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Posted at 5:00 AM ET, 02/22/2011

Ravitch: Why should teachers have unions?

By Valerie Strauss

This was written by education historian Diane Ravitch for her Bridging Differences blog, which she co-authors with Deborah Meier on the Education Week website. Ravitch and Meier exchange letters about what matters most in education. Ravitch, a research professor at New York University, is the author of the bestselling “The Death and Life of the Great American School System,” an important critique of the flaws in the modern school reform movement.

Dear Deborah,
As I write, thousands of teachers are staging a protest in the state capitol in Wisconsin against proposed legislation by Gov. Scott Walker that would destroy their collective bargaining rights. Others stand with them, including members of the Green Bay Packers and other public sector workers, even those not affected by the legislation, namely, firefighters and police.

Gov. Walker demanded that the teachers pay more for their health benefits and their pension benefits, and they have agreed to do so. But that's not all he wants. He wants to destroy the union.

I wrote an article about this contretemps for CNN.COM, not realizing that the teachers had already conceded the governor's demands on money issues. They agreed to pay more for their health benefits and pension benefits. The confrontation now is solely about whether public employees have the right to bargain collectively and to have a collective voice. Monday's New York Times made clear, both in an article by Paul Krugman and in its news coverage, that the union is fighting for its survival, not benefits.

It's time to ask: why should teachers have unions? I am not a member of a union, and I have never belonged to a union, but here is what I see.

From the individual teacher's point of view, it is valuable to have an organization to turn to when you feel you have been treated unfairly, one that will supply you with assistance, even a lawyer, one that advocates for improvement in your standard of living. From society's point of view, it is valuable to have unions to fight for funding for public education and for smaller class sizes and for adequate compensation for teachers.

I recently visited Arizona, a right-to-work state, and parents there complained to me about classes of 30 for children in first and second grades, and even larger for older students; they complained that the starting salary for teachers was only $26,000, and that it is hard to find strong college graduates to enter teaching when wages are so low.

I have often heard union critics complain that contracts are too long, too detailed, too prescriptive. I have noticed that unions don't write their own contracts. There are always two sides that negotiate a contract and that sign it. If administration is so weak that it signs a contract that is bad for kids, bad for the district's finances, or bad for education, then shame on them.

The fight in Wisconsin now is whether public sector unions should have any power to bargain at all. The fight is not restricted to Wisconsin; it is taking place in many other states, including New Jersey, Ohio, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Florida, Illinois, and elsewhere. The battle has already been lost in other states.

I have been wondering if advocates of corporate school reform, such as Bill Gates, Eli Broad, and Michelle Rhee will come to the aid of the teachers in Wisconsin. I have been wondering if President Obama and Secretary Duncan, who were quick to applaud the firing of teachers in Central Falls, Rhode Island, will now step forward to support the teachers in Wisconsin. I have been wondering if Secretary Duncan, who only a few days earlier had led a much-publicized national conversation in Denver about the importance of collaboration between unions and management, will weigh in to support the teachers. I am ever hopeful, but will take care not to hold my breath.

If there is no organized force to advocate for public education in the state capitols of this nation, our children and our schools will suffer. That's the bottom line. And that's why I stand with the teachers of Wisconsin. I know you do too.

Diane

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By Valerie Strauss  | February 22, 2011; 5:00 AM ET
Categories:  Diane Ravitch, Guest Bloggers, Teachers  | Tags:  cnn.com, collective bargaining, gov. scott walker, green bay packers, teachers and protest, teachers unions, wisconsin, wisconsin protests, wisconsin teachers  
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Next: The meaning of Michelle Rhee

Comments

I for one am sick of people misunderstanding what is at stake here.

Facts;

We need to protect our over paid and underworked teachers and thier inflated benefits. It is our job to make less, give more and make sure they get the two months off per year deserved. We should not complain about having to pay our own way, and thiers too. It is only right that you the average Joe will not get a paycheck for decades after you can not work any longer.

