Thursday, March 07, 2013

The Myth of the Powerful Teacher Union

There's a piece in Gotham Schools about the incredible power of the teachers' union.  It focuses on Lobby Day. Now I've been to Lobby Day (once). Basically the UFT picks people, gives them a message, and the rest of us are supposed to follow that person and nod our heads as he gives the union message, whatever it may be. In fact, I was trying to organize a demonstration at my school so I broke away, found our local pols, and got them to agree to appear. Haven't been back since. As good as the rubber chicken was, our local pols are available locally.

Union causes have included things as repugnant as mayoral control, and most recently the as-yet dormant evaluation system, based on Bill Gates' druthers, that will surely cause good teachers to lose their jobs. The spectacle of our union supporting what may as well be voodoo boggles my mind. And still, the papers don't hesitate to repeatedly contend that we're resisting it. Just the other day I followed a link to a surreal Daily News op-ed by Dennis Walcott repeating Bloomberg's outrageous lies about the evaluation system.

We're so incredibly successful we've gone 3 years without a contract, and 4 without a raise. We're so incredibly resourceful we've managed not to get the 8 plus percent raise that every city union got over the 08-10 round of pattern bargaining. Under the brilliant new junk science evaluation we will negotiate or John King will force on us, teachers will be fired at will or at random, whatever comes first. And then, we've brilliantly manipulated the system so that districts will no longer have to establish us as incompetent. Rather, we will have to prove otherwise.

We're so incredibly clever that this year we've decided to support Rory Lancman, a local pol who was instrumental in the closing of Jamaica High School. In the past we've supported Serphin Maltese, who had a hand in breaking two Catholic school unions. We've also supported Governor Pataki, who thanked us by vetoing improvements to the draconian Taylor Law.

Powerful teachers patrol halls in search of wrongdoers, and do potty patrol to make sure student bathrooms remain free for democracy. Teachers sit mute as principals falsify scores to make themselves look good and keep their heads off the chopping block. Union officials praise the US President for speaking against teaching to the test even as his own policies force us to do otherwise. Articles appear that teacher satisfaction is at an all time low.

I am bone weary of reading preposterous assertions about the powerful teacher union, used as often as not as a handy epithet. Poor DFER, the article suggests, with their millions and billions and suitcases full of money to offer cooperative politicians. How on earth will they and their good buds be able to manipulate the public? Will they produce further incredibly expensive feature films? Will they get their largely baseless positions heard on national outlets like Oprah and NBC's so-called Education Nation, even as working teachers and parents are ignored? Will they buy elections?

Of course they will. The oft-repeated assertions about the powerful teacher unions fail to consider just how much we've compromised, and just how willing we are to compromise further. Clearly they haven't read Peter Goodman's recent trial balloon about merit pay.

Most importantly, those who speak of the powerful teacher union are never those who work with teachers and students every day of their lives. Union officials may look good walking around Albany, but what teachers ask me every day is, "When are we gonna get a contract?"

Last year, a union rep assured my staff that the union was very clever, and that any evaluation system would necessitate a contract. My staff now knows exactly how true that statement was, and I assure you that all the important people doing Important Stuff in Albany offer them very little consolation while they're trying to make ends meet. I know I'm just a simple person, and I couldn't possibly understand all the complicated things they're doing out there.

But I see the results on the ground every day of my life. Color me unimpressed.
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