With a feeble offense (and virtually no defense), the union leader’s strategies help to keep American public education far from the goal line.
American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten has done it again. She agreed to compete on a level playing field – defending the teachers unions’ version of education reform – and the results were not pretty.
A joint interview printed in Newsweek between American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten and Microsoft’s founder-turned-ed-reformer Bill Gates ended with Weingarten on the losing end of the debate. This is not new, however, for the wrongheaded union leader. Last March, along with Rod Paige, former U.S. Secretary of Education, and Terry Moe, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and a member of Hoover’s Koret Task Force on K-12 Education, I debated Ms. Weingarten and two of her hand-picked team members in New York City.
Voting took place before and after the debate to see which side of the statement Don’t Blame the Teachers Unions for Our Failing Schools would carry the day. The results were embarrassingly one-sided — our team won by a landslide.
In this debate, Gates — as we did in New York – proceeded to demonstrate that the union leader could not refute solid, pro-reform arguments.
Kyle Wingfield summed it all up nicely in the Atlanta Journal Constitution, “Time and again, Gates exposes the complete emptiness of the positions held by Weingarten and her charges — and does so without coming across as attacking teachers themselves. Not once does Weingarten respond with anything we haven’t heard hundreds of times before….”
For example, Weingarten says that other countries are doing better than we are because, “They’ve spent a lot of time investing in the preparation and support of teachers.” Gates simply retorts, “…we spend more money by every measure than any other system… What are we going to do to get more out of the investments we make?”
Countering another serious charge, Weingarten pooh-poohs the notion that it is almost impossible to get rid of bad teachers. She says, “The reality is that managers (principals) don’t do their jobs.” She coos that teachers should be “counseled…out of the profession.”
Wrong. The reason it is almost impossible to rid the profession of its stinkers is because of serpentine provisions in virtually every union contract. It takes so much of a principal’s time and piles of district money – several years and hundreds of thousands of dollars per teacher in Los Angeles, for instance — to possibly get rid of a bad teacher, that administrators think it’s best to spend their time and limited money elsewhere. As to the laughable “counseled out of the profession” nonsense – is there any other profession where the poorest performers are “counseled out?” No. they may be warned and/or demoted and then fired. Period. It’s called accountability. What a concept!
Perhaps Weingarten is at her most absurd when she talks about building a good teaching staff and compares it to successful football strategies. She says, “Football teams do this all the time. They look at the tape after every game. Sometimes they do it during the game. They’re constantly deconstructing what is working and what isn’t working. And they’re jettisoning what isn’t working and building up on what is working, and doing it in a teamlike approach.”
She is correct in her football analysis. But what does that have to do with today’s unionized teachers? A football team will get rid of its poor performers after a few bad games. (No tenure in the National Football League.) If you are in your thirties and a rookie comes along who does a better job than you, you are gone. (No seniority in the NFL.) If you are the best wide receiver on the team, you will make more money than the others in the same position. (No unified salary scale in the NFL.)
In short, as I wrote after the debate in NY, “I saw up close and personal what I have always felt — that the teachers’ unions are running on empty. The emperor is naked as a jaybird. Not only don’t they have anything to offer in the way of true education reform, they are the greatest impediment we have to ed reform. All the lofty words from teacher union presidents over the years about higher quality schools, teacher accountability, investing in education, etc. are nothing but empty rhetoric meant to lead the press and the public to believe that they really give a damn about children.”
Once again, Randi Weingarten has tried to engage the public by making her case that a unionized education is best for all concerned. And once again, she has failed miserably in her effort. Public education should really go the NFL route: have meritocratic work rules, pay good teachers more than mediocre ones, weed out bad teachers and stop automatically favoring teachers who have merely clocked more years on the job than others.
Unless we start doing things differently — and soon — America will continue to miss the playoffs, while other countries who have gone a different route will be vying for the Super Bowl.
About the author: Larry Sand is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan,non-political group dedicated to providing teachers with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues.