Monday, August 30, 2010

Education Improves In DC--Quick, Stop It !

Pictured is Washington (DC) Teachers' Union President George Parker. It is unclear whether he is puzzling over why he agreed to the contract he is holding in his hand, or simply unable to read it. WTU is one of many, many locals representing educators who don't educate and teachers who can't teach. But Parker signed an agreement, subsequently ratified by the DC City Council, which made the common sense move of providing rewards for successful teachers and the exit door for those who can neither do nor teach.

Just six years ago, Parker's union had over 5,000 members. Its current in-house publication now opens its site with: "Welcome to our new and improved Washington Teachers╩╝ Union (WTU) website. We serve more than 4,000 DC Public School (DCPS) teachers." The decline in membership is largely attributable to the DC city council approval of vouchers (with federal assistance) for children to leave the failed DC schools and attend charter schools instead. Most charter schools are not unionized, which is one reason why the education is so much better there.

But that is not what Parker is actually puzzling over. In fact, after the membership voted 1412 to 425 (45% of the membership) to ratify the contract, Parker realized he had just cut his membership rolls even farther. "How the heck did they slip that one past me?" may be what Parker is thinking. Among the major provisions of the contract is a provision which makes it quantum leaps easier for the DC Public Schools Chancellor (currently Michelle Rhee) to dismiss failing teachers.

The contract was approved in June of this year, and by late July, exercising her new power to toss out the deadwood, Chancellor Rhee released 241 teachers because of low performance ratings based on both student improvement and supervisorial evaluations. Better yet, Rhee further announced that there were another 741 teachers with substandard ratings who face termination in 2011 if they are unable to improve their ratings and evaluations. That's a total of 982 teachers out of the already-shrunken membership totaling approximately 4,000.

Any union president facing the loss of twenty-five percent of his membership in a period of one year should indeed be wondering if he was suffering from a brain aneurysm when he recommended approval of the contract to his membership. Twenty-five percent loss in membership means a twenty-five percent loss in forced union dues. The balance of the local union leadership is already pedaling like mad. On their website, they simply misstated the law, claiming that full union membership costs only $4.98 biweekly more than bargaining-unit mandatory dues of $28.22 in this union shop, but provides many more benefits for voluntary members than for mandatory members. That is a no-no. About the only thing allowed under the law (particularly Beck v Communications Workers Union) to distinguish between members is that voluntary members paying the higher dues get to vote in union elections and contract negotiations. Mandatory members do not.

Considering that only 45% of the total membership voted on the last contract, that doesn't seem like much of a benefit. In addition, the law is specific about how much (and for what) can be collected from non-voluntary members. The $4.98 difference is already facing litigation, since unions routinely lie about what percentage of their collected dues are attributable to legitimate union activities.

Since the major purpose of teachers' unions is to make it nearly impossible to fire illiterate and incompetent teachers, Mr. Parker has just bargained away one of his few reasons for existence. So it's not surprising that after creating the situation that allowed for the firing of the first 241 losers, it was time for Parker and his staff to start looking like they actually know what they're doing. With the assistance of union honcho Randi Weingarten of the parent American Federation of Teachers, the WTU is striking back at the school district.

Together, Parker and Weingarten have prepared unfair labor practices actions against the district for the 241 dismissed teachers. They prepared them before even reviewing the materials which are the basis for the terminations. As we all know, it's unfair to fire people who can't or won't do their jobs. As ridiculous as that may sound to normal people, it doesn't deter union bosses. The previous head of the mammoth AFT, Al Shanker (president from 1974 through 1997) put it simply: "A lot of people who have been hired as teachers are basically not competent."

The problem for the district is that once union leadership decides they're going to argue against the very contract they themselves approved, the stalling, procedural rules, and determination to perpetuate incompetence can play hell with the district, even if the district ultimately wins. Those hurt most are the students, but they are of no import to the union. The teachers' unions are about protection of jobs, not educating students. With the Obama recess appointment of left/labor hack Craig Becker to the NLRB, the WTU and AFT tactics have a much better chance of success.

