Monday, June 04, 2007

Targeting Democrats

Well, the reformers are at it again. You know what "reform" means. It's when the local papers proclaim teachers are doing an awful job, and the only possible solution is to squeeze out more work for less pay. The new reformers are determined to get Democrats on board, and if Governor Spitzer's nebulous class-size reform is any indication, they're doing a great job.

They suggest charter schools can work around the limitations of those nasty teacher contracts. For example, they contend it's those contracts that limit salary possibilities:

As a charter, the school had freedom to implement new ideas, like paying teachers 20% above teachers in traditional city public schools — but demanding longer hours...

I just wonder--if charter teachers get paid more than public school teachers (and aren't these comparisons based on beginning salaries alone?), but work more hours, don't they get paid the same? And if you factor in their benefits, generally not as good as ours, don't they get paid less?

If it's the teacher unions that hinder progress, why are unionized Long Island schools almost universally excellent? I live in a multiracial community with a relatively mediocre scholastic reputation (unmerited, from what I've seen), and I cannot believe the difference in quality of teachers and facilities here. Wouldn't a better teacher opt for 20% more pay for working in a nearby suburban school system? Diane Ravitch's take on merit pay, though the numbers are dated, is powerful as ever.

It's not actually the union, but the city, that lowered standards for teachers for almost 30 years, indulged in various intergalactic recruiting schemes, instituted 800 numbers and job fairs, and declared an end to the teacher shortage when there was one teacher for each vacancy. In Long Island, there are hundreds. When NYC had the highest pay, it had a system that was a model for the world. Then it decided low pay was more important than high quality, and set off on a thirty-year project to artificially increase supply.

They found some good teachers than way, but when you let anyone with a college degree teach anyone and anything, the results are predictable. When Rudy Giuliani complains that teachers "stink," isn't he largely to blame for hiring and retaining the very teachers he complains about? Shouldn't he have denied them tenure if they stunk so badly?

Eliminating tenure is not the answer when the city almost universally fails to enforce it. What happens when we get rid of it and make teachers "at-will" employees?

Have you read about Nicole Byrne Lau?

Or these young women?

I have no sympathy for bad teachers , actually. But neither I nor the UFT chose to hire them, to grant them tenure, and to do virtually nothing about them for over 30 years. Furthermore, I've seen no evidence if Tweed had its druthers, it would go after bad teachers. They're more likely to toss activist teachers into the rubber room and go after their licenses for transmitting unfavorable information on Department of Education fax machines.

The charter guys see things differently:

A big inner-city school system, Mr. Tilson explained, is kind of like that — the General Motors of the education world. "I see very, very similar dynamics: very large bureaucratic organizations that have become increasingly disconnected from their customers; that are producing an inferior product and losing customers; that are heavily unionized," he said. A successful charter school, on the other hand, is like "Toyota 20 years ago."

Perhaps they're under the impression it was American union members, rather than their bosses, who chose to design cars that would fall apart after five years. Perhaps they think NYC teachers are the highest, rather than the lowest paid teachers in the area.

Or perhaps they see one of the last bastions of organized labor in the country, and have decided to enlist the government's help to dismantle it. Perhaps they see how much education costs, and have decided some of that money belongs in their pockets. If Democrats run to their aid, working people are going to need a party of their own.

Newspapers can trumpet otherwise, but it's idiotic to think we're going to make American lives better by worsening what teachers have. It's remarkable that unions haven't yet seen fit to spread the word that everyone should have what we do, and more. It's even more remarkable that those who wish to convert teachers into automatons can't see the kind of world they're sending their kids into.
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