Monday, January 29, 2007

Think Before You Write

That's just one thing I tell my hapless ESL students when they're facing the NY English Regents. The test is not designed for them, and they shouldn't have to take it. But that's not why I brought this up. When constructing an argument, you need to be careful, and anticipate what the other side may say.

For example, today's Daily News features a rather brutal attack on UFT Prez Randi Weingarten. First, it quotes her on class size reform:

"We need this more than anything else - the only reform that has never
been tried systemically in New York City, and that is a real lowering of class
size," Weingarten told lawmakers, seeking to have them set aside $1 billion just
for class size cuts.

Ms. Weingarten is very, very smart (no sarcasm here--I've seen her speak), and ought to have known she was setting herself up for this:

First, consider the truthiness of Weingarten's claim that this is the
only reform that's never really been tried. Let's see here. The schools have
never implemented a serious performance-pay plan for teachers. Or taken on
teacher tenure. Or substantially lengthened the school day or year. Or opened a
large number of charter schools.

There are many other reforms that have never been tried, like having classrooms in Wal-Mart and making teachers fold shirts between classes. Nor has anyone tried paying teachers minimum wage and hoping they wouldn't get snatched up by Burger King (where the food beats NYC cafeteria fare hands down).

A stronger argument against Ms. Weingarten's sincerity is the fact that she's consistently declined to make class size a part of contract negotiations (although quote two of the Daily News E-opinion section features some weirdo named "NYC Educator" making that very point). It's important to note (again) that class sizes are only as low as they are because of clauses in the UFT contract that are 30 or 40 years old.

I strongly support reducing class sizes, and I would like to see class size made a priority for those CFE funds. Unfortunately, the CFE verdict suggested there would be no oversight in how the funds were spent. This bodes ill for class size advocates.

And speaking of real class size advocates, don't miss Leonie Haimson's take on the News editorial.
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