Sunday, April 21, 2019

Reformy Chalkbeat Pretends to Care About Union

Chalkbeat, in an effort to be "fair and balanced," ran a piece on whether unions help or hurt schools. I can't really say whether they do this out of sheer ignorance or a desire to appear less reformy thank they obviously are, but either way it's shallow misleading nonsense. Here are the two sides of the story, according to Chalkbeat:

One finds that states with stronger unions saw more of the money earmarked for education actually reach classrooms, which in turn helps student learning.

Another shows that weakening unions in Wisconsin led to increases in the share of college students training to be teachers, potentially reducing teacher shortages.

So let's look at these two things--One says more money reaches classrooms. That's a clear benefit, and there's no ambivalence there. School money ought to be spent in classrooms, as opposed to 800K salaries for the likes of Eva Moskowitz. Of course that's likely as not debatable over at reformy Chalkbeat. Those of us who actually work in classrooms (or trailers, or half-classrooms) certainly know better.

The other says more people want to be teachers. So the first question in my mind is this--why are people stupid enough to want to work for less money and pay more for health insurance? The second is whether or not these people are qualified to be teachers. (There is, of course the wave of teacher walkouts across America. Chalkbeat, evidently, has not noticed that when you suppress union, this is a predictable and repeated side effect. Chalkbeat can't be bothered to factor a national phenomenon that shows no sign of abating into their analysis. And why should they? Isn't it better to just ignore what's going on and play to their base?)

It turns out that somehow, under the complicated agreements developed after Wisconsin trashed union, beginning teachers might get paid more money. There are incentives, or something. I can see how that might be a draw. No more of that paying people who are there longer, because who cares about integrity,let alone institutional memory"  Nonetheless, if they aren't making more in the long run, there are a few issues that pop to my mind.

One is the fact that merit pay has been around for a hundred years. It's never worked anywhere. Factors that really affect education, like poverty, are ignored by reformies from Bill Gates right on down to the drones at E4E. If the parents work 200 hours a week each and still can't pay the rent or electricity, it must be the teacher's fault. If students arrive with a language deficit, or missing formal education, that's the teacher's fault too. If we pay them more money, they'll take a serious look at things and fix them. Except it's never, ever worked that way. I had a principal who said he'd want to fire anyone waiting on merit pay, anyone who wasn't already giving 100%.

Another, of course, is the one that afflicts teachers all over. Are these teachers going to last? Because half do not, even under the best of conditions. I have to say that under the worst of conditions, as in Wisconsin, this will be seriously exacerbated. Wisconsin has let it be known it does not want working teachers to do well. My best assumption is they won't, and they'll have a really hard time in the long run. Of course, like all reformies, Chalkbeat can't be bothered thinking long-term.

Another is whether or not we want teaching to be a career, as opposed to a gig. I know charter school teachers who have no expectations of hanging around for more that a few short years. When your contract's up, they offer you a new one, or they don't. But it doesn't matter. Someone will always hire you. In fact, someone will always hire almost anyone. Where do DOE teachers go when they get discontinued or suspended? I'll give you ten guesses. And no, I'm not saying the DOE teachers deserve that, since Tweed is dominated by fanatical ideologues left there by Bloomberg. But even if they did, it wouldn't matter.

It's pretty well-established in American history that what brings working people up, what creates a vibrant middle class is union. Of course I can't expect Chalkbeat to be bothered with what's good for America. After all, they take money from multiple Gates and Walton sources, sources that certainly aren't paying to hear about the benefits of union (let alone public school).

Here's the thing that really gets me--reformies are always going on with how we could save money by screwing working teachers. Let's just pay those with merit. Jesus, who hired all those teachers who haven't got merit? It wasn't the unions, who have no say whatsoever over hiring. Who gave them tenure? Guess what? That wasn't the union either. Who needs tenure anyway?

Well, I do, for one. I couldn't write this without tenure. I couldn't stand up and say that my state education department writes the crappiest tests on earth without tenure. I couldn't say the DOE is rife with Bloomberg-approved incompetence and anti-teacher bias, even though every working teacher in the city knows it as well as I do.

I don't know about you, but I want a confident teacher in front of my kid, and yours. I want a teacher smart enough to question the top-down nonsense from NYSED, from Tweed, from Leadership Academy Principals who failed to learn to play nice in kindergarten. I want teachers who will advocate for what's best for children. I want teachers to know that someone will stand with them in times of adversity. In fact, I want the same for the children we teach.

And make no mistake, the only way we achieve that is via union. Union isn't perfect, but it's the best option for working people and our children. We are under assault as a direct result, and Donald Trump wants to go so far as to outlaw picket lines. Meanwhile, as outlets like Chalkbeat and Fox News spew nonsense, I'll teach my students to question. And I can do that without fear precisely because I'm union.
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