Monday, July 27, 2009

The Grand Tradition

In yet another shallow and superficial article, the New York Times maintains its standard as the paper that asks the fewest questions and holds the least curiosity about education. It manages to ask the obvious questions about unionization in charter schools, but doesn't bother to examine what actually happens when charters unionize.

The Times asks Steve Barr about unions, but fails to distinguish between the Green Dot version of union and real unions. The fact that Barr's teachers have neither tenure nor seniority rights is not mentioned. In fact there's no indication the writer even knows about it.

Of course, it may be true that unions sometimes hold back charters. After all, they recently made KIPP actually pay its teachers for the extra time they spent working. Charters see such demands as unpatriotic, as they provide "more work for less pay," which they see as a key American value. They teach their kids to work hard and be nice. That way, after having gone to school 200 hours a week, they can grow up and work 200 hours a week without complaint.

Fortunately for KIPP, charter teachers have very few rights, even when they're unionized. Without seniority rights, for example, charters can still get rid of pretty much any teacher uppity enough to make inconvenient demands, union or not. Of course, if unions are ever run by someone other than part-time AFT President Randi Weingarten, charter school unions may demand real rights, and that will be a huge inconvenience for management.

Fortunately, they've got some employees who would never stand for that:
“Every meeting I went to,” Ms. Furr said, “it was always ‘What can we get?’ and never ‘How is this going to make our students’ education better?’ ”

There is a widespread view, advanced by charter school moguls and "education experts," that it's evil for teachers to look after themselves. Apparently Ms. Furr subscribes to that point of view. She's bought into it so thoroughly that she fails to understand what a union is. In fact, it's the job of the union to protect and improve her working conditions. Here's the secret--making her students' education better is Ms. Furr's job, not the union's. That, in fact, is why her employer is supposed to give her money. Of course, this is America, If Ms. Furr doesn't want money, she's certainly free to donate it back to the charter school.

The Times, however, bemoans the workload of charter teachers. In fact, it mentions the rough conditions charter school teachers have:
...the workload, teaching 160 kids a day, it wasn’t sustainable. You can’t put out the kind of energy we were putting out for our kids year after year.”

That sounds rough. However, New York City public school teachers teach 170 kids a day, and then do "small group tutoring" after that. It's odd the Times reporter didn't know that. Of course, to discover things like that, a reporter might have to speak to a New York City teacher, and they are typically found in school buildings. Such buildings could be blocks and blocks away from New York Times offices.

Who wants to walk that far? Not New York Times reporters.
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