It should be an article of faith by now that in California, whatever the teachers union wants, the teachers union gets. It is nonetheless surprising that their reach might extend all the way to a recent decision by the San Francisco Unified School District board to reject fifteen talented teachers who were part of “Teach for America.”
The Teach for America program, similar to the Peace Corps, attracts some of the top college graduates in the United States to spend two years teaching students in underprivileged communities. Not only are these highly motivated and underpaid teachers committing themselves to work in schools with chronic teacher shortages, but they typically teach the subjects for which the profession has the hardest time finding teachers – in science, math, special education, and bilingual classrooms.
Never mind all that. Go away. Never mind that San Francisco Unified needs to fill 500 teaching jobs by August in the midst of a statewide teachers shortage. The union can’t accept “cheap labor” that might undermine their lock on the teaching profession.
If you review the candidate questionnaires filled out by San Francisco Unified’s president, Matt Haney, or its vice president, Shamann Walton, it isn’t too hard to figure out who pulls their strings. Haney’s in-depth answers failed to include teacher accountability as one of his priorities. He also does not support having charter schools as “a central part of our strategy to deliver high quality education.” But Haney does favor project labor agreements and increasing teacher salaries. As for Walton, the questionnaire we could find for her, delivered to the Laborers Local 261, documents her positions on such academic priorities as the right to an abortion, affirmative action, marriage equality, rent control and sanctuary cities. Needless to say, all of her positions on these non academic matters conform to those of the California Teachers Association.
If you review salaries and benefits for San Francisco Unified School District employees, you quickly realize why classroom teachers are arguably underpaid. There isn’t any money left after the bureaucrats get their share. Any ambitious public education professional quickly realizes two things: (1) Do whatever the union tells you to do, and (2) get an administrative job in an office, where you’ll make 50% more, won’t have to teach kids during the day or grade papers at night, and still only work 180 days a year. In the case of San Francisco Unified’s 2014 payroll, you have to scroll through the salary records for 251 bureaucrats before you get to the first employee with the title “Regular Classroom Teacher.” Go figure.
The teachers unions have created pretty much every mess that exists in California’s public schools today. They successfully push for legislation that requires the addition of extensive bureaucratic staff, then bemoan the lack of funds to hire classroom teachers. They complain that classroom teachers are underpaid, but oppose tying compensation to performance. The union blames “Wall Street” for the financial challenges facing pensions, while simultaneously pushing for pension benefits that can only be justified if you believe the corrupt Wall Street debt bubble will never burst. The union accuses charter schools of “privatization for profit,” ignoring the fact that most charters are nonprofits, sustained by donors of diverse ideologies who are united only by a passionate desire to rescue America’s youth from a failed system.
In an editorial published on June 22 entitled “San Francisco was wrong to chase out Teach for America,” even the liberal San Francisco Chronicle was unequivocal. “So who would object to this program?,” they wrote, “Teacher unions, quite vociferously.”
Herein lies the hope for those who still believe that achieving quality education is a nonpartisan concern. Because conscientious people can disagree on issues of abortion, affirmative action, marriage equality, rent control and sanctuary cities, but still vociferously agree that the California Teachers Association is an out-of-control behemoth with a record of placing the interests of bad teachers ahead of the interests of school children.
Someday liberals, along with reticent conservative allies, will join with more outspoken reformers in admitting that nearly every problem in our public schools are merely symptoms, and that the rotten illness at the core is the teachers union. When that day comes, there will be hope for our children, and the future of California.
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Ed Ring is the president of the California Policy Center.