In an editorial today, the Tribune questions the tactics behind State Sen. James Meeks' proposed New Trier protest, while ultimately applauding his "unwillingness to let Chicago students languish for yet another school year in public schools that we've long argued are ...
In an editorial today, the Tribune questions the tactics behind State Sen. James Meeks' proposed New Trier protest, while ultimately applauding his "unwillingness to let Chicago students languish for yet another school year in public schools that we've long argued are short on resources and on accountability for the money they do receive." But the Tribune's dig at teachers unions deserve some pushback. Here's the conclusion of today's editorial:
So you have a choice. You can echo the teachers unions and chant "More money for education," which likely will result in another year without funding reform. Or you can challenge the education establishment to deliver more accountability in return for a jump in the $20 billion it already consumes.
We can't guarantee that the latter strategy would get you every dollar you want, Sen. Meeks. We can, though, guarantee that it would produce better educations for the schoolkids who now are pawns of Illinois politicians from the governor on down.
Scapegoating the teacher's unions for our nation's education disparity is an old, lazy trick. It's true that some union contracts have made it difficult to fire incompetent teachers and some unions have been less than willing to implement the teacher accountability measures valued by certain segments of the education reform community. But like all workers, teachers deserve a voice in the workplace. And a school system without teachers unions, as education expert Richard Kahlenberg wrote last year, would be mighty grim:
[A]bolishing unions would hardly catapult the interest of students to the top. Instead, it would increase the power of other adults in the system -- superintendents, who sometimes jettison promising educational programs for which they cannot personally take credit; principals, who sometimes are lax on discipline because they don't want their suspension numbers to look bad; and parents, who usually look out for the interests of their own children rather than what's good for all kids.
The other big winners would be supporters of privatized education, and opponents of the American labor movement. No single organization is as responsible for the defense of public education in the United States as teacher unions. Other groups oppose private school vouchers, but only teacher unions have the political muscle and organizational and strategic capacity to beat back privatization plans. Likewise, the death of teacher unions would snuff out one of the few bright spots in an otherwise desperate landscape for the American labor movement.
The Tribune's characterization of the teachers unions' stance -- "More money for education" -- is oversimplified as well. Many of the large unions are supporting more holistic reform efforts, such as those laid out in the "Broader, Bolder Approach to Education." Proposed by an Economic Policy Institute-backed coalition, this proposal argues in favor of resolving the economic inequality that is the root of our nation's achievement gap while also improving student, teacher, and parent accountability. Hell, it's this broad perspective that led the American Federation of Teachers to join the AFL-CIO. Here's Kahlenberg again:
[Former American Federation of Teachers President Albert] Shanker understood the importance of addressing larger issues of societal inequality, which is why he insisted that the American Federation of Teachers be part of organized labor. Though he realized the political challenges, Shanker wanted the AFT to be part of the coalition fighting for better health care and housing and a higher minimum wage -- all of which would make teachers more likely to be successful in reaching low-income students.
Lots of factors stand in the way of educational equity. Isolating the unions does a disservice to the cause.