Teacher Union Leaders Go Public and Confirm Their Fecklessness

Weingarten is schooled by WSJ’s Jason Riley; Van Roekel is clueless as usual.

The National Education Association and the American Federation of teachers represent over 4.5 million teachers and educational support workers across the United States. These two unions have been under attack for the past few years by reformers who point to their slavish clinging to the status quo as a major barrier to badly needed education reform.

Since the election in November when American citizens voted forward thinking legislators and governors into office, education reform has made great strides across the country. The elected officials have been attacking the union’s sacred cows with a ferocity that hasn’t been seen before – eliminating seniority and tenure, introducing merit pay, defining teacher accountability, more school choice programs, etc. are all on the agenda.

The unions, feeling the heat, have decided to take their case to the public.

In an article on the NEA website, NEA President Dennis Van Roekel tries to take on what he calls the “anti-seniority crowd.” He claims that bad teachers shouldn’t be in the classroom. “If a teacher isn’t qualified, he or she shouldn’t be in the classroom. There are procedures in place in every school district to terminate unqualified or incompetent teachers, and administrators shouldn’t wait for a budget crisis to remove them. The fair dismissal process should be transparent, efficient and fair. We owe it to everyone concerned – especially students – to resolve cases as quickly as possible.”

As quickly as possible?

As you can see in this typical flow chart, getting rid of one incompetent teacher is a Byzantine procedure – 27 union mandated steps, 2 to 5 years to circumnavigate the process and a several hundred thousand dollar expenditure to the taxpayer. If, and it is a big if, the teacher is found guilty, they get to retire immediately with full benefits.

Then Van Roekel came out with a feeble attempt to defend the seniority system. “I taught math for 23 years, and I know without a doubt I was a much better teacher in year 20 than year 2. In no other profession is experience deemed a liability instead of an asset.”

Question for Van Roekel: “Since you are opposed to the thought of any objective based teacher evaluation, how do you know that you were better?” In fact, most studies have shown that after five years teachers don’t typically improve – thus a five year and a 25 year teacher are typically equally effective.

And then there is American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, who has been courting the media of late in an attempt to make a case that unions really are for reform. In last weekend’s addition of the Wall Street Journal, Ms. Weingarten consented to be interviewed by Jason Riley.

Bad move.

On point after point, she comes out with mind-numbingly vapid, standard issue unionista statements, attempting to discredit any real reform. Riley, to his credit, is not shy about explaining why everything she says is wrong.

On seniority, she says, “It’s not the perfect mechanism but it’s the best mechanism we have. You have cronyism and corruption and discrimination issues. We’re saying let’s do things the right way. We don’t want to see people getting laid off based on who they know instead of what they know. We don’t want to see people get laid off based on how much they cost.”

Huh? Cronyism? Discrimination?

Reform minded people want to get rid of bad teachers, not good teachers who can be replaced by an incompetent relative or someone of a certain skin color. Riley adds, “Why can’t teachers who have been chronically absent from work be the first to go? Or the ones who have been convicted of crimes? Or the ones who are languishing—with full pay and benefits—in some “reserve pool” because no school will hire them?”

Weingarten then tries to convince us that “teachers unions are agents of change, not defenders of the status quo.” But as Riley points out that in the next breath, she “shoots down suggestions for changes—vouchers, charter schools, differential teacher pay and so on—that have become important parts of the reform conversation.”

Each time union leaders speak, they show themselves to be nothing more than rigid and clueless — clinging to stale clichés, shopworn platitudes and empty rhetoric that doesn’t fool anyone any more. The public has caught on — bad news for the unions, but good news for children, their parents and all taxpayers.

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.

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