Tuesday, August 15, 2006


Well, it's not all that surprising to find it in the NY Post op-ed page. The basis of Kleinspeak is this--teachers have more protections than many working people. The way to make life better for working people is to degrade those protections. You won't find anything in Murdoch's editorial pages suggesting that American workers, whose jobs have been under siege for many years, might benefit from more protection.

That would be socialism, I suppose.

And you'll find no suggestion from Joel Klein that the kids he mentions will ever grow up and become working people.

The civil-service system that forms the basis of public employment is deeply entrenched and resistant to change. The basic pillars of that system - life tenure, lock-step pay and seniority - essentially mean that, whether you are good or bad or whether you work in a more challenging or less challenging school or whether your are qualified to teach in a hard-to-fill position like math or science, you get paid the same, with differentiation based on length of service.

I love Klein's condemnation of "lockstep" pay. It's odd, though, that he and his boss insisted on lockstep pay when negotiating contracts not only with the UFT, but with every single city union. Lockstep pay, evidently, is a good thing when it ensures city workers get well under cost of living raises. It's bad, however, when it results in their actually being paid for experience.

Talk of quality employees is remarkable coming from the guy who went to Albany to beg for the right to hire and retain teachers who'd repeatedly failed competency tests (so that he wouldn't have to pay competitively). Bad teachers, evidently, are OK for NYC's kids as long as they aren't paid very much. If you accept that premise, you gotta love Klein and Bloomberg.

You'd think it wasn't the city that selected all teachers in the first place. You'd think that NYC, with similar contracts, wasn't one of the best school systems in the world until the city started experimenting with lowest-common-denominator intergalactic 800-number teacher recruitment.

Most of all, you'd think there weren't an abundance of successful public schools a stone's throw east of New York City that exercise high standards and have great schools full of great teachers. My kid attends one of those schools, and I see what works every day. Apparently, it never occurs to union-busters like Klein to replicate success. Klein looks at a successful school and thinks. "Boy, what a great place to dump the charter my billionaire buddy wants to start."

Fortunately, we are beginning to change the culture of employee uniformity. Our most recent agreement with the teachers' union puts an end to the practice of teachers being able to insist on transferring from one school to another based solely on their seniority.

However you may feel about it, the UFT transfer plan was bought with zero-percent raises. For Unity to toss it away without even getting cost-of-living in return was bad, bad business. Its loss will not help retain teachers, and the chancellor has not word one on that topic, further evidence it's, at best, meaningless to him.

In addition, we have begun the process of using pay to differentiate our employees based on need and talent. We have a bonus program for principals and assistant principals based on student performance. And now, for the first time, we are able to offer generous signing bonuses for experienced math, science and special education teachers.

I'd like to think experience were valued by the city, but this piece shows no evidence of that. Chancellor Klein also seems to forget that the CFE lawsuit, which stresses good teachers, decent facilities, and smaller classes for all NYC's kids is being blocked due to the refusal of his "accountable" boss to contribute dime one of NYC's budget towards its realization.

These are important first steps toward work-force differentiation. But make no mistake about it: We have a long road ahead of us. We need to create a real meritocracy to replace the civil-service culture of uniformity in public education. We need substantial merit pay, based on student performance, and a system that enables us to remove unsatisfactory employees.

It's time for the UFT to wake up. Klein's fondest wishes were spelled out in the 8-page contract that reduced teachers to the status of Wal-Mart associates. Though he's using prettier words, that's precisely what he's advocating here. Klein talks of accountability, but spells out viable consequences only for working people. Despite his many words, they're the only ones remotely "accountable."

Educators are one of the very last bastions of unionism in a country that increasingly values nothing more than relieving Steve Forbes' tax bill. If you don't happen to be Steve Forbes, the way to create opportunity for your kids is by strengthening, not crippling unionism. We need a strong union, one that recognizes the folly of giving away the store for less than nothing.

The first step to that is getting rid of the folks who brought us this awful, awful contract.

Thanks to 17 More Years

blog comments powered by Disqus