Teachers have rights;

The right to take and not give
The right to earn and not work
The right to test and not be tested
The right to brain wash a child, even though they have no brains
The right to walk off the job and come back when they darn well please

Oh yes and you the tax payer have rights too, FIRE THE TEACHERS WHO WALK OFF THIER JOBS!

Posted by: kadius1964 | February 22, 2011 7:48 AM | Report abuse

The bedrock principle being fought over is not collective bargaining rights, but rather: should public employees enjoy pay and benefits and security that are much, much greater than the average taxpayer that they claim to "serve"???? The sense of entitlement of the public employees in Wisconsin is palpable, and it won't fly. It won't fly, as most Democrats are not sympathetic with the public employees.

Note also that public employees everywhere, even office-bound workers, have a disability claim rate that is multiples of the average. Do you ever wonder why.....?

Posted by: axolotl | February 22, 2011 7:50 AM | Report abuse

As always, commenters are speaking without knowing all the facts. The "overpaid and underworked" article has become overplayed and underwhelming. Public employees on average have significantly better medical and retirement benefits, but this is a trade off with their salaries. When education levels are taken into account, public employees, especially teachers, make less than their private-industry counterparts.

For example, would a private sector employee like a government contractor accept less than 6 figures if they had 20 years in the field and a doctoral degree? In Fairfax County publi schools a teacher with these credentials would make only a little over 92K.

If you are really that upset over teacher pay, there are other options. Protest teacher pay by putting your kid in private school ... I'm sure the $10,000+ you pay in tuition is a much better value than the property taxes that pay for the public schools. Another option - go get your Masters degree in education. If teaching is truly that cushy of a job with out of control salary and benefits, then join the ranks and take advantage!

Posted by: phimu222 | February 22, 2011 8:12 AM | Report abuse

I find the comments from kadlus1964 and axoloti puzzling.

It's clear that they are conservatives. It's also clear that that they are union-haters, and more than a bit uninformed. What's worse, is that they are hypocrites, arguing against the very principles that conservatives tout rhetorically.

Conservative claim to love freedom (and property), and they allegedly revere the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution (except, of course, when they don't). Surely they must know that the Founders were profoundly influenced by the political philosopher John Locke.

And surely they know that Locke's conception of property began with the person ("every Man has a Property in his own Person...") and extended to his work ("Labour being the unquestionable Property of the Labourer...").

So, given the freedoms of speech and assembly and petition in the 1st Amendment, and given Locke's ideas on property, what exactly are kadlus1964 and axoloti complaining about?

What is it about freedom and public service, cornerstones of democratic societies, that they hate?

Posted by: DrDemocracy | February 22, 2011 8:27 AM | Report abuse

I for one am sick of people misunderstanding what is at stake here.

Facts;

We need to protect our over paid and underworked teachers and thier inflated benefits. It is our job to make less, give more and make sure they get the two months off per year deserved. We should not complain about having to pay our own way, and thiers too. It is only right that you the average Joe will not get a paycheck for decades after you can not work any longer.

Teachers have rights;

The right to take and not give
The right to earn and not work
The right to test and not be tested
The right to brain wash a child, even though they have no brains
The right to walk off the job and come back when they darn well please

Oh yes and you the tax payer have rights too, FIRE THE TEACHERS WHO WALK OFF THIER JOBS!

Posted by: kadius1964 | February 22, 2011 8:27 AM | Report abuse

Here's a repeat of the questions:

So, given the freedoms of speech and assembly and petition in the 1st Amendment, and given Locke's ideas on property, what exactly are kadlus1964 and axoloti complaining about?

What is it about freedom and public service, cornerstones of democratic societies, that they hate?

Posted by: DrDemocracy | February 22, 2011 8:45 AM | Report abuse

As I understand it, Wisconsin teachers have mandatory union membership. I am strongly opposed to this.

