Teachers union makes news with meaningless words and a misleading poll.
Norm MacDonald is famous for opening the comedic news segment on Saturday Night Live by introducing himself and telling the audience that it’s time for the “fake news.” I thought of this when, at the recent American Federation of Teachers convention, President Randi Weingarten essentially said that bad teachers should find new jobs. Her words were dutifully reported by a compliant press, but it didn’t take much to see that the comment was devoid of any conviction whatsoever.
Responding to Weingarten’s comment that “…if someone can’t teach after they’ve been prepared and supported, they shouldn’t be in our profession,” EAG’s Ben Velderman pointed out,
Notice the huge caveat in Weingarten’s comment: “after they’ve been prepared and supported.”
Weingarten is actually saying that incompetent and ineffective teachers should have lots of time and assistance to improve their classroom performance.
In fact, “lots of time” would be an eternity or so, with the teacher in question going through a battery of master teachers, on-site administrators, coaches, peer assistance review teams, and then various administrative panels, lawyers, endless appeals, all with a tree-killer paper trail. Hence, there is nothing but empty rhetoric here.
Mike Antonucci gives Weingarten’s comment an historical perspective, enumerating high- sounding teacher union leader’s past proclamations which did nothing to change the moribund status quo. He links Weingarten’s merit pay speech in 2008 in which she says she is “willing to discuss new approaches to issues like teacher tenure and merit pay.” Yet when the rubber hit the road in 2010, Weingarten fought DC Chancellor Michelle Rhee tooth and nail on these very issues. It was as if the union boss had forgotten that she made any noise about tenure and merit pay.
Antonucci goes back to 1997 when National Education Association president Bob Chase made a feel-good speech in which he acknowledged the existence of the “vast majority of Americans who support public education, but are clearly dissatisfied. They want higher quality public schools, and they want them now.”
Since his speech a full generation of children has passed through the entire pre-K to 12 public school system. What changes we have seen during that time have come with the teachers’ unions trailing behind, yelling “stop!” I have seen the future, and it is more of the same.
Just as fraudulent as Weingarten’s tough talk on bad teachers is a new AFT “poll,” the results of which were reported on solemnly by union cheerleaders like The Washington Post’s Valerie Strauss. This push poll’s intentionally skewed results were used by Weingarten and the true believers in the press to hammer home the idea that parents are against education reform.
But the Cato Institute’s Jason Bedrick wasn’t buying it, and wrote that the “Teachers Union Poll Is Not Credible.” One example of how the AFT phrased their questions:
With which approach for improving education do you agree more?
APPROACH A) We should focus on ensuring that every child has access to a good public school in their community. We need to make the investments needed to ensure all schools provide safe conditions, an enriching curriculum, support for students’ social and emotional development, and effective teachers.
APPROACH B) We should open more public charter schools and provide more vouchers that allow parents to send their children to private schools at public expense. Children will receive the best education if we give families the financial freedom to attend schools that meet their needs.
It’s no surprise that 77 percent agreed with the first approach and only 20 percent agreed with the second. Either “invest” in “good” public schools in your “community” and receive all sort of wonderful goodies (“enriching curriculum!” “effective teachers!”) or forgo all that so that some parents can send their kids to private school “at public expense.” Aside from the fact that this is a false choice (competition can actually improve public school performance and school choice programs can save money), the wording is blatantly designed to push respondents toward Approach A.
Bedrick then writes about a 2012 Harvard poll that was worded fairly. Its findings:
- 54% of parents favor giving all families a “wider choice” to “enroll their children in private schools instead, with government helping to pay the tuition” compared with 21% opposed.
- 46% of parents favor giving low-income families a “wider choice” to “enroll their children in private schools instead, with government helping to pay the tuition” compared with 21% opposed.
- When not given a neutral option, 50% of parents favor giving low-income families a “wider choice” to “enroll their children in private schools instead, with government helping to pay the tuition” compared with 50% opposed.
- When the question omits the words “a wider choice” and only asks about using “government funds to pay the tuition of low-income students who choose to attend private schools,” 44% of parents are in favor with 32% opposed.
Education Week’s Stephen Sawchuk also had problems with the AFT poll, reminding us to take it “with a grain of salt and examine the questions’ phraseology carefully.” (I would suggest adding an ample amount of Maalox to the salt.)
Take, for instance, a bunch of paired statements asking parents to select the one they most agree with. Unsurprisingly, they tend to favor the idea that it’s better to “treat teachers like professionals” than to “regularly remove poorly performing teachers.”
… A few results appear contradictory. Nearly half surveyed had a negative impression of using test scores in teacher evaluation, but 68 percent approved of paying teachers more if their students show gains in academic achievement.
In another refutation of the biased AFT poll, The Heritage Foundation’s Lindsey Burke writes that “Unions Can’t Ignore Support for Choice in Education.”
A PDK/Gallup poll released last summer found that, when asked nearly the same question—whether they supported allowing students to choose private schools at public expense—44 percent of Americans said yes. Gallup has asked respondents the same question for the past decade and found that support for school choice has jumped 10 percentage points in just the last year alone.
Something that may be of interest to Ms. Weingarten is the result of a Rasmussen poll in which we learn that “only 26% of Likely U.S. Voters rate the performance of public schools in America today as good or excellent. Thirty-four percent (34%) rate public education as poor.” Unlike the AFT poll, Rasmussen used straightforward language:
Overall, how would you rate the performance of public schools in America today?
No deception here, unlike the AFT pedaled “fake news.” But then again, when you have nothing legitimate to sell, snake oil will do the trick.
Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, 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.