September 25 2012

Mea Culpa Moment for Ms. Weingarten?

Vicki E. Alger

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), took time out during the DNC in Charlotte to meet with activists and bloggers. According to the Huffington Post:

Their discussion was marked by a sense of concern that, as Daily Kos blogger Dante Atkins put it, teachers' unions are becoming known as "the recalcitrant ones."

"What's the strategy almost for image rehabilitation?" Atkins asked. …

"I know we've done things wrong both as a union movement as well as a teachers' union," [Weingarten] said in her opening remarks… She appeared to recognize that if teachers' unions are going to weather another round of criticism, brought on by a new Hollywood film, "Won't Back Down," in which the union is the bad guy, they will have to adopt a strategy that starts with conciliation. …

Although teachers' unions are one of the Democratic Party's largest and most loyal financial contributors, a number of high-profile Democratic mayors have already openly defied them, and President Barack Obama adopted the 2009 Race to the Top reforms in the face of unions' vehement opposition. Policy changes such as ending or weakening tenure for teachers, introducing merit pay, and expanding school choice through charter schools or vouchers have gained greater acceptance beyond the Republican Party, which has been pushing for these reforms for years.

The upcoming film, Won’t Back Down, portrays the struggle of Los Angeles parents and teachers to take over a failing inner-city school under the new parent trigger law—against the stiff opposition of the local teachers union. But ultimately, the trouble with teachers unions—more precisely, teachers union leadership—has little to do with image and everything to do with substance. (See also Mike Antonucci’s great take on this article aptly titled “YEARGH!!!”)

Teachers unions exist to provide the services to their dues-paying members, including job security, legal services collective bargaining, and working conditions. There is nothing inherently wrong with that.

What’s wrong is forcing teachers to pay union dues without their express consent. Unions’ propensity to protect poorly performing—even predatory—teachers at all costs regardless of the impact on students has infuriated parents and the tax-paying public. And, generally using the public schooling system as a political playground—while student achievement stagnates or worse—is outrageous.

All those practices have to do with substance—and a makeover won’t make them any more attractive to most people.

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