I worked for school systems where membership in the NEA was not mandatory. (For the record, I was a member.) At the beginning, it was presented as a "professional organization." However, after the NEA and the AFT combined (do I remember this correctly?), things became more and more unionized. As the years have gone by, the "bargaining" is more demanding for teachers' rights, and less about improving the education of children.

Teachers' rights and quality education do not necessarily go together. An example of this is in some districts where newer teachers have been laid off because the union was not willing to take cuts in its demands for pay and benefits. The negotiations resulted in better pay and larger classes. That is an example of collective bargaining.

Posted by: mmkm | February 22, 2011 9:11 AM | Report abuse

mmkm,

While I agree with your two points (mandatory membership and larger class sizes), I do not believe in your snowball and exaggerated logic: "As the years have gone by, the "bargaining" is more demanding for teachers' rights, and less about improving the education of children." Not all unions have decided to fire and raise class sizes. Some districts are at the point where no more can be fired and no more concessions can be made without cutting into paychecks. Some unions have done both, fired and taken cuts. In a few unions, teachers and district staff have pooled monies together to keep the new teachers. Just some examples of collective bargaining that I have read in the newspaper in the past year.


Posted by: DHume1 | February 22, 2011 10:30 AM | Report abuse

Since I live here in Wisconsin, I can't help mentioning some facts in response to the comments.

Wisconsin schools have one of the highest graduation rates in the country.

The unions here work hand in hand with school districts and school boards to improve education for students.

The Wisconsin teachers union recently accepted "reforms" like merit pay, etc., etc.

Wisconsin public sector employees earn less than their private sector counterparts when you consider their educational level.

@axolotl, please read:
Walker is a Tea Partier.
I understand your viewpoint based on comments you have made in the past regarding DC schools. However, Wisconsin schools for the most part are excellent. No one hear would win if we fired our teachers. Our teachers are good. Our governor is extremely right wing. He wants to pay teachers less. He is not trying to reform our schools. As much as anti-Rhee supporters criticized Fenty and Rhee, this is worse. This governor simply does not want to deal with teachers. He is not trying to reform education, he is using the teachers as scapegoats and trying to pit the taxpayers against teachers to promote his agenda.

Our governor Walker is strongly supported by the Tea Party. The unions here have somewhat reluctantly embraced school reforms to reapply for Race to the Top money. Walker has already turned down money for high speed rail from the feds, to the tune of 800 million dollars.

He seems to be using these extreme tactics to promote himself nationally. He does not seem concerned with the future of Wisconsin's education system. I have seen nothing that implies that he wants to reform education here. And what would he reform? The schools are excellent.

Of course there is poverty here as everywhere. And, of course, those schools need help. But Walker is cutting Medicaid, public transit and school budgets. He is certainly not on the side of the poor or on the side of people of color (given that they are disproportionately going to feel the effects of this budget repair bill).

Posted by: georgia198305 | February 22, 2011 10:40 AM | Report abuse

One more thing, one of the reasons the unions here were slow to embrace Race to the Top style reforms here was that there are a lot of small, rural districts here. But also, people here a bit skeptical of the federal governments use of test scores as complete evidence of achievement. People here still talk of meaningful education for students. Going overboard on test prepping in the form of worksheet after worksheet is not the norm here.

Another reason Wisconsin schools are a bit skeptical of Race to the Top funding, they are very, very proud of the schools here. They think they are very good.

Posted by: georgia198305 | February 22, 2011 10:45 AM | Report abuse

Not that anyone cares, but above I stated that Walker is a Tea Partier. That may not be accurate, perhaps he is just a huge favorite of the Tea Party. Also, the American Heritage Foundation and Americans for Prosperity have been very strong at getting out their messages in the media here in Wisconsin.

