AFT president Randi Weingarten trots out “solution driven unionism,” but her “solutions” are anything but.
As if Detroit didn’t have a zillion other problems, the American Federation of Teachers decided to have its every-other-year convention there last week. In Michigan, a forced union state, I guess AFT figured they’d have a captive audience. On opening day, President Randi Weingarten unveiled something she refers to as – cue the trumpets – “solution driven unionism.” In a never ending effort to sound like she really, really cares about children, she uses the language of reform. But when you peek under the hood, you find the same rusty parts that the unions have been using for years now.
The main thrust of her talk is that, “Brothers and sisters, we are under attack!” A press release announcing her “new” strategy reads,
This new reality—this new normal—demands an entirely new approach to unionism,” said Weingarten. “An approach that is relevant and appropriate to the 21st century. More than ever, we need to act in innovative, creative and new ways—simultaneously refuting our critics, advancing our values, connecting with community and proposing solutions. That’s solution-driven unionism.”
Innovate and create, refute critics, advance our values, connect with community and proposing solutions. Hmmm. Let’s look at some the specifics.
Look at Chicago—where last month, after incredible school-by-school organizing—98 percent of the 92 percent of members who voted in a strike authorization vote stood together for dignity and professionalism for teachers, and for high-quality education for students.
The Chicago Teachers Union has voted to strike in the fall if it doesn’t get a 30 percent raise. Yup, you give us the money or we won’t teach your kids. That’s “connecting with the community” and “proposing solutions?” No, that’s infuriating taxpayers and using kids as pawns. As of last week, there was an announcement that a strike may be averted, but only after the city agreed to hire more teachers instead of asking the current teachers, who have the shortest work day of any city in the country, to work longer.
A lot of so-called reformers try to dictate top-down, standardized test-driven strategies that are heavy on competition and short on evidence and resources. They don’t work.
Top down? You have a problem with top down? What do you call 300+ page union contracts that practically dictate when teachers can sneeze? And test-driven strategies are working just fine, which is why 23 states and the District of Columbia now use student performance on standardized tests as part of teacher evaluations. Competition? Everywhere vouchers have been tried, public schools have improved. But privatization means fewer unionized teachers, and unions can’t have that.
Even with the best teachers, sharing the best teaching tools, we can’t do it alone, and we can’t do it all. Out-of-school factors really matter.
Like poverty. As a society, we have an obligation to address the suffering and lack of opportunity that afflict too many in our country. Yet some prefer to act as if poverty doesn’t exist, or as if it doesn’t affect our students.
I am particularly offended by “reformers” who tell us that we are “making excuses” when we try to deal with the increasing poverty our market economy helped create. In New York, we call that chutzpah.
Yes, poverty exists, but it isn’t a death sentence. And the best way to eradicate poverty is for kids to get a good education. But whereas reformers want to address poverty by giving families more education options, Weingarten blames capitalism and wants to raise your taxes because she thinks that simply throwing yet more taxpayer money at a broken, failed system will make kids better educated.
As Joel Klein says,
…I remain convinced that the best cure for poverty is a good education.
And I’m equally convinced that pointing to poverty as an excuse for why we fail to properly educate poor kids only serves to condemn more of them to lives of poverty.
Then Weingarten gets political,
Sure, we can blame ALEC, or the Koch Brothers, or Eli Broad, or the Walton Foundation, or Mitt Romney—and we’d be right to do so. But recognize that the change that has taken place may have been financed and promoted by them, but it is no longer limited to them.
While suggesting that the right wing disease that started with this evil bunch has spread to society as a whole, Ms. Connect-with-community-and-propose-solutions and her minions reveal a bipartisan mean streak toward those who have crossed her. In 2003, Democrat Eva Moskowitz, then a New York City Councilperson, held hearings to examine the negative impact of union contracts on school operations and infuriated Weingarten by reading part of the union contract at a city council meeting. Moskowitz and Weingarten, United Federation Teachers President at the time, have been mortal enemies ever since. Also, AFT has erected a nasty website that is dedicated to sliming Democrat reformer Michelle Rhee. And Democrats For Education Reform, a group of reform-minded liberals who realize that there is a problem with teachers unions, gets some pretty shabby treatment on the website of UFT (AFT’s New York City local).
Her thoughts then turn westward,
And in California, we are supporting a robust effort by the California Federation of Teachers to prevent deeper cuts to the state’s schools on top of those that have already been made. The CFT’s progressive approach, which has Gov. Jerry Brown’s support, would slightly raise income taxes on the state’s highest earners and temporarily increase the sales tax by one-quarter of 1 percent. These steps would put $8.5 billion into a special fund in next year’s budget, sparing California’s schoolchildren from further crippling education cuts. This solution goes before voters in November.
Promoting class warfare is a typical union ploy to get people angry. Promoting “tax fairness” – aka “let’s squeeze as much money out of the public as we can” – is an ongoing strategy.
You’ve heard a lot of bashing of public pensions as being overly generous or underfunded as a pretext for getting rid of them. We are trying to change that conversation to be about things our country sorely needs: retirement security, infrastructure and jobs. So we ask: “How can we leverage these funds not only to secure our retirements, but to help the country? How can they help our brothers and sisters looking for work, and an economy desperately in need of investment?”
Four cities in the Golden State have filed for bankruptcy with more sure to follow. While not the only reason, unsustainable, overly generous public employee pensions are the main culprit. Granted, teachers aren’t the biggest abusers, but still they are most definitely a drain on the state.
If you haven’t lost your lunch by now, the following should do the trick.
So it falls upon us, all of us, to be the foot soldiers for equality and opportunity, voice and democracy. Just as previous generations were soldiers for freedom and for civil rights, we now must band together as soldiers in a struggle not just for ourselves, not even just for the children in our classrooms, but for a different and better America.
She wants a better America? Really?! Civil rights!!! Okay, how about getting rid of forced unionism, increasing the number of charter schools and instituting universal school choice whereby parents get to choose where to send their kids? Then we’ll see just how many opt to send their kids to the traditional unionized public schools. Though not responding to Weingarten specifically, Joel Klein nails it.
The teachers at Success (Academy, a charter school in Harlem) work hard, are better compensated than other public school teachers, and move on if they can’t cut the mustard. Unlike most teachers in public schools, they believe they can constantly improve by having others observe them, by learning from each other, and by trying new things. They thrive in a culture of excellence, rather than wallow in a culture of excuse.
“They thrive in a culture of excellence, rather than wallow in a culture of excuse.” The teachers at Success Academy (run by Weingarten archenemy, Eva Moskowitz) are indeed part of the solution “for a different and better America.” They aren’t a part of teacher-unionized America where hideous seniority and tenure rules and hopelessly arcane dismissal statutes are the norm.
Randi Weingarten and her self-serving union cronies are dedicated to keeping America mired in its educational quagmire. But fortunately, according to a recent Harvard University poll, only 22 percent of the general public thinks that teachers unions have a positive effect on education, down from 29 percent in 2011. Thankfully, people are waking up and realizing that the teachers unions have a very specific agenda that doesn’t have the interests of parents, children or taxpayers at heart and, as such, won’t be buying Weingarten’s faux “solutions.”
About the author: 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.