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Teachers’ Unions Win a Defensive Victory

by Mike Antonucci
Intercepts
November 2012

I toyed with the idea of writing an entire blog post this morning on how the GOP recaptured the Wisconsin state senate, since NEA seemed to think control of that chamber was such a big deal back in June, but I won’t be (such) a wise-ass.

The unions did what they needed to do. They helped re-elect the President and they brought to a halt any momentum there may have been for more serious and wide-ranging threats to their power base. They defeated hostile ballot measures in California, Florida, Idaho, Michigan and South Dakota, and were even able to put a tax hike over the top in the Golden State. There will be no mass movement into voucher systems, merit pay, tenure reform and collective bargaining limits. Those are big wins.

From a practical standpoint, however, we have the same President, the same Secretary of Education, virtually the same Senate composition, virtually the same House composition, virtually the same split of governorships, and virtually the same split of state legislatures. And unlike 2008, there is no prospect of card check, stimulus packages and edujobs bills on the horizon.

Where NEA and AFT tried to gain ground, they experienced very tough sledding. They couldn’t get tax hikes for education passed in South Dakota or Arizona. They failed to enshrine collective bargaining in the Michigan constitution. Spread thin, they couldn’t stop charter initiatives in Georgia or Washington. It’s too soon to evaluate the effect of all the state legislative races, but nothing indicates an ideological shift toward renewed public sector hiring – the only thing that can replenish union membership.

In short, the unions drove the barbarians from the gates, but not across the border. NEA and AFT spent a lot of money to ensure another four years like the last four. Is

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AFT Caught In The Act

All the talk about caring about the kids, the parents. Ha. The nation’s second largest teachers union got caught telling members how they really feel about parents’ involvement in the education of their offspring. Someone at the American Federation of Teachers, who wasn’t thinking, posted online an AFT PowerPoint “bragging” about undermining parents’ battling in favor of Connecticut’s attempt at parent-trigger reform.

The notorious PowerPoint, meant for union activists, spewed out lobbying tactics the AFT used against the Connecticut proposal. As the WSJ noted, this document gave us all a peek into “union cynicism and power.” The state’s AFT had a “Plan A” called “Kill Mode,” meant to totally shoot down the bill. It failed. So, the union swung into action with Plan B, “Engage the Opposition.” Meetings were held to work out the bill, but certain groups – like parents who supported the trigger – were not invited to the negotiating table.

Union leaders pumped their political muscle to wring out a parent-trigger law so weak it leaves Connecticut parents twiddling their thumbs rather than pulling any reform trigger. To add insult to injury, the union boasts that rather than depend on parent petitions to turn around a school, school governance councils will be established, but (wink, wink) “they are advisory and do not have true governing authority.”

It comes as no surprise that the PowerPoint was pulled, but not before reform blogger RiShawn Biddle made a copy.

Save the Status Quo, March Against Freedom

By now, you’ve likely heard that the anti-reform establishment will be marching the streets of D.C. this weekend in an effort to “Save Our Schools.” The participating groups want to restore parent and student influence in education.

There’s only one problem with that – they don’t.

The National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers – two unions that have done everything in their power from distorting the truth and lying to intimidation and lawsuits to stop any reform that takes their control and gives it to parents – are driving this rally.

These groups fight charter school openings across the country. For example they are currently stumping against a Mandarin immersion charter in Milburn, New Jersey.

They’ve sued multiple times to stop or delay school choice bills from taking effect. The teachers association now has a lawsuit in Indiana to stop low-income students in failing schools from using a voucher to attend a different school of their parent’s choice.

They are even fighting the “Parent Trigger” law that was passed in California and allows parents to initiate changes to a school, like converting it to a charter, if a majority of parents agree and sign a petition.

It’s the same coalition of the past 35 years that just wants the status quo. Reform to them is about money, control and no high-stakes tests or accountability.

In each case above, and the dozens of ones not mentioned, these groups are eliminating the influence parents and students have, not moving it forward.

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I'm Not Impressed

disappointedToday’s speech by Randi Weingarten of the AFT exemplifies what’s wrong with teachers unions and their control over America’s education system. Randi made news today by announcing that she’d be willing to incorporate student test data in teacher evaluations-but she also listed a litany of other things (including “portfolios”) that should be included.

I’m not impressed.

I simply don’t see why the concept of putting student learning first is so challenging for Ms. Weingarten. Her attempts to pacify those who want to see bad teachers removed from the classroom and off of the public payroll lack specifics. What will she do to remove the stranglehold that her union has over principals across America when it comes to terminating the employment of people who cannot teach – so that we can rightly elevate and compensate those teachers who can? What I see is an ‘our way or no way’ approach by the AFT that neither benefits children to the fullest nor serves the best interests of her members.

Finally, any speech on “reform” by Ms. Weingarten is specious, given that her union claims to want the “best” schools for children. This can’t be true, or else she and her allies would be fighting for school choice programs, not standing in the schoolhouse doors blocking the exits for low-income children.

Randi Weingarten fails to impress once again.

