Black parents vs. the teachers' union

Black parents are fighting the teachers’ union for the right to send their children to non-union charter schools, writes Nat Hentoff in the Village Voice.

Geoffrey Canada, whose Harlem Children’s Zone is nationally known for making charter schools a working part of the community, recently sent out a rallying cry to black parents everywhere when he said, “Nobody’s coming. Nobody is going to save our children. You have to save your own children.”

In Harlem, where thousands of parents apply for charter schools on civil rights grounds, State Senator Bill Perkins—whose civil liberties record I’ve previously praised in this column—is in danger of losing his seat because of his fierce opposition to charter schools.

The state AFL-CIO has declared that a vote in the state legislature to expand the number of charter schools is anti-union, Hentoff writes. “The Working Families Party, financially backed by the United Federation of Teachers and the state teachers’ union, has a litmus test for candidates seeking its support—will they back strict limitations on charter schools?”

As a union man since I organized my first union at 15 during the so-called Great Depression at a Boston candy store that employed students on nights and weekends—and then helped unionize radio station WMEX in Boston where I became shop steward—I am plain disgusted at the low point that the union crusade against charter schools has reached.

. . . My question to leaders of organized labor (including the other big national union, the National Education Association): Are these black parents stupid or so gullible that, seeing so many other parents mobilizing for charter schools, they go with the crowd?

Twenty percent of Harlem students are enrolled in charter schools, Hentoff writes. Thousands more are on waiting lists. Charter students’ scores are higher.

Who lost Hentoff? Eduwonk asks.

About Joanne

Comments

  1. tim-10-ber says:

    Help me please — I cannot understand why teachers who want to teach in a non-union school, without a contract are such a threat to the unions. Is this because the non-union teachers are in setting where they have more freedom to make a difference? Is it because these teachers have chosen to take lower pay and work more hours than the union teacher that the unions see the writing on the wall? Please help me understand…

  2. The non-union teachers are despised, because if teachers have a choice, unions are toast. I know, I worked in a union district, and, if they were honestly given a chance NOT to join a union (not just allowed to pay a few dollars less for their “Fair Share”), that union would be history.

  3. Michael E. Lopez says:

    It is because as soon as people see that they can get as good or better services from teachers and schools who aren’t part of the union, and that the union is not necessary to “protect” those exploited and potentially better teachers, the union will no longer be able to rely on the plausible deception that teachers’ unions protect the children and serve the public.

    One of the greatest assets that unions have is the veil of ignorance that the general public has regarding the union’s raison d’etre, which is to protect and advance the economic interests of (first) its leadership and (then) its membership.

    Let people see what the world is like without the unions, and they become just another interest group. And does a mere economic interest group really need things like the NRLA?

    They must maintain that veil at all costs.

  4. In nations with high academic achievement, teaching is a well paid profession. In Japan and Korea teachers make salaries comparable to doctors and lawyers. I am always puzzled by people who argue that educational outcomes will be improved by paying teachers less. Presently teaching is such a low paid profession that education schools are only able to attract applicants who place in the bottom third of their class (on average). Why would paying teachers less attract a higher caliber of teacher?

    It’s also notable that people rarely apply this reasoning to other professions. Would you want to be operated on by the cheapest possible surgeon? Most people would feel much safer in a hospital staffed by nurses who have a union to stand up for them if a CEO tries to squeeze more money out of them by under staffing or pressuring them to cut corners.

  5. tim-10-ber says:

    Michael — thanks! I would like to see the unions busted.

    Ray — maybe not in the pay area but other businesses are costly looking for ways to squeeze costs out of their operations, including healthcare, and top grading associates to have the best possible associates deliver the best solution to the client at the lowest cost. This is very foreign to education…

    I would love to see teachers paid more, have differentiated pay based on experience, effectiveness, results, leadership, etc…I have never understood the concept of the same pay for the same years of service regardless of how good a teacher really is or what academic vs education degree they have or prior real world experience in the field they teach. Why is this a threat to educators?

  6. Ray, the average elementary school teacher makes $45,000/year in Japan. http://www.educationworld.net/salaries_jp.html

    Admittedly, I don’t know how much doctors or lawyers make in Japan. But I do know that 45K doesn’t really go much farther in Japan than it does here.