The ones you see in the protests are parents, office workers, firefighters, families, teachers. Very few supporters of Scott Walker have appeared, only a few the day they were bussed in on Americans for Prosperity busses. I think Americans for Prosperity is a group funded by wealthy people. They want to save on taxes.

Here in Wisconsin many feel that this attack on working families and the middle class is big government at its worst.

Posted by: georgia198305 | February 22, 2011 10:56 AM | Report abuse

This is a good argument for why unions are a disservice to the education profession, and cause the mistrust and lack of respect the general public has for teachers unions: http://educationvoodoo.wordpress.com/2011/02/22/are-jcps-and-jefferson-county-teachers-association-passively-supporting-institutionalized-racism-with-their-teacher-transfer-policies-you-decide/

Posted by: kytaxpayer | February 22, 2011 10:59 AM | Report abuse

Teachers' hefty salaries are driving up taxes, and they only work 9 or10 months a year! It's time we put things in perspective and pay them for what they do - babysit! We can get that for less than minimum wage.

That's right. Let's give them $3.00 an hour and only the hours they worked; not any of that silly planning time, or any time they spend before or after school. That would be $19.50 a day (7:45 to 3:00 PM with 45 min. off for lunch and plan-- that equals 6 1/2 hours).

Each parent should pay $19.50 a day for these teachers to baby-sit their children. Now how many students do they teach in a day...maybe 30? So that's $19.50 x 30 = $585.00 a day.
However, remember they only work 180 days a year!!! I am not going to pay them for any vacations.


LET'S SEE....
That's $585 X 180= $105,300
per year. (Hold on! My calculator needs new batteries).

What about those special education teachers and the ones with Master's degrees? Well, we could pay them minimum wage ($7.75), and just to be fair, round it off to $8.00 an
hour. That would be $8 X 6 1/2 hours X 30 children X 180 days = $280,800 per year.
Wait a minute -- there's
something wrong here! There sure is!
The average teacher's salary
(nation wide) is $50,000. $50,000/180 days
= $277.77/per day/30
students=$9.25/6.5 hours = $1.42 per hour per student--a very inexpensive baby-sitter and they even EDUCATE your kids!) WHAT A DEAL!!!!

Posted by: kotchg2074 | February 22, 2011 11:18 AM | Report abuse

Having recently returned from Arizona, I would like to endorse Diane's comments about the difficulties teachers and parents have in that state: I spoke with a special education teacher who is only making $32,000-$34,000 (can't remember the exact amount) after 10 years of teaching experience plus her college education. There is talk of Arizona cutting teacher salaries even more; she and her husband already had to declare bankruptcy when he lost his job and they have a special needs child of their own. They are thinking of leaving the state; If they do, Arizona will lose one very fine teacher - as well as quite a few others (she was my grandson's resource teacher and helped both him and his mother negotiate very difficult circumstances).

Anyone against public school teachers having collective bargaining rights might want to pay close attention to the hardships going on in Arizona and how it is affecting the public schools.

Posted by: PLMichaelsArtist-at-Large | February 22, 2011 11:26 AM | Report abuse

@kotchg2074: You obviously have no idea what you are talking about.

Posted by: PLMichaelsArtist-at-Large | February 22, 2011 11:29 AM | Report abuse

Diane, you wrote: "If there is no organized force to advocate for public education in the state capitols of this nation, our children and our schools will suffer."

I take issue with your statement that "our children and our schools will [future tense] suffer."

If teacher unions have existed "to advocate for public education," then why have our children and our schools already suffered" - by some estimates for at least 30 years?

Posted by: BikingMan | February 22, 2011 12:05 PM | Report abuse

Diane, you wrote: "If there is no organized force to advocate for public education in the state capitols of this nation, our children and our schools will suffer."

I take issue with your statement that "our children and our schools will [future tense] suffer."

If teacher unions have existed "to advocate for public education," then why have our children and our schools already suffered" - by some estimates for at least 30 years?

