Two union bosses tell the truth

“We are at war with the reformers,” New York City teacher union leader Michael Mulgrew told union activists last week. Charter schools are trying to “destroy education in our country,” he added.

His candor is refreshing, writes Larry Sand in A Tale of Two Union Bosses. Sand, a former teacher who now runs the California Teachers Empowerment Network, also admires the honesty of George Parker, a former president of the Washington Teachers Union who joined Michelle Rhee’s StudentsFirst.

Needless to say, he was roundly excoriated by all the usual suspects – branded a “whore” and worse – for hooking up with the dreaded “corporate reformer” Rhee.

In a speech at a policy summit last year, Parker said his change of heart was triggered by a third grader who asked him about his job. He said one of his responsibilities was getting her the best teachers. The girl hugged him om gratitude. “You care about us,” she said. “And you said that you make sure we get the best teachers.”

Driving back home, Parker . . .  he realized that he had lied to the little girl. He had just spent $10,000 of the union’s money on an arbitration case that put a bad teacher back in the classroom. . . . he wouldn’t let his own 4 year-old grandchild sit in a classroom with that teacher. The inevitable next thought was, so why is it okay for other people’s kids to be taught by an incompetent?

Parker goes on to say he told African-American parents that charter schools empower whites and take advantage of blacks. The real reason he was knocking charters, Parker says in the speech, is that  their existence hurts the union’s bottom line.

About Joanne


  1. Miller Smith says:

    That bad teacher is back in the classroom because the administration didn’t do their job correctly in documentation and procedures. They “don’t have the time” to do the job properly so it is the administration that has failed the kids.

    If the union beats you, you screwed up.

    I have had principals the last 6 years who did the job correctly and teachers either became better teachers or they left of their own accord.

    The union didn’t hire the teachers-the admin did. The evaluations and observations perfromed by tbhe admin kept the teacher in the classroom for a very long time. it is the admin that subjected the kids to a bad teacher not the union.

    Do your job admin and the union will not win.

    • superdestroyer says:

      Why should admin have to be perfect but the teachers are allowed to continue to be incompetent. How many kids will be harmed for the rest of their life because some administrator was not perfect.

      Why shouldn’t the union work just as hard as administration to eliminate bad teachers. Does the teacher’s union have so little regard for the children of others.

      • Roger Sweeny says:

        A cynical answer is that in general admin doesn’t know much about how what goes on in a classroom and doesn’t have any objective way of determining who is a good or bad teacher. So there is tremendous potential for abuse. If teachers trusted admin to always make the right choice, the union would go along. But just as no one commenting here trusts admin to always make the right choice, so there is a lack of such trust among teachers.

        The result in many places is an overreaction, a knee jerk defense of any teacher, no matter how bad. Not true in all places. There are locals which will help ease out teachers who seem to be real problems. But true in lots of places.

        • A better answer is that there’s nothing about the public education system, at least the district-based part of the public education system, that demands or rewards competence on the part of any professional, teacher or administrator.

          And it’s not a knee-jerk reaction on the part of the union. The unions job is to get the best deal possible for its membership. Period. It’s the job of the administration to see to everything that goes into the education of kids.

          It’s no more the teacher’s union job to pursue educational excellence then it is the UAW’s job to see to the design and production of popular, reliable cars. That’s management’s look out.

          • Roger Sweeny says:

            It is in the union’s self-interest to make public schools look like a product that is worth spending lots of money on, and to make it look like teachers, as the main providers of that product, should be paid lots of money.

            Steven Brill’s 2009 New Yorker article on teachers who couldn’t be fired made a number of education reform ideas more popular.

          • No disagreement but that doesn’t mean the unions are even slightly concerned with whether public schools actually are a product worth spending lots of money on.

            It’s in the appearance, the public face of public education, that the unions find political value. But where that facade conflicts with the rather more important task of making sure teachers don’t have to wonder whether the union’s got their back the facade falls away.

  2. Why is the union *more* concerned about protecting bad teachers than in ensuring all kids get good teachers? We all know the answer, I just want a union supporter to admit it.

    • Because there’s not much value in a union to a teacher who’s not a problem of some kind to the administration.

      From the point of view of the administration any teacher who creates a problem of any kind – pedophile, whistle-blower, drunk or political lightning rod – are indistinguishable. All of ’em are equally guilty of making life less comfortable for the school superintendent then it might otherwise be so all of ’em have to go.

      The union treads on thin ice if it makes much of a distinction between them as well since the union’s role is then less clear. Is its purpose to protect its membership or to judge its membership? Not a good question to have floating around if the leadership’s vigorously contested.

    • Miller Smith says:

      the union is more concerned about teachers Than students because the teachers pay the union and the students do not. The purpose of the union is to serve the teachers. Society comes together to serve the students.

      when was the last time and if you paid money to a professional organization? if you’ve never have done such a payment then why would you ever demand teachers to do so?

      • Professional organization dues are paid personally by those whoCHOOSE to join. Not automatically taken from their pay before they see it.

  3. Miller Smith says:

    something is mangling the posts

  4. PhillipMarlowe says:

    Michelle Rhee and George Parker are a perfect match for each other. Both have admitted to maltreating students.
    Michelle Rhee taped the mouths of 30 children. (To be fair, she has changed her version of the story a couple of times. But, that’s to be expected of this Lillian Hellman imitator.)
    George Parker lied to a student.