  7. “Help me please — I cannot understand why teachers who want to teach in a non-union school, without a contract are such a threat to the unions.”

    Because unions are businesses. Anything that could potentially limit the growth of a business is a threat to its bottom line.

  8. To Ray: If the unions were to limit themselves to negotiating better pay for members, you might have a point. They cross a line when they begin influencing public policy in order to further their own business model.

  9. I’m no fan of unions, but the ignorance here is spectacular. Unions don’t rely on public ignorance. They rely on union dues. That’s the threat more than the “discovery” that charter schools will do better–which they don’t, btw.

    Second, if charter schools soak up new teachers, who have an incentive to go to schools that won’t lay off by seniority, then public schools will be laying off teachers with tenure, rather than new teachers, teachers who have been paying union dues for a long time. By selling out new teachers for teachers with union seniority, unions are representing their membership, like it or not.

    Both reasons have much more to do with their protection than relying on “public ignorance”–which is a joke, anyway. Since when has the public been pro-union?

    Ray is also wrong about teacher salaries in Japan, as has been pointed out. Teachers get paid very well here in the US. Also, teachers aren’t drawn from the bottom of the barrel overall. Education majors–who mostly go into elementary school teaching–are, but that’s only a percentage of the whole.

  10. The public education system relies on ignorance, and apathy, inertia and resignation. The union merely enjoys the benefits of that ignorance, apathy, inertia and resignation.

    Unions are opposed to charters for any number of reasons.

    Right near the top is that when you enjoy the benefits of the status quo you view any changes as they relate to that status quo. Budget increases clearly good, charters not clearly good so, bad.

    Charters also represent a more practical problem for unions which is the cost of organizing them. It’s just not that much more expensive to organize an entire district with many more teachers in it then to organize a charter with far fewer teachers.

    Districts, by their nature, treat teachers as interchangeable edu-gears in the edu-machine and unions can’t live without that degree of membership uniformity. Charters? Probably not.

    In any case, the real story is the interest, and support, of black parents of charter schools and school choice.

    It’s political dynamite anyway you look at it and sooner or later the issue’s going to manifest itself at the polls. My guess is that President Obama’s already fully aware of black interest in school choice since his Illinois senate seat was Chicago’s South Side and that’s why some of the policies he’s pursued are most definitely not supported by the teacher’s unions.

  11. Bill Leonard says:

    Cal, I suspect that at least some of the teachers who prefer to work in charter schools are there because they are sick of the non-sequiter union stance: the teachers see themselves as, and want to be, treated as professionals. But it’s in the union’s best interest to shoehorn everyone into a 1930s industrial shop floor paradigm.

    Bill

  12. In any case, the real story is the interest, and support, of black parents of charter schools and school choice.

    Hardly. First, it’s been true for a while. Second, charter schools have done no better at teaching low income African Americans in controlled studies. Third, even if charter schools did do better, there’s the problem of scale. If all the big schools close down and everyone goes to charter schools, there won’t be enough teachers. Charters only work by skimming; they can’t solve the whole problem.

    So this is really a non-story by a guy who doesn’t normally write about education and is late to the game, stating the obvious.

  13. I was simply pointing out the competitive nature of the salary offered Japanese teachers relative to other professions.

    In Japan “First-year teacher salaries are generally higher than those of other professions such as businessmen, engineers, pharmacists, etc. At mid-career, their salaries are approximately equal. Beyond age 53, however, teacher salaries are again higher.” http://members.tripod.com/h_javora/jed4.htm#saes

    While I personally support merit pay, it is worth noting that Japanese teachers are highly unionized and pay is determined by seniority.

  14. “Presently teaching is such a low paid profession that education schools are only able to attract applicants who place in the bottom third of their class (on average)”…you don’t cite any numbers, but I suspect that the average public school teacher makes more than you think they do, especially when the value of pension benefits is factored in. In Maryland, for example, average teacher salary is $67000, average *beginning* teacher salary is $41500. In California, the average is $63K and the average starting salary is $35.5K.

    For comparison, here’s pay information for flight crew of a particular commuter airline and aircraft–Comair Canadair 200. The starting pay for the copilot (first officer) is $19800, increasing to $34200 after five years. A captain with 5 years experience earns $56700.