George Bush and the Republicans went along with the foolish concept of "no child left behind." Obama's policy is "leave no union member unemployed, for any reason." And since neither Becker nor Obama thinks a contract means what it says, this is going to be an ugly battle which will once again harm the future of minorities in the District who simply want a good education for their children and know they can't get that in the DC public schools. Charter schools, unlike the public schools, must perform or die. Those which are presently performing badly will either go out of business or do what the public schools have such difficulty doing--firing teachers who are totally unqualified for the job they are being paid for.


AndrewPrice said...

Having lived in DC for ten years, I can tell you that their schools are in a shocking state. When I first came to DC, I saw a puff piece on some local school issue and the two teachers who were "teaching" during the puff piece spoke almost unrecognizable English and clearly did not care what their students were doing. . . and no one thought this was the least bit unusual.

At the same time, the teachers unions defended every one of the 30%+ of DC teachers who failed basic competency standards.

Then the charter school bug hit D.C. Most charter schools in the country involve a particular teaching method or a return to core principles. . . not these. They had kids in camouflage gear waiving fake African flags as they supposedly learned about "their heritage" -- fyi, that particular school was run by a woman who hired ten of her family members as teachers, none of them had any qualifications.

So I am surprised that anyone in DC would agree to anything that might improve education, but I'm not surprised they would get upset when it worked and try to interfere.

Unknown said...

Andrew: I believe all of that. The state of education in DC was beyond primitive. Even several of the charter schools are struggling simply because they have so little to work with.

The best guess most insiders are making is that Parker and the WTU had to do something, anything, to appear to be trying to improve the schools. Unfortunately, and predictably, the best thing they could do is get rid of a huge number of teachers, and when the chancellor did exactly that, the union realized its "mistake." So much for union assistance in DC education reform.

AndrewPrice said...

That's the problem with unions: they never want to get rid of anyone, even those who don't know what they're doing.

Unknown said...

Andrew: At least unions in heavy industry served a purpose at one time. Better pay, safer working conditions, reasonable work hours. "Service" unions and public employee unions serve no other purpose than to perpetuate employees who couldn't get a real job requiring performance. Many teachers are dedicated professionals who are treated exactly the same as the illiterates who are their fellow employees. But when the dedicated teacher exerts that extra effort--watch out! Big trouble. He or she is upsetting the pecking order and making it necessary for the other teachers to do something other than show up in the morning. Unions make sure that doesn't happen.

StanH said...

When JFK signed executive order 10988 in 1962, he started what Daniel P. Moynihan the dumbing down of America, by virtue of allowing government employees to unionize. Many of our countries problems can be traced to that moment, when with a stroke of a pen, we allowed government servants the ability to pilfer the treasury. This is one of the many things that must be fixed to right our great land. What was it, I believe a president of the NEA said, too paraphrase, “We’ll start worrying about the kids when they’re the ones paying us!” Breathtaking arrogance!

Unknown said...

Stan: Breathtaking is about the best word to describe their arrogance.

Notawonk said...

with such blatant politics at the center of teaching children, is it any wonder home schooling is a growing movement?!

Unknown said...

Patti: If it didn't take a bare minimum of two incomes to survive in this rotten economy, I think a lot more people might be home schooling. I used to have reservations, largely because I was lucky enough to grow up in a small, independent public school district with strong local control and dedicated teachers. I sought out such a place for my own kids. My older daughter's boys are in one of those systems, and my other grandkids are in a very small and very responsible public school district (elementary and middle school) near where I live.

But my oldest granddaughter has just entered the Bakersfield Unified School District for high school. It's not looking good, although at least it's located out here near us. Nevertheless, my younger daughter is considering quitting her job if it continues to appear that indoctrination and social experimentation are more important than the basics.

Notawonk said...

law: although i was against homeschooling the year we started, in very short time i was convinced. we did it all 12 years and i have not once regretted it. and man, did i learn a lot!

Unknown said...

Patti: That's where you and the union teachers differ. They get phony degrees in eddykashun, have no real majors to be a foundation for actually teaching something, and as little as they learned in colluj, they learn even less as they "teach."

You and almost all conscientious home-schoolers consider teaching to be an ongoing learning experience for students and teachers alike.

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