Posted by: BikingMan | February 22, 2011 12:06 PM | Report abuse

Re: "I have been wondering if advocates of corporate school reform, such as Bill Gates, Eli Broad, and Michelle Rhee will come to the aid of the teachers in Wisconsin. I have been wondering if President Obama and Secretary Duncan, who were quick to applaud the firing of teachers in Central Falls, Rhode Island, will now step forward to support the teachers in Wisconsin. I have been wondering if Secretary Duncan, who only a few days earlier had led a much-publicized national conversation in Denver about the importance of collaboration between unions and management, will weigh in to support the teachers. I am ever hopeful, but will take care not to hold my breath".....If these folks you cite above are friends to education in general and teachers in particular, we are in deeper trouble than we know.

Posted by: dtking | February 22, 2011 12:35 PM | Report abuse

It is entirely possible to support public education and the teaching profession and at the same time to be opposed to mandatory union membership and collective bargaining for public unions.(As noted in today's Post editorial, Virgina has already implemented the same ban on collective bargaining for public unions - and it's teachers have received on average higher annual increases than those in Wisconsin since the ban.)

There is a fundamental reason to oppose collective bargaining by public unions - they have the ability through contributions and the ballot box to elect the individual on the other side of the table. This is a different dynamic than collective bargaining in private firms. For public unions, there is a already legislative redress for perceived unfairness and inequity.

Posted by: FYIColumbiaMD | February 22, 2011 2:37 PM | Report abuse

PLMichaelsArtist-at-Large, now why would you say that?

Posted by: kotchg2074 | February 22, 2011 3:00 PM | Report abuse

There is no one advocating for public schools, kids and teachers.

We can read about the lack of advocacy for kids by the reaction of the FFx County Public Schools with its response to the Woodson football player's suicide and the way he and his parents were/are being treated.

We can see that advocacy for kids has been driven underground because of the obsessive reliance and administering of standardized tests and the inequity in resources.

We can see in the way local, state, and federal legislators cut spending for education while telling us how important it is.

We know that teachers need representation when Principals can hand out disciplinary letters on trumped-up charges because someone speaks up and is the "association" rep in the building.

Or when the Principal decides to move a teacher in their last year of teaching to a brand new grade level.

Or to a school system who thinks of teachers as the enemy...a them against us mentality.

And when Superintendents use returning an administrator "back to the classroom" as a threat.

Or when HR wants to charge a retiring teacher sick leave for Christmas break because they don't want to pay for unused sick leave.

Or when a now part time teacher doesn't get full payment for a Master's Degree...something that was earned 25 years ago.

Or when the school system sends out potential RIF letters to brand new teachers and at the same time are sending administrators and their spouses all over the country to recruit.

Sad...but, soon no one will go into teaching...pay will be lower, benefits non existent, working conditions unbearable, and respect, along with morale will be at rock bottom.

Posted by: ilcn | February 22, 2011 3:59 PM | Report abuse

The question to be answered is whether teachers should have a union like factory workers, garbage collectors, etc., that bargains for money and benefits, or whether they should have a professional organzation like lawyers, doctors, etc., that polices its own members, deciding questions of policy (such as whether attorneys can advertise) and refusing admittance to otherwise legally qualified people (such as the Bar Association refusing membership on moral grounds to someone who has passed his bar exam). Teachers want to be union members when it comes to being paid for every bit of work done, but they insist they should be accorded the respect of "professionals," with time to attend professional conferences and so on. First, make up your minds as to what you are and then behave accordingly.

Posted by: sideswiththekids | February 22, 2011 4:29 PM | Report abuse

If teaching was such a cushy job and teachers were overpaid and underworked and the benefits were out of this world, we'd have a glut of teachers in this country and everyone in college would be majoring in education.

As it is, there is a teacher shortage and more than 50% leave within their first 5 years. If it's so great, why do so many leave?

