Thursday, August 18, 2005

Teachers vs. Kids

Two articles today relating to negotiations with teachers' unions in NYC and Buffalo -- both visit a theme that really bothers me, so pardon this little rant.

In Buffalo, the union and the district are at an "impasse" over the teachers' insurance benefit options, which the district wants to consolidate. The president of the Buffalo Teachers Federation, Philip Rumore, is challenging this decision with a law suit. In response, the superintendent said this:
"If we don't do this, the school district will go bankrupt," Williams said of the consolidation. In a comment clearly aimed at Rumore, he added: "Do you care about children, do you care about teachers or do you care about yourself?"

In New York, the UFT and Bloomberg are apparently further from a contract than we thought they were. Addressing this impasse, Bloomy said:
We do need to have some changes in work rules that are inhibiting our ability to educate our kids, which is the fundamental purpose that the Department of Education exists for. It’s not a, the Department of Education isn’t there to create jobs. It’s there to educate our kids, and, so, we need to get some changes, which, I think, would not be onerous to teachers.

Got the pattern yet? Public officials use this kind of language all the time: teachers unions act in their own interest at the expense of kids. They create this false choice: that the unions can either side with the teachers, or they can side with the children. If teachers are gaining, children are losing.

But this is an inaccurate and silly way to look at the role of unions. The funding that goes to teachers in the form of higher salaries and benefits would not otherwise "go to the children." School funding goes toward bringing the best available resources and personnel into the classrooms. If you're not spending that money on health insurance, say, then you're repelling some teachers who are qualified enough to take a job somewhere that can afford to give them a great benefits package.

No other industry works like this. Not even Wal-Mart makes the argument that their employees somehow don't care about customers if they want union representation and benefits. Why does this exist? It goes back to teaching being historically a female occupation; its persistence is a barrier to real teacher professionalism.

7 comments:

NYC Educator said...

I agree with you, mostly. I think there's a dangerous misconception floating out there--that teachers have too many benefits and they should be curtailed, for sake of fairness.

The truth is just the opposite--all American workers should have good benefits, particularly health insurance. They do it in Canada, they do it in Europe, and we could do it here if we only stopped watching Fox News.

Walmart is a disgrace. Dick Cheney, with heart problems both literal and figurative, calls it one of America's best businesses. He should thank God he doesn't work there.

Ex Math Teacher said...

So let's just suppose for a minute that teacher unions really are an obstacle to getting good teachers to hard-to-staff schools.

In school districts with no unions or weak unions, do they do a great job of getting the best teachers to hard-to-staff schools?

Probably not.

COD said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
COD said...

(reposted to fix glaring typo)

The union doesn't care about educating kids, anymore than than the UAW cares about quality at Ford Motor Co. Unions exist to protect jobs and maximize pay and benefits. Unions are not required to educate children or make cars. Teachers, of course, do care about kids, just like the guy on the auto line likely cares about making quality vehicles. However,teachers or any other union members, have very little say about what goes on at the executive levels of their unions.

Unions should care about the big picture more, as ultimately the jobs depend on a healthy industry. However, the teachers unions doesn't really have that issue as public education is a government monopoly.

redhog said...

Cancer has been killed. Cured by a doctor who devoted all her gifts of brain and character. The world celebrates. Everyone is elated by mankind's victory over this merciless force of darkness. It had devastated us all at some point. Fete the physician!

Ah, not so fast! There has been a catch. Turns out that the doctor herself had something to gain by conquering cancer. It was part of an agenda-driven scam to benefit her own stricken cousin. Bounce back her prize. It was awarded under false pretenses. Her feat is discredited because she will have a share in its universal benefit.

The United Federation of Teachers union is the doctor. If its research produced the silver bullet against the malignancy of ignorance, and its therapy would collaterally improve teachers' standard of living or the quality of their professional life, the reactionary lobbies would sooner see the healing of children negated than concede the teachers union its contribution.

NYC Educator said...

First of all, teacher unions ARE teachers. Efforts to make a distinction are disingenuous and preposterous.

Second, unions do not select teachers. That's simply not what they do. They can suggest higher standards, and the UFT has for years. And their suggestions can be ignored, as NYC has done for years, opting to maximize recruitment at the expense of quality.

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