Bipartisan bastards for education reform

We’re All Right-Wing Bastards Now, writes teacher Larry Sand of the anti-union California Teachers Empowerment Network in City Journal.  Sand is responding to a speech by Bob Chanin, the outgoing general counsel of the National Education Association, who called critics of the union “conservative and right-wing bastards” who oppose public education.

People of all political stripes—not just right-wing “bastards”—are starting to realize that the single biggest impediment to education reform is the NEA itself.

. . . Just two days before Chanin’s speech, the Citizens’ Commission on Civil Rights released a report, National Teachers’ Unions and the Struggle Over School Reform, maintaining that the teachers’ unions consistently blocked meaningful education reform and accusing the NEA of trying to end enforcement of the No Child Left Behind act. The unions “almost uniformly call for the spending of more money and the creation of more teaching positions which, of course, result in an increase in union membership, union income and union power,” wrote one of the authors, David Kilpatrick. . . . Kilpatrick spent 12 years as a top union officer, while the study’s other authors include former senators Bill Bradley and Birch Bayh, D.C. congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, and civil rights leader Roger Wilkins—all liberals.

“People of goodwill across the political spectrum” are fighting for “real education reform,” Sand writes. I think that’s right.

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  1. As a friend of Larry’s and a fellow member of CTEN, I have to correct one thing–CTEN is *not* anti-union. We do believe, though, that much of the information teachers get is one-sided, and that we’ll be more of a professional force if we can have constructive dialogs with fellow teachers on a variety of topics. As an example, the CTEN web site contains not only information about how to leave the union, for those who think that is necessary, but also information on how a member might effect change within a union.

    CTEN is a source of information for California’s teachers (yes, sometimes that information is unpleasant for the union), not an anti-union advocacy group.

  2. It might also be important to point out that unions try to create a lot of teacher positions because that reduces class sizes, which could be one of the best ways to improve the current model of education.

  3. Even if small class were really the panacea unions tout them to be it simply points out the only reliable circumstances under which one can expect a teacher’s union to concern itself with education – when there’s something in it for the union.

    By the way, California’s experience with smaller classes illustrates that passing a law doesn’t necessarily result in the desired outcome.

    When the California legislature mandated smaller classroom they should’ve also mandated that the classroom be run by a good teacher, not a warm body with teaching credentials.

  4. That’s very true. It’s a balance that’s tough to achieve in New York, too. The question comes up a lot as to whether it’s better to overload the good teachers or put some students in classrooms with poorer quality teachers. That said, under the current model (which may need to be tossed out all together), reduced class sizes coupled with strong teachers filling the new positions could drastically improve our education system. The question that comes up then is how to get better qualified teachers into the classroom.
    Have any links to articles about California’s trouble with the small class sizes?

  5. In view of the fact that the current public education system is based on a +100 year old political compromise in which educational considerations played very little, if any, part I’d say yeah, the current model definitely requires a very hard, unsympathetic look.

    Sorry, no links about California’s debacle re mandating smaller class sizes.

  6. Abolish unions and teachers will have to be even more compliant with the harebrained policies that poorly-educated, fad-following, anti-intellectual administrators foist upon us.

    Until we get leaders with sound ideas (hey, how about studying European public ed? Just an idea) American public education will remain mediocre.

  7. Roger Sweeny says:

    Abolish unions and teachers will have to be even more compliant with the harebrained policies that poorly-educated, fad-following, anti-intellectual administrators foist upon us.

    Now that is a scary thought. Alas, in my experience, the teachers unions are more likely to be enablers of harebrained policies than opponents. In fact, I continue to be surprised by how selectively teachers unions stand up for teachers.

    For example, every teacher knows that a few disruptive students can significantly reduce learning. If things get so bad that a student has to be sent out, the teacher needs to know two things: 1) the student will not come back that day, 2) something will be done with the student. At the very least, someone should talk with the student and let the student know that someone is concerned and someone is keeping track. There should be some consequence, perhaps an after-school or Saturday detention. Perhaps the student should get an alternative placement.

    Much disruption is caused by students who come into the class not being able to read or write as well, or whose preparation is in other ways inadequate. A union which truly fought for teachers would make sure that students were prepared before they were put into a class–which means they would be kept out until they could earn their way in. And for those who are less interested in academics, it would support alternative models.

    But my union does the opposite. It wants everyone is the same classroom, which it calls “inclusion.” Knowing that this will not work unless extra steps are taken, it expects the teacher to “differentiate instruction.” In a reduction ad absurdum, I used to know a teacher who actually prepared three lesson plans for every class. One was a basic plan. One was for the students who “didn’t get” the basic plan. And one was for the students who got it quickly and otherwise would be bored and left with nothing to do.

  8. Ben and Roger-

    Over the past few years working in 5 different schools, I’ve felt like a piece of meat that two dogs are fighting over. Both administrations and unions have thrown their weight behind policies good and bad.
    Unfortunately, the one group of individuals that are in the best position to teach and evaluate the process of teaching are not really given a seat at the table – the individual teachers.


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