The state of the teachers union

By Larry Sand
February 12, 2019

American Federation of Teachers demands justice in Saudi Arabia and compassion for the vulnerable in Syria, but in the U.S., it’s a very different story.

As a way to show that they are “PEOPLE WHO REALLY CARE,” Randi Weingarten and her cronies at the American Federation of Teachers have been making forays into foreign policy. Two days after President Trump’s State of the Union address, the teachers union issued a resolution calling on members of Congress “to hold Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia accountable for the ‘abhorrent and unjustified murder’ of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi. In a second resolution, it condemns “the attack on labor and democracy being carried out by newly elected Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and pledges support for those who oppose his anti-democratic record and human rights abuses.”

This recent dalliance is not a one-off. The AFT has done similar things in the past. In 2017, the union released a statement on the U.S. missile strike in Syria, in which Weingarten criticized our foreign policy, claiming that America “needs a long-term plan for the tyranny of Syrian President Bashar Assad and it should include a more open refugee policy that would return America to its place as the world’s moral conscience in defense of the world’s most vulnerable.”

However, education, especially in America’s big cities, is frequently “abhorrent” and “the most vulnerable” definitely need help. But the unions are MIA on this, and are frequently the cause of the problem.

In New York City, for example, the rate of college-ready graduates is 67 percent. Which is actually an increase from a pathetic 51 percent just two years ago. The jump in the rate would seem to be as a result of so-called credit recovery classes, which allow students to achieve higher grades by taking a few rigor-free online classes in their spare time. Additionally, “Black and Latino kids are disproportionately tracked into low-level programs — and left to meet a lower bar” according to education professor David Bloomfield.

Not a peep from Weingarten and AFT on the low grad rate, NYC’s fiddling with the numbers or disparate treatment for minorities.

Los Angeles is no better. Sixty-eight percent of students in the LA Unified School District are failing to meet state math standards, and 58 percent are not meeting English standards. California’s school rating system shows that 52 percent of LAUSD’s schools earn a D or F in English language arts, 50 percent earn a D or F in math, and just 40 percent of all students go on to graduate college or are career ready.

AFT’s only response here was to support the local union’s recent strike for more money. (The rule in education is that if a group cannot get the job done for $1, we are supposed to give the same group $2 and if that does not work, then $3.) No, the problems with LA schools have nothing to do with a lack of funding. In a rare moment of humility, LA school board member Richard Vladovic said that LAUSD should apologize to parents “for ruining their kids’ lives because teachers at the lowest-performing schools are so rarely evaluated, and it takes at least three years to dismiss a teacher who consistently receives poor performance reviews.”

Vladovic is right – the school district has not been doing its job. Of course, a big part of the problem is the teachers unions’ tenure and seniority schemes, which along with arcane dismissal statutes, insure that the best teachers are kept from the classroom, especially those of poor and minority students. But someone must have quickly slapped some “sense” into Vladovic. Shortly after his seemingly heartfelt apology, he did a 180 and, at the behest of the United Teachers of Los Angeles, pushed for a resolution calling on state officials to study the financial impact of charters on the district.

So the one escape that parents in LA have to get their kids out of schools that Vladovic is apologizing for, is now under a microscope. There is no secret here. While the AFT-affiliated UTLA’s demand is for a study, its ultimate aim is to cap the number of charters. Governor Newsom has promised to create a panel, and it will likely be comprised of union-friendly wolves that will decide the fate of the sheep.

The panel will hear nonsense from unionistas that charters are “unaccountable.” These publicly funded, privately run schools of choice have managed to lure about 150,000 kids – over a fifth of the district total – from traditional public schools in LA. Parents like charters for a good reason – charter school students score higher on standardized math and reading tests. Also, Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes issued the results of a study in 2014 that showed charter school students in Los Angeles receive the equivalent of about 50 more days of learning in reading and 79 days of math than students in traditional public schools. Not only that, but Los Angeles charters do it for a lot less, receiving only 73 percent of the funding of district schools. But again, the union claims they “unaccountable.”

So while the American Federation of Teacher leadership bloviates about the oppressed in foreign lands, it clearly doesn’t give a rip about the most vulnerable children in Los Angeles, New York and other American cities.

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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 and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.

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