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Feel Good Movie Angers Union Boss

Showing how painful the truth can be, AFT boss Randi Weingarten goes bonkers over a new film in which a teachers union is presented fairly.

Won’t Back Down, a movie due to open nationally on September 28th, centers around two determined mothers, one a bartender and the other a teacher, who team up and try to transform their failing public school in Pittsburgh. Facing a powerful and entrenched bureaucracy, administrative corruption and the teachers union, they devote their lives to making a difference in the education and future of their children.

It’s a very good film – a film in which the educational establishment is presented in a realistic and honest way – the portrayal of good teachers, bad teachers and mediocre ones and the parents’ frustrations in dealing with the system’s bureaucracy are quite true to life. The union leaders are not caricatures, but they are like many that I knew and worked with during my long teaching career.

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, however, has a very different take on the movie. With steam pouring out of her nostrils, she hyperventilated through a 1,864 word slash-and-burn screed which appeared as part of Valerie Strauss’s Washington Post blog last week. With many contenders, perhaps the most outrageous statement she makes is,

Unfortunately, using the most blatant stereotypes and caricatures I have ever seen – even worse than those in Waiting for Superman – the film affixes blame on the wrong culprit: America’s teachers unions.

This statement is positively goofy. Waiting For Superman is a documentary which deals with real parents and their children who are trying to escape their miserable public schools and get into better ones. Okay, truth be told, there is one caricature in the film. In Variety’s review, one woman was described as a “foaming satanic beast” and “an aptly shrill opponent of change.” The reviewer was describing none other than Randi Weingarten, who did a great parody of herself.

A bit later in her diatribe, she blurts out,

I don’t recognize the teachers portrayed in this movie….

That’s funny. I do. But then again, you must understand that she doesn’t really know what goes on in America’s classrooms. In fact, just last year, the union boss stepped in it big time when, speaking about education reform at an AFT conference, she said,

…the debate has been hijacked by a group of self-styled reformers. Let’s refuse to be defined by people who are happy to lecture us about the state of public education — but wouldn’t last 10 minutes in a classroom.

Well, I am a reformer and I lasted almost 30 years. And just what experience “in a classroom” does “Randi the Pompous” have? Not much. According to blogger Joann Jacobs,

A lawyer turned union leader, Weingarten’s classroom time was limited, counters Education Action Group.

Weingarten’s AFT bio claims she taught history at Clara Barton High School in Brooklyn from 1991 to 1997. EAG obtained her personnel file via a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request. Weingarten was hired as a substitute teacher in 1991 and received a “provisional” license in 1993. In 1994, she received a “certificate to serve as a substitute.” A 1997 letter indicates Weingarten didn’t submit documentation showing she’d met requirements for licensure.

No record indicates she ever served as a full-time teacher or was evaluated by a principal or other school official.

When Weingarten ran for president of New York’s United Federation of Teachers in 1998, her opponent, Michael Shulman, suggested that she was not a “real teacher.”

“She worked five months full-time that I’ve been aware of, in 1992, at Clara Barton High School,” Shulman was quoted as saying in the New York Times. “Since then she taught maybe one class for 40 minutes a day.”

And what would a teacher union leader rant be without some good old-fashioned class warfare and a potshot at parent trigger laws? Randi doesn’t disappoint. She hits ’em both in the same paragraph:

… it (the movie) promotes the deceptively named “parent trigger” laws, which are marketed as parent-empowerment laws. Actually, these laws deny both parents and teachers a voice in improving schools and helping children, by using parents to give control of our schools over to for-profit corporations. Parent trigger laws are being pushed by organizations like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which Walden Media owner and oil billionaire Philip Anschutz helps fund.

Teachers unions hate parent trigger laws because they give parents power to change the governance structure of a school without having to kiss the union’s ring. And then, in an attempt to enlighten us ignoramuses, tells us that these laws are being promoted by the vast, billionaire-infested right wing conspiracy. (I do have give her credit, however, for not mentioning the Koch brothers by name.)

Then Weingarten becomes indignant, stating that,

… the film advances the “bad teacher” narrative through the character of Deborah. This teacher barks at students from her desk, uses her cell phone in class, refuses to let students use the restroom, puts children in a closet as a disciplinary measure and resists all reform efforts, yet miraculously remains employed at the school.

Miraculously remains employed??!! Teachers unions are notorious for doing their damndest to keep pedophiles and other miscreants in the classroom and yet she seems shocked that the bad teacher “remains employed at the school.” Good grief – can this woman really be so clueless??!!

In any event, the film is well worth seeing. The fact that it sent Weingarten over the edge should alone boost ticket sales through the roof.

About the author: Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, 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.

Chutzpah on Steroids

An audacious article asserting that teachers unions are good for kids may have fooled some people fifty years ago but now should be viewed as a modern fairy tale.

AlterNet, a far left website that among other things extols the virtues of Communist wretch Howard Zinn, posted an article by Kristin Rawls – are you sitting down – “6 Reasons Teachers Unions Are Good for Kids.” I checked the date and it wasn’t April 1st so I realized that Rawls was actually serious – seriously deluded.

One of her six reasons: Teachers unions are the only major educational players still focused on advancing school equity by leveling the playing field. Yes, the playing field is level – the basement level, however – across much of the country. But parents are more interested in quality, which is why so many of them (especially minorities) are doing everything they can to get their kids away from unionized schools.

