I was watching Bloomberg today, and it kind of threw me that the discussion went the way that it did about unions and school shortcomings. There were several points that I thought were left out; I do understand why HISD was not called into question over its own past, but to say that unions are the cause of poor teaching or poor scores is outrageous.
I would like to remind you that many teachers get involved with unions because they offer millions of dollars of legal aid, should the issue arise that they need representation. Yes, I get notices about candidates and bills, but to tell you the truth, I have written the governor, the past heads of education at TEA and other resources, and way more congressmen and senators than I care to count, and it had little to do with NEA, TFT, or any other union. I'm a pro, and I pay attention. I read the NCLBA, 600+ pages of unpaid for promises and projections where more was said about children in the Marshal Islands than at-risk youth in the 50 States.
At this stage of the game, I have been paid 1.8 % increases for 10 years while inflation was upwards of 3 to 4% per year, and they back peddled on my insurance and cut back on my stipend and yearly funds for my classroom. If I had been depending on unions to crush the state on my behalf, I would say they had failed miserably. At this point, I would need an additional $18,000 just to catch up with inflation, so that is not even a point to raise. As far as whether of not unions keep it impossible to get rid of teachers who are not good at their profession, give me a break.
Bad teachers, like bad employees everywhere, are tough to get rid of, unless you simply do not renew their contracts. I have no guarantees. This year my evaluation was 47/45, a perfect score. I have been teaching for 32 years. I may or may not have a single student from my at-risk classes, where I teach at an alternative campus, to fail the TAKS Test. Last year I had one. My little school takes in about 120 kids per year and we graduate about 30 to 35, a good 10% of the entire high school, and with only 5 teachers, and one aid. We share our principal with two other programs, and we have one secretary. No other full time staff. I have 9 year-old computers, left over everything, and I am in a building that does not even have an elevator to my second floor class. I doubt that unions have had much effect on this joint.
In a day and age when the public in public education is missing, MIA, the administration has sent themselves to Japan several times, the superintendent makes 5 times what I make, they spent a million dollars a year on the sports programs this last ten years, and where our TAKS scores are low and our drop out rate is high, we have more on our plate to worry about than whether we are being infiltrated by TFT.
The biggest issue that was raised by the right wing side was that education union lobbyists have bought off congress, created the laws they operate by, and then written themselves a big fat pay check and plenty of protection. I find it laughable that they would say this since this is exactly what corporations have done. It never ceases to amaze me how people will excuse themselves by accusing others of doing what they themselves are plainly guilty of. It is like they think if they say someone else is doing it they themselves will be exonerated. I'm sorry if that sounds jaded. I've been in the HR office a dozen times and told that if I was unhappy in my job that they would be sure to give me a good recommendation. That is rich! Of course they would; I'm a damn good teacher.
Their point is that if I don't like how things are going then I should move out of town since there is only one alternative school and one high school. Here's what I tell them: "I live here, and this is my community. You are just passing through and getting your best three years in so you can retire. I complain because I am of the opinion that I have some clue about my community since I have been teaching here for a quarter of a century. I will be here long after you are gone, and I will be here when the guy who replaces you is dead of old age. I'm only 56 and I have another 20 years in me. So, let's talk about those changes you are eventually going to make anyway."
I'm hard core. I use the union, not the other way around. I teach kids, and the day that I am not prepared to do whatever it takes to get through to them even if I get canned is the day I will quit. I resent the former Superintendent of HISD, where they have schools that service over 40 languages per building, misquoting, "Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely." Those in power, Lord Acton says, are those who most often abuse their power, and yet we have heard that teachers, who have about the least power of all in schools, are the ones abusing it! From where do we hear this? The top.
I often have to remind myself of a very simple fact: In a free market system, all voices are a part of the market. The left, the center, and the right, all are players in the free market system and are playing their part in the supply and demand curve. The right, like say Walmart, is simply saying that Target is a socialist! Social justice is in fact one of the thoughts that is for sale, and the market will make its choice, given a fair chance. The back room deals have been made in the board rooms of corporations, not on the last night of health care debate. This reversal of accusations is the same process we always go through. We are told the opposite of the truth as an accusation of the opposing side.
Harvard created the 5 paragraph theme. The right has opposed progress. The school administration has kept teachers from being able to teach, isolated parents, and then hidden themselves away behind cherry desks. The guilty ones were the ones who were pointing fingers. Get a room full of parents and ask them; they were school students once.
Lastly, the point of the argument was a set up. To prove that unions were to blame for the entire failing of schools would have been impossible. To prove that they have in some way contributed was easy since the point was made that unions protect the professionalism of teaching as an institution. The question was snake bit. Are teachers better trained and more likely to maintain professional standing as union members, yes. If, and this was the entire point of the opposition, we unleash the dogs and let people use vouchers to take their kids to private schools, people will in fact take their kids out of public school if they can afford it. In many cases they do, and it is not illegal to do so. In fact what the right wants is a de facto tax cut that allows them to walk with their tax money to help them pay for private schooling for their kids. They see public education as a socialist institution. If they can opt out of education, let's go all the way. I would like to pay only for the things I want to pay for too. They have way more than I have, so I think they should pay more to protect it if they want. If I were able to choose what I wanted my tax money to go for, I would shut them down. They on the other hand actually own the private schools and stand to make a killing if vouchers are enacted. It's a scam to get tax dollars they can use to promote their own agendas by giving their kids a narrower view of the world. Ask their kids about world affairs and you will get stuffy, coded, vague aspirations of self-righteousness.
I say let them do it. Private school teachers make less. It is bottom line driven. IF they take out $2,000 from the public schools, and pay the same in taxes, it will only serve to strengthen the amount individual students will have in public schools, because $4,500 - $2,000 is still $2,500 left in the public school kitty. Don't throw me in the briar patch!
These guys are not good businessmen; they are sharks in a tank. I am betting that they will first want to take the vouchers and then lower education tax revenues, all one plan.
Without their hyper-backgrounded kids taking every award and grant, the regular kids may actually have a chance to excel. Think outside the box.
We can't all be CEO's and get bailed out.
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