a several hundred thousand dollar expenditure to the taxpayer. If, and it is a big if, the teacher is found guilty, they get to retire immediately with full benefits.
Then Van Roekel came out with a feeble attempt to defend the seniority system. “I taught math for 23 years, and I know without a doubt I was a much better teacher in year 20 than year 2. In no other profession is experience deemed a liability instead of an asset.”
Question for Van Roekel: “Since you are opposed to the thought of any objective based teacher evaluation, how do you know that you were better?” In fact, most studies have shown that after five years teachers don’t typically improve – thus a five year and a 25 year teacher are typically equally effective.
And then there is American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, who has been courting the media of late in an attempt to make a case that unions really are for reform. In last weekend’s addition of the Wall Street Journal, Ms. Weingarten consented to be interviewed by Jason Riley.
On point after point, she comes out with mind-numbingly vapid, standard issue unionista statements, attempting to discredit any real reform. Riley, to his credit, is not shy about explaining why everything she says is wrong.
On seniority, she says, “It’s not the perfect mechanism but it’s the best mechanism we have. You have cronyism and corruption and discrimination issues. We’re saying let’s do things the right way. We don’t want to see people getting laid off based on who they know instead of what they know. We don’t want to see people get laid off based on how much they cost.”
Huh? Cronyism? Discrimination?
Reform minded people want to get rid of bad teachers, not good teachers who can be replaced by an incompetent relative or someone of a certain skin color. Riley adds, “Why can’t teachers who have been chronically absent from work be the first to go? Or the ones who have been convicted of crimes? Or the ones who are languishing—with full pay and benefits—in some “reserve pool” because no school will hire them?”
Weingarten then tries to convince us that “teachers unions are agents of change, not defenders of the status quo.” But as Riley points out that in the next breath, she “shoots down suggestions for changes—vouchers, charter schools, differential teacher pay and so on—that have become important parts of the reform conversation.”
Each time union leaders speak, they show themselves to be nothing more than rigid and clueless — clinging to stale clichés, shopworn platitudes and empty rhetoric that doesn’t fool anyone any more. The public has caught on — bad news for the unions, but good news for children, their parents and all taxpayers.
Larry Sand began his teaching career in New York in 1971. Since 1984, he has taught elementary school as well as English, math, history and ESL in the Los Angeles Unified School District, where he also served as a Title 1 Coordinator. Retired in 2009, he is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues – information teachers will often not get from their school districts or unions.
CTEN was formed in 2006 because a wide range of information from the more global concerns of education policy, education leadership, and education reform, to information having a more personal application, such as professional liability insurance, options of relationships to teachers’ unions, and the effect of unionism on teacher pay, comes to teachers from entities that have a specific agenda. Sand’s comments and op-eds have appeared in City Journal, Associated Press, Newsweek, Townhall Magazine, Los Angeles Times, San Diego Union Tribune, Los Angeles Daily News, San Jose Mercury News, Orange County Register and other publications. He has appeared on numerous broadcast news programs in Southern California and nationally.
Sand has participated in panel discussions and events focusing on education reform efforts and the impact of teachers’ unions on public education. In March 2010, Sand participated in a debate hosted by the non-profit Intelligence Squared, an organization that regularly hosts Oxford-style debates, which was nationally broadcast on Bloomberg TV and NPR, as well as covered by Newsweek. Sand and his teammates – Terry Moe of the Hoover Institution and former U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige, opposed the proposition – Don’t Blame Teachers Unions For Our Failing Schools. The pro-union team included Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers. In August 2010, he was on a panel at the Where’s the Outrage? Conference in San Francisco, where he spoke about how charter school operators can best deal with teachers’ unions. This past January he was on panels in Los Angeles, San Diego and San Mateo in support of National School Choice week.
Sand has also worked with other organizations to present accurate information about the relationship between teachers and their unions, most recently assisting in the production of a video for the Center for Union Facts in which a group of teachers speak truthfully about the teachers’ unions.
CTEN maintains an active and strong new media presence, reaching out to teachers and those interested in education reform across the USA, and around the world, with its popular Facebook page, whose members include teachers, writers, think tankers, and political activists. Since 2006, CTEN has experienced dramatic growth.
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