As for benefits, they aren't THAT great. Our benefits in DCPS are NOT paid for by the DC Government or the WTU. A portion of our health insurance is paid by the DC Government. As for our pensions, do people realize we give up a portion of our salary every paycheck (8%) which goes into a retirement fund? So the DC Government is NOT footing the bill for teachers' retirement plans.

The "job security" which USED to exist for public employees was an "exchange" of sorts for much lower salaries than one would receive in the public sector for the same type of job requiring the same amount of training/education. I can tell you, there's no longer job security in the public sector, especially in teaching.

People think there's a "crisis" in public education--a farce fabricated by non-educators like Rhee and big money like Bill Gates. Wait in a few years when there's a real crisis: not enough teachers to teach because of older teachers retiring, younger teachers leaving and no one majoring in education because of all the teacher bashing.

I've held other jobs in my 44 years of living--one as a CEO of a non-profit. As a teacher, I put in far more hours than I ever did in any other job and for much less money. I do it because I enjoy my students--certainly not for the appreciation of the general public which is non-existent.

Posted by: UrbanDweller | February 22, 2011 4:38 PM | Report abuse

Sorry, typo in previous post. Meant to type: The "job security" which USED to exist for public employees was an "exchange" of sorts for much lower salaries than one would receive in the PRIVATE sector for the same type of job requiring the same amount of training/education.

Posted by: UrbanDweller | February 22, 2011 4:42 PM | Report abuse

The problem with teacher's unions is simple: they advocate for teachers, not students. Our education system is broken largely due to the fact that once a teacher gets their position, it is almost impossible for them to lose it. There is no system to reward good teachers. The bad teachers just get shuffled around from school to school. Even if a teacher has sexually assaulted a child,they are unlikely to lose their job.

I have NEVER held a position where I could hide behind a contract or union to protect my job. It's time that teachers were held responsible for the quality of their work like normal Americans.

Let's make the environment more competitive - let's get rid of a union's ability to dictate the quality of our children's education and future. We need reform!

Posted by: hwplacid | February 22, 2011 4:42 PM | Report abuse

Thank you Ms. Ravitch.

Posted by: juliedearborn | February 22, 2011 5:45 PM | Report abuse

Great article. Teachers needs to be treated as human beings, not as slaves who work for low pay and unlimited work.

Posted by: educationlover54 | February 22, 2011 6:21 PM | Report abuse

I never saw the union protect a bad teacher, however I have seen administration protect bad teachers.

If people want teachers to have no fairness (such as employees in business have no fairness) why aren't they willing to pay teachers the same wages as in business?

They want to take away the teacher's right to fairness, but don't want to pay them enough money to make them want to give up fairness.

I say to those who attack the unionization of teachers - to become teachers yourselves. If you are too selfish to work for teacher's wages you shouldn't be critizing teachers.

Posted by: educationlover54 | February 22, 2011 6:26 PM | Report abuse

hwplacid,

Give up your selfishness, and go to work for a teacher's wages. Also - go to work in the inner city. I would love to see someone as selfish as you are working with poor children.

Posted by: educationlover54 | February 22, 2011 6:28 PM | Report abuse

"Teachers' hefty salaries are driving up taxes, and they only work 9 or10 months a year! It's time we put things in perspective and pay them for what they do - babysit! We can get that for less than minimum wage."

Liar! I get 37,000 with a Master's degree. Stop lying, teacher's wages are lower overall (with some exceptions) than wages are in business.

Posted by: educationlover54 | February 22, 2011 6:31 PM | Report abuse

kotchg724's point was that you would have to pay a teacher 100,000 to "babysit".

Posted by: georgia198305 | February 22, 2011 11:00 PM | Report abuse


I think that health care reform is a great idea. I have type 1 diabetes and for me to get insurance, it was a nightmare until I found "Wise Health Insurance" search for them online and you can get affordable health insurance instantly.