  15. Forgot the links for my previous comment…

    teacher salaries

    flight crew salaries

  16. Competition, competition, and more competition is necessary but that’s antithetical to unions and to the union mentality.

  17. Even though there is some disagreement here, my compliments to all those who have posted above. It’s been very good reading.

  18. In most of the country, salaries are lower than in California. In Missouri, the average starting salary is $23K, with
    $44K being the average salary overall. In Mississippi, it is $28K and $41K. In Utah it is $27K and $40K. It is different everywhere, of course, but although the pension is pretty generous, our healthcare is decidedly not and there are no other benefits (such as tuition reimbursement, vision, and all that other stuff I got in the private sector).

    Many of us also teach in right to work states, which means one does not have to join the union — and in fact the unions are quite weak. A teacher choosing between charter and public would not do so on the basis on the unions here. In fact, many start in the charters but move over to public when they have a few years of experience (but the charters in my area seem to largely be unmitigated disasters).

    In short, what plays in New York and California is probably not at all true in Kansas and Nevada.

  19. Cal wrote:Hardly. First, it’s been true for a while. Second, charter schools have done no better at teaching low income African Americans in controlled studies. Third, even if charter schools did do better, there’s the problem of scale. If all the big schools close down and everyone goes to charter schools, there won’t be enough teachers. Charters only work by skimming; they can’t solve the whole problem.

    Well then it’s clear that the interest of black parents in school choice is no passing fancy. President Obama’s clearly cognizant of the importance of that interest which informs policy that’s very distinctly not in the interest of unions. That would be Race To The Top.

    So tossing off the importance of the interest of black parents in school choice is more a tacit admission of the importance of the issue and a failure to find any worthwhile response.

    Second, tell it to the mommies and daddies who’ve suffered through lousy district school educations now that they’ve got an alternative for their own kids.

    Third, let’s see how that works out, shall we? I’m convinced that the charter school phenomenon will scale and quite well. In any case, it’s pretty obvious that the district model doesn’t scale there not being a single, large, urban school district that does anything other then a lousy job, especially for urban poor.

    Fourth, save the “cherry-picking” argument for people who haven’t heard it. They’re the only ones likely to miss it’s inherently flawed, not to mention self-serving, nature.

  20. Well then it’s clear that the interest of black parents in school choice is no passing fancy

    Which is 180 degrees from where you started, which was that the “real” story was something you now acknowledge is old news.

    I made no argument about cherry picking. That was related to scale–where your point was essentially neener neener, will too scale. Except all available data says it won’t. But what means data, after all?

    Second, tell it to the mommies and daddies who’ve suffered through lousy district school educations now that they’ve got an alternative for their own kids.

    Except, alas, it’s an alternative that doesn’t make things better.

    Remember, I’m not arguing for or against charters. I’m just pointing out where you’re wrong.

    >I suspect that at least some of the teachers who prefer to work in charter schools are there because they are sick of the non-sequiter union stance: the teachers see themselves as, and want to be, treated as professionals.

    I know a lot of teachers in charters, and they are all very much pro-union generally, although they don’t much care for themselves. The ones I know aren’t in charters because they hate unions,but because they see the existing school curriculum as evil and limiting. They see charters as a way to design their own curriculum–which, sadly, doesn’t seem to do reliably better at improving results.

  21. Whether charter (or private) schools “work” or not is not the question. Parents should be able to choose where their children go to school and their tax money should follow their child to the school of their choice.

  22. different anon says:

    @anon 2:48pm,

    Do I, as a childless person paying approximately what my district spends on 1/2 of one child’s education, get to choose the school for a child of an impoverished family who aren’t paying any school taxes themselves?

    … I thought not.

  23. Why should only parents’ tax money go to the school of their choice? How about all the taxpayers without kids? They should have a say where their money goes, if you’re going to start giving people a say.

    Who should have more say where the money goes–a millionaire with no kids or a low income parent who pays little or nothing in taxes towards schools?

    If people should get a say simply because they have kids, then let them have a say–but only give them tax money to the extent they paid in.

    If people get a say because they pay taxes, then let all taxpayers have a say–and only taxpayers.

  24. Which is 180 degrees from where you started, which was that the “real” story was something you now acknowledge is old news.

    Was this supposed to be about me or about the fact that black parents have lost faith with the district-based public education system?