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Extreme Makeover: AFT Edition

Folks have been fawning over Randi Weingarten’s seeming embrace of education reform since her National Press Club speech in November, and Dana Goldstein has a must-read profile of the AFT/UFT president in the latest American Prospect.

Weingarten’s media makeover has served her well, leading many to do as Goldstein has and give her credit for talking the talk.

But that’s not the whole story.

For reformers, the real definition of reform – which we helped give life to in 1993 – is much more cut and dry than what is expounded here. Quite simply:

– The status quo embraces the existing system, and while members of the status quo will often advocate for policy or program changes, none of what they endorse will fundamentally change the balance of power between producer and consumer.

– Conversely, real reformers seek to fundamentally replace what is known as the school system with a system of schools that is accountable to those in power at each school, as well as to the parents, in whose hands the ultimate fate of their children depends.

By this definition, Randi Weingarten doesn’t even approach the notion of a reformer. On the continuum between status quo and reform, she has barely passed go.

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Be Nice??

benicecookieThat’s what the union wants KIPP to be – Nice. In the opinion of the American Federation of Teachers, “nice” means giving them what they want, regardless of whether it’s good for kids. Through its NYC affiliate, the AFT has launched a campaign to pressure the leadership of KIPP AMP Academy‘s Brooklyn campus to accept the union as the leader of its teachers. KIPP hasn’t moved to recognize the union, so its leaders are striking back.

Be Nice, they say in a new PR campaign. It’s a clever turn of phrase on the motto of the Knowledge is Power Program, the nationwide network that has re-educated thousands of children nationwide who had been failed miserably by conventional public schools. But they are missing something. “Work Hard” is how the motto begins. “Work Hard, Be Nice.” The two phrases go together. Deliberately. That’s what the teachers who now want a break signed up to do – Work Hard. We wonder -is it nice to take a job in a school that you know requires long hours and arduous work, and then go behind the backs of your leadership and fellow teachers and ask a militant national union to come in and rob children of the first opportunity they’ve ever had to learn?

As in most of the charter schools that came before and since KIPP, success comes precisely because of their independence from onerous contracts and the flexibility afforded by the charter to be able to design programs without top down interference. KIPP sets an ambitious path for staff and students – 7:30 to 5:30 every weekday, Saturday work and summer requirements. That’s one key reason their students perform exceptionally well, despite their disadvantages, the same disadvantages that other

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Unionization = Student Achievement?

knowledge

Knowledge is power, KIPP’s moniker, might need to be more aptly applied to the parent company’s involvement and understanding of local school issues. The knowledge of what was afoot in two more of their NYC schools to convince teachers there to unionize may have helped them avert the rising mediocrity that will no doubt color this otherwise No Excuses school model. One wonders what campaign was hatched to convince so many KIPPsters that a regulatory environment would be preferable to the freedom they now enjoy.

Union leaders in NYC blogging yesterday provide some clues:

In a letter delivered to co-principals Jeff Li and Melissa Perry this morning, the teachers said that they had decided to unionize in order to secure teacher voice and respect for the work of teachers in their school. We want “to ensure that the each day,” they wrote.

The letter stressed that the decision to organize was directly connected to the teachers’ commitment to their students. “ strong and committed staff,” the teachers wrote, “is the first step to student achievement.” Unionization, the teachers believe, will help create the conditions for recruiting and retaining such a staff.

“We organized to make sure teachers had a voice, and could speak their minds on educational matters without fearing for their job,” says KIPP AMP teacher Luisa Bonifacio.

“For us,” KIPP AMP teacher Emily Fernandez explains, “unionization is ultimately all about student achievement, and the ability of teachers to best serve students at this crucial middle school time in their education.”

Mutual respect and validation?

Unionization is all about student

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Not So Fast (Part 2)

DomeNewsweek’s Jonathan Alter was ahead of the reform curve in media coverage back when it was not a popular thing to do. He’s been an avid fan of great models that provide at least some power to parents, and lots of freedom from bureaucracy. He understands the problems with unions. He even uses the language I put forth four years ago when talking about what was once called “traditional” public education and instead describes it as “conventional,” which is more to the point.

Alter’s column this week puts some heft behind the selection of Denver, CO superintendent Michael Bennet to be Ed Secretary. Could we really have another Bennett in that office? We could have a lot of fun with comparisons, but for now, we’re struck by the uncritical gaze that the otherwise keen Alter has given to both Bennet – and his interviewee of the week – Bill Gates.

Both in Alter’s estimation are reformers. He says Gates told him he believes in merit pay – and yet I’m not fully aware of any policy groups that strongly push for performance based pay changes in law which Gates is throwing money behind. The Gates Foundation is financially and morally supportive of the work of Michelle Rhee and Joel Klein and clearly Michael Bennet. But what superintendents can do is limited unless their state legislatures make it easier for them to free teachers from contract rules that limit pay and operational structures. Put in layman’s terms, it is state law that often dictates what supers do – state laws that teachers’ unions fiercely lobby for and against. We’re all for in-system reform – but one shouldn’t expect every super to be as heroic – or crazy – as reformers

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