Posted by: gonzamunz | February 23, 2011 4:59 AM | Report abuse

(Part 1)

There’s been a vigorous back-and-forth over teachers unions, with some citing anti-union bogs as “evidence,” and others opining that teachers rights and quality education cannot co-exist (carry that illogic forward and it means that citizen rights and quality governance cannot co-exist either...so much for democratic societies).

Others take a conspiratorial view of teachers and unions: if teachers are allowed to bargain collectively, then “through contributions and the ballot box” they might actually participate in the electoral process. How dare they. As though there are no others in free and open elections who contribute and vote their interests. I’m curious as to whether the person who posted this view, who claims to be a proponent of public education, has any understanding of the Citizens United decision by the Supreme Court’s conservative majority, and how that ruling dramatically skewed the electoral landscape in favor of those with the most money.

Public education is a cornerstone of any democratic society, and that’s been especially true in the United States. I’ve pointed out in other posts that in the early years of the republic, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Horace Mann and other early advocates for public schools agreed that democratic citizenship was a primary function of education.

Conservatives and progressives have argued over how best to educate the “democratic citizen,” one who understood and was committed to the core values and principles of democratic governance; one who was embued with what Aristotle called the “character of democracy.” Clearly, there have and continue to be certain people and groups and special interests who’ve felt threatened by education for “the masses.” Knowledge can be power.

Posted by: DrDemocracy | February 23, 2011 7:41 AM | Report abuse

(Part 2)

The current reform mania stems fro “A Nation at Risk,” a conservative screed noted for its inaccuracy as well as its impact on reshaping public education not for democratic citizenship, but for “economic competitiveness,” a “paradigm shift” for which there was absolutely no evidence.

This brand of “reform” is top-down and almost always autocratic. It relies almost exclusively on high-stakes testing, which not only violates essential principles of assessment, but also typically narrows curriculum and instruction. It is based on policies and practices that have little or no research base. It makes teachers scapegoats for social and economic problems and issues that they did not cause. It makes education worse. The is the conservative-originated and corporate-approved approach to “reform.” (One pushed by Rhee, Bill Gates, Wendy Kopp and a host of other opportunists and charlatans.)

Progressives have other ideas about the reform of public education. Those ideas tend to be research-based and student-centered. They are based on a collaboration that includes shared decision-making and that values teacher professionalism. They utilize assessment as a diagnostic tool to improve curriculum, instruction and learning. They restore to public education its critical role in promoting democratic citizenship. They employ policies and practice that reflect essential democratic values and principles and that treat people with dignity and respect. They enhance motivation.

They work.

Posted by: DrDemocracy | February 23, 2011 7:43 AM | Report abuse

The argument over teachers unions is not one about education. It’s about politics.

Here’s the Post article today that discusses the issue:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2011/02/22/AR2011022205139.html?hpid=topnews&sid=ST2011022205352

The reporter points out that “the controversy” over teacher unions is being pushed mostly by Republican governors who pit them against the public over budget problems. The governors are joined by “influential conservative groups such as Americans for Prosperity, funded in part by billionaire industrialist brothers David and Charles Koch.”

The Kochs make the John Birchers seem timid. They are also big Tea Party donors (and directors), and seem to enjoy a special relationship with Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia aad Clarence Thomas.

The Republican Party gave the nation supply-side economics, and its attendant tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations, gross income stratification, big budget deficits and ballooned national debt, huge trade deficits, and rampant deregulation of Wall Street. The result was massive financial fraud that nearly broke the economic, and economic dislocation that continues. The perpetrators of this were enabled, abetted, bailed out, and enriched. They were never held “accountable.”

At every turn, conservative Republicans have favored the wealthy over regular citizens. They’ve picked corporate interests over the well-being of the nation. They’ve made the rich richer, and the poor poorer, and squeezed the shrinking middle class. Instead of taking responsibility for their actions, they blame others.

Chris Christie, governor of New Jersey, has the audacity to say, and with a straight face, “let's not pick the special interests over our overburdened taxpayers."