    I made no argument about cherry picking. That was related to scale–where your point was essentially neener neener, will too scale. Except all available data says it won’t. But what means data, after all?

    Oh, “all available data”? Until that “all available data” puts in an appearence why don’t we just put your unsupported assertion in that “neener neener” category, shall we?

    Except, alas, it’s an alternative that doesn’t make things better.

    Remember, I’m not arguing for or against charters. I’m just pointing out where you’re wrong.

    No, you’re not.

    You’re asserting, without a lick of support, that alternatives aren’t better. I don’t have to provide a lick of support to the contrary since I’m not asserting a damned thing. I’m just pointing that there’s an identifiable group of parents who aren’t interested in your views and are interested in charters. Since the fact that parents, and in the case of this thread black parents, are interested in charters, and sufficiently interested to entrust their children to the care of those charters, there’s really not much of a response to be made.

    So you’ve chosen to simply ignore the incontestable in favor of the arguable.

    Sorry Butch, it doesn’t work that way.

    Black parents have lost faith in the public education system that did a lousy job educating them and now they’re looking for alternatives.

    That’s the fact and if you find that fact distasteful then you have my condolences but the facts aren’t going to change to suit your preferences.

  25. You’re asserting, without a lick of support, that alternatives aren’t better.

    Wrong. Entirely wrong. Do you actually read, or just copy your answers out of the Big Book of Here’s What To Say?

    Here’s what I said: “Second, charter schools have done no better at teaching low income African Americans in controlled studies.”

    I not only didn’t say “charter schools aren’t better”, I actually cited support for what I did say, which was that “they have done no better in controlled studies“. That is, they may in fact be better, but thus far, data hasn’t supported this assertion.

    I then go further to point out that they may, in fact, be better in the very next sentence.

    I thought–silly me–that you would remember the context of data and controlled studies when I said that “alas, they didn’t make things better”. But since you’re copying from the Big Book, I should expect a certain degree of incompetence.

    Since you’re clearly not thinking for yourself, I’ll spell my view out and you can take it back to your overlords: There was nothing new in Hentoff’s article. He’s very late to the game, talking about old news. You demurred, saying that the “real story”, the new information, was that black parents were enthused about charters. I said no, that wasn’t true, that this has been well-established for a long time. You did your 180, etc, etc.

  26. Yawn.

    I’m sure Fred Astaire’s looking on admiringly although tap dancing wasn’t what he was best know for. Still, ignoring that admirable display of arm-waving and misdirection, which way do you think the Democratic party will go? Will it accede to the demands of black parents, however old those demands might be, or the teacher’s unions?

    I’m guessing that the Democrats will have to throw their support to black parents over the teacher’s unions for both ideological and pragmatic political reasons. What do you think?

  27. Ray: If the highly paid Japanese teachers are so great, then why do so many parents pay for tutoring on top of the public school education? Japanese educational results are good because the parents will not settle for anything less – even if they have to pay for education twice, and sentence their kids to 12 hours a day of studying even in the elementary grades. That’s hardly an ideal system.

    I would support higher teacher pay in the US if we were getting better teachers for it – but we’re already overpaying for a system that treats any dolt that can struggle through a dumbed-down education major as the equal of the best teachers.

    Also, if the teacher salaries cited above are representative, there’s a huge disconnect between teacher salaries and the tax money going to schools ($8,000 – 18,000 per student). The teachers’ unions have clearly not even done a good job of getting their members a bigger share of the pie. Instead, by opposing charters, vouchers, and every other system that threatens poor administrators, they’ve helped perpetuate a system where most of the money disappears into bloated, ineffective management, while the schoolrooms are short of books, paper, and pencils, known incompetent teachers continue to draw salaries, and the best teachers often flee the system.

    Finally, for those that point to Japan as proving that parental involvement is a requirement for educational success: It makes it easier and more likely, but it’s NOT a necessity. Jaime Escalante overcame the same uninterested parents and toxic youth culture as every failing school. It was the union-supported bureaucracy that finally beat him. Those who complain about the parents are looking for an excuse, not a solution.

    And those who oppose school choice are opposing parental involvement.

Trackbacks

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by kriley19, Joanne Jacobs. Joanne Jacobs said: New blog post: Black parents vs. the teachers' union http://bit.ly/dsLLIq […]