“No Man’s life liberty or property is safe while the legislature is in session”.

- attributed to NY State Judge Gideon Tucker

Friday, May 6, 2011

Regarding Randi Weingarten

It's been instructive to read Randi Weingarten's views on teaching and teachers, while attempting to ignore their unions, in recent editions of the Wall Street Journal.

Back in late March, Weingarten was the subject of the Journal's feature weekend edition interview. Jason Riley's piece on the interview allowed Weingarten to damn herself in her own words. Here's an example,

"Ms. Weingarten insists that teachers unions are agents of change, not defenders of the status quo. But in the next breath she shoots down suggestions for changes- vouchers, charter schools, differential teacher pay and so on- that have become important parts of the reform conversation."

Here's another example of Weingarten's blindness to reality in education,

" "We've started some charter schools, but there are studies out there that say 80% of charter schools are no better [than traditional public schools] and 37% are worse." she says. "We've tried merit pay in a few places [but] there's a new study from Vanderbilt University that says it doesn't work." And school vouchers "have never been shown to be successful," she insists, ignoring the results of a study last year by Patrick Wolf of the University of Arkansas, who found that "students in Washington, D.C., who used a federally funded voucher to attend a private school were more likely to graduate from high school." "
Weingarten dismisses Michelle Rhee's work in Washington, and when reminded that George Meany and FDR were against public sector unions, she replied,

"If Meany and FDR were alive today, they'd have a very different view."

How humble of Weingarten to so radically alter the views of the dead, when their live comments are so inconvenient.

Riley ends his article by reminding readers that teachers unions excel at obstructing progress which can help students learn and perform better. They

 "agitate for laws and regulations that ban means-tested voucher programs or cap the number of charter schools that can open in a state. To protect jobs for their members, they fight to keep the worst instructors from being fired and the worst schools from closing. All the while, they insist that their interests are aligned with those of the kids.

It is this skill set that has made Ms. Weingarten a documentary film star."

One gets the clear sense from the interview that Weingarten tries very hard to erase the distinction between real classroom teachers and their unions.

This is not a trivial point. I have been discussing the New Jersey teaching and teachers' union situation with a friend ever since Chris Christie was elected. From my many conversations with him, I have come to learn several things.

First, he really is motivated to do his job well. And I believe most of his colleagues are, as well.

Second, he is exasperated with his own union. He describes the situation thus,

"I don't have a choice. If I want this job, I must belong to the union. We just vote the way they tell us. I can't do anything about my union or its management."

When I first sent him the Journal interview article mentioned above, he was extremely disappointed in Weingarten's views. He saw how out of touch and provincial her comments are. The conversation turned to her pay, and I sent him this Wall Street Journal article from January of this year concerning her recent compensation,

"Randi Weingarten, the former head of the New York City teachers' union, received $194,188 last year from the United Federation of Teachers for unused sick days and vacation time accrued before she left to become president of the American Federation of Teachers, boosting her total compensation to more than $600,000 for 2010."

Elsewhere, I found that she now earns $350,000 annually as head of the AFT, and passed that information along to my friend. He was outraged.

Perhaps the best evidence of how corrupt and blind Weingarten is was her recent editorial in the April 25, 2011 edition of the Journal entitled Markets Aren't the Education Solution.

In it, Weingarten blasts those who criticize teachers, claiming,

"These countries emphasize teacher preparation, mentoring and collaboration. They revere and respect their teachers; they don't demonize them. Virtually all of them are unionized. In fact, school leaders in these countries work very closely with their unions, and most said they would never introduce changes or legislation without union collaboration."

The countries to which Weingarten referred were Finland, Singapore and South Korea. But we have no idea, from her article, just what the nature of their unions are. Or how much sway those unions have, relative to state-based US teachers' unions, over work rules, pensions, etc.

Weingarten closes her impassioned beat-down of market-oriented school reforms by wrapping herself in the flag and calling for the US to not fail to "prepare our children for the new world they will inherit."

However, having read Riley's article first, one discounts the so-called evidence against charter schools, reforms, etc., that Weingarten includes in her own editorial. Not to mention that she goes even further to virtually co-identify teachers and Weingarten's union.

But, thanks to comments by my teacher friend, I know that's not how Weingarten's union members actually see the world. In fact, when I asked my friend about the Wisconsin legislation which would end the state's collection of teachers' union dues directly from their paychecks, he confirmed that, if those dues were not involuntarily deducted from his pay, he'd never bother contributing them voluntarily to his union.

Weingarten preys on a presumed ignorance by other parties of the realities of teaching and schooling in America. Teachers aren't unions- they are forced to belong to them. Unions don't teach- they extort taxpayers, pay their own executives lavishly, and obstruct reforms, like all unions do, in order to protect current members. Taxpayers know the difference between teachers they respect, and unions which they despise for blocking changes to allow better education for their children.

Just consider how different our education system would be if this single change were made. Suppose your local town/city no longer ran a school system but, rather, vouchered a fixed tuition amount to each family for each child, allowing that family to send each child to any privately-owned and run school which had been certified by some appropriate authority. This wouldn't prevent teachers from belonging to a union, but it would mean that, at least in right-to-work states, teachers would not be forced to belong to a union. Some schools might even pursue a strategy of charging higher tuition, hiring only the best teachers, and paying them far more than union scale wages.

Now that would be innovation! And it could still provide for teachers' unions to exist. But the market would determine which schools prospered, and which did not. But that's a future Weingarten could never accept or tolerate. The potential for failure of the worst unionized teachers would be too high.

As if reading my mind, Donald Boudreaux wrote a tongue-in-cheek editorial in yesterday's Wall Street Journal entitled If Supermarkets Were Like Public Schools, obviously with people like AFT union boss Weingarten in mind. Here are some of the humorous passages,

"Teachers unions and their political allies argue that market forces can't supply quality education. According to them, only our existing system—politicized and monopolistic—will do the trick. Yet Americans would find that approach ludicrous if applied to other vital goods or services.

Suppose that groceries were supplied in the same way as K-12 education. Residents of each county would pay taxes on their properties. Nearly half of those tax revenues would then be spent by government officials to build and operate supermarkets. Each family would be assigned to