Saturday, April 26, 2008


That's what you'll find in the Daily News, where hedge fund manager Whitney Tilson is once again sharing his expertise with us, the bootless and unhorsed. At a time when working people in this country are losing their jobs, their homes, and living hand to mouth, Mr. Tilson suggests fewer options for them is the way to go.

Naturally, it's those goshdarn unions again. If only working people would stop demanding pay, demanding rights, and demanding benefits, we'd have a utopia. The specific problem today, according to Mr. Tilson, is that it's simply too hard to fire teachers.

Mr. Tilson gives the UFT Charter School as an example. He praises the UFT for having opened it, but laments the fact that a teacher grieved being fired, and was reinstated. He hopes the UFT will thus learn the folly of protecting working people. And Mr. Tilson certainly puts his money where his mouth is, investing heavily in companies like Wal-Mart and McDonald's, which have rich histories of exploitation. Mr. Tilson muses that government should follow in the footsteps of his highly profitable investments:

...I do hope that everyone involved takes the opportunity to learn a critical lesson about what makes charters - and, indeed, all public schools - successful: that principals need the authority to manage their schools, especially the ability to hire and fire all staff. At times, this can lead to conflict with teachers' "rights" tokeep their jobs, but in such cases, it's the manager's job - and should be his or her right, within certain boundaries - to make a decision and stand by it.

A key difference between Mr. Tilson's outlook and mine, I suppose, is his utter disregard for facts in evidence. Perhaps Mr. Tilson is simply unaware that all public schools in nearby Nassau County are unionized, and that all teachers here are also subject to state tenure laws. Perhaps Mr. Tilson is unaware that, unlike the city, existing tenure laws are actually enforced here. More likely, he consciously chooses to ignore these facts, as does the Daily News.

Mr. Tilson goes on to cite Green Dot as an example of a school with a more reasonable contract. Here, he's got some support from the UFT aristocracy. But neither Mr. Tilson nor libelous Leo Casey has been able to provide a single example of the Green Dot contract protecting a teacher. In fact, since Green Dot proudly rejects both tenure and seniority rights, I've yet to hear a single example of their "just cause" clause ever having been exercised. Doubtless Mr. Tilson delights in a contracts where working people can be discharged "just cause" it suits the administration's whims.

Actually, what makes good schools successful is not a principal's option to fire whomever he pleases. In fact, it is these very principals who've been routinely assigning tenure to anyone with a pulse. And while Chancellor Klein can complain from now till doomsday about tenure regulations, existing rules work much better in schools where they're actually enforced. Would Mr. Klein do better with better principals? Perhaps. But his track record makes it doubtful he has the remotest notion what a good principal is.

Mr. Tilson is certainly free to admire the Wal-Mart/ McDonald's model. But he's sorely mistaken about what constitutes a good school. Good teachers, reasonable class sizes, and decent facilities, not "reforms," make up the recipe. It's tough for principals, however good they may be, to rise above a lack of ingredients.

Endless work for little reward may have pleased feudal lords, but working people today need more, not fewer options. And it behooves us not to degrade the job of teaching, but to improve the jobs of working people everywhere.

Our children deserve a future with options well beyond those of simply enriching the likes of Mr. Tilson.

Thanks to Schoolgal
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