Another reason: Teachers unions protect student and teacher safety in schools. Student safety? Really? In California, the teachers unions just killed SB 1530, a bill that would have shortened the endless “dismissal statutes” for teachers who committed offenses involving violence, sex or drug use with children. I don’t think that the students victimized by pedophiles and sadistic teachers would agree with her outlandish statement.

Teachers unions fight to protect teachers’ First Amendment rights… Perhaps the writer needs a history lesson. The First Amendment is in the U.S. Constitution; no one needs a union to guarantee constitutional protections.

Teachers unions oppose school vouchers. She’s right about this one, which is too bad because vouchers work for both the students who avail themselves of them and the students who don’t. The competition factor improves the quality of education for all students. But then again, the writer isn’t looking for quality, just equality. And if kids are equally miserable, well at least they’re equal, right?

A second fawning pro-union article appeared in the Los Angeles Times last week. Michael Hiltzik’s “Proposition 32: A fraud to end all frauds” attacks an initiative that will be on the California ballot in November. This prop would ban not only direct corporate and union contributions to state and local candidates, but also contributions by government contractors to the politicians who control contracts awarded to them, and in addition, it would prohibit automatic deductions by corporations, unions, and government of employees’ wages to be used for politics. The piece is insulting to voters, whom he suggests would be “stupid” to vote for the prop and to union members he believes should be forced to pay dues to a union whether they want to or not.

A much more realistic and sobering article also appeared in the LA Times last week. Michael Mishak’s “California Teachers Assn. a powerful force in Sacramento” details the frightening power wielded by CTA. Just a few quotes from the article will put things in perspective:

The union views itself as “the co-equal fourth branch of government,” said Oakland Democrat Don Perata, a former teacher who crossed swords with the group when he was state Senate leader.

Backed by an army of 325,000 teachers and a war chest as sizable as those of the major political parties, CTA can make or break all sorts of deals. It holds sway over Democrats, labor’s traditional ally, and Republicans alike.

Jim Brulte, a former leader of the state Senate’s GOP caucus, recalled once attending a CTA reception with a Republican colleague who told the union’s leaders that he had come to “check with the owners.”

CTA has since used its institutionalized clout, deep pockets and mass membership largely to protect the status quo… CTA has ferociously guarded a set of hard-won tenure rules and seniority protections, repeatedly beating back attempts by education groups to overturn those measures, increase teacher accountability and introduce private-school vouchers.

In a similar vein, Troy Senik wrote a piece for City Journal, “The Worst Union in America: How the California Teachers Association betrayed the schools and crippled the state.” Like Mishak, he makes a case for the enormously destructive power of the teachers union,

In 1991, the CTA took to the ramparts again to combat Proposition 174, a ballot initiative that would have made California a national leader in school choice by giving families universal access to school vouchers. When initiative supporters began circulating the petitions necessary to get it onto the ballot, some CTA members tried to intimidate petition signers physically. The union also encouraged people to sign the petition multiple times in order to throw the process into chaos.

As the CTA’s power grew, it learned that it could extract policy concessions simply by employing its aggressive PR machine. In 1996, with the state’s budget in surplus, the CTA spent $1 million on an ad campaign touting the virtues of reduced class sizes in kindergarten through third grade. Feeling the heat from the campaign, Republican governor Pete Wilson signed a measure providing subsidies to schools with classes of 20 children or fewer. The program was a disaster: it failed to improve educational outcomes, and the need to hire many new teachers quickly, to handle all the smaller classes, reduced the quality of teachers throughout the state. The program cost California nearly $2 billion per year at its high-water mark, becoming the most expensive education-reform initiative in the state’s history. But it worked out well for the CTA, whose ranks and coffers were swelled by all those new teachers.

Seems overwhelming, doesn’t it? No, not really. In a recent post, education blogger Joann Jacobs spells out some inconvenient realities for the teachers unions. In “Teachers unions go on the defensive,” she points to an article in the New York Times by Frank Bruni who writes that,

In Chicago, Philadelphia, Los Angeles and other cities, Democratic mayors have feuded bitterly with teachers’ unions and at times come to see them as enemies. And at a meeting of the United States Conference of Mayors in June, Democratic mayors joined Republican ones in a unanimous endorsement of so-called parent trigger legislation, about which unions have serious reservations. These laws, recently passed in only a few states but being considered in more, abet parent takeovers of underperforming schools, which may then be replaced with charter schools run by private entities.

The unions have also run afoul of the grim economic times. “In the private sector, nobody’s got any security about anything,” said Charles Taylor Kerchner, a professor of education at Claremont Graduate University. So the unions’ fights over pay raises and pensions, he said, made previously routine negotiations “look like pigs at the trough.”

Then, referring to liberal news commentator Campbell Brown’s recent dust up with AFT President Randi Weingarten, Jay Greene says,

. . . the teacher unions are finally being treated as the special interest group they are rather than as credible players in the discussion over the merits of various education policies. When Campbell Brown takes on the unions, the game is over.

Well, maybe not “over.” Greene concedes,

The unions are still quite powerful and policy battles will continue to rage. But a big political and cultural shift has occurred.

Indeed it has, which is why “6 Reasons Teachers Unions Are Good for Kids,” with its brazen, reality-free content, would be a fitting entry in “Mother Goose: The Dark Side.”

About the author: Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, 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.