That IS the conservative Republican modus operandi; it is their standard operating procedure. It is their platform. Give to the wealthy and to loyalists, and as much as possible, privatize the public treasuries. Socialized capitalism. Let everybody else pay for it...and never own up to the damage(s) that ensue.

There is, of course, a far better way.

Posted by: DrDemocracy | February 23, 2011 8:30 AM | Report abuse

Dr. Democracy,

"Others take a conspiratorial view of teachers and unions: if teachers are allowed to bargain collectively, then “through contributions and the ballot box” they might actually participate in the electoral process. How dare they. As though there are no others in free and open elections who contribute and vote their interests."

The guy must live in a hermetic bubble. He also never heard of the Koch brothers apparently.

Posted by: DHume1 | February 23, 2011 8:31 AM | Report abuse

While there have been bad apples in unions, just as there are in any institution, the mere existence of public unions is NOT the cause of today's financial deficit problems...nor are the pensions bargained for by the public unions for the workers the cause of these deficits either (but they sure are great big targets to shoot at when we get into difficult times)...public workers, teachers especially, are paid significantly less in current income levels than 'market' rates so benefits and pensions make the net present value of labor costs roughly equivalent between private and public workers...otherwise, NO ONE would work for public sector wages...also, a teacher's pension, in CA at least, also replaces social security which teachers do not receive...THE BOTTOM LINE: if greed had not reigned supreme (and unchecked) this past decade plus, where financial institutions siphoned trillions from the masses (public and private sector alike), we would not have underfunded pensions, state deficits, etc....so this is a classic divide and conquer approach (playing currently in Libya, and luckily failed in Egypt) where those aligned with the ruling elite battle the advocates for equality (read anyone making less than six figures a year, on average) while the uber-rich who now have nearly ALL the money sit back and smile at how they not only robbed the poor, but now get to blame the same folks they robbed and stir up those aligned with what they espouse as capitalism and free market theory bash the unions who are the only real-defense the public sector has...and sadly, the private sector poor (again less than six figures on average), have no recourse since their 401(k)s (to include mine) were siphoned off too...but just because that is reality does not mean public sector employees should suffer further...two wrongs do not make a right!

Posted by: dreid64 | February 23, 2011 4:31 PM | Report abuse

All public employees, including teachers, need unions because every nitwit on the planet thinks they know what public employees do and what we are.

Walk a mile in our shoes. See how you like being a political football and fair game to any nitwit who thinks they could do your job better. You probably think you could run IBM better too. You make my hair hurt.

I'm not sure the folks droning on about public employee salaries are really whining about that. A wise old man told me "No matter how low taxes are, they are still too high."

We in the USA are deluded, and led by pandering elected officials to slip ever deeper into our delusions. Government can do more with less, they say. We really can lower taxes and maintain services they say. Well, maybe we could if we just funded the services I wanted, but not yours.

The idea of a union is to have a countervailing force against employers. They are necessary to avoid exploitation of workers. Read some of the 19th and early 20th century history of unions if you think that isn't possible. Look at labor conditions in China, or India, or South Africa, or Brazil.

If you like your safer work environments, if you like the fact that employers have to meet payroll, if you like the the notion of 8 hour days and 40 hour weeks, thank a union. If none of that applies to you, if you think your boss would never act like that, your industry was probably never unionized.

Unions are the reason we have (for now at least) a middle class. If you want to go back to the days of sweatshops, ban unions.

Posted by: sarab1321 | February 23, 2011 8:03 PM | Report abuse

These are sad times to be a teacher. It seems that nobody has mentioned that the teaching workforce is 70% women. Women need to remind the politicians and news media that the bankers and stockbrokers have much to answer for the current economic situation, but those fields are dominated by men. The media needs to look further into this aspect.

Posted by: bandtech | February 25, 2011 6:12 PM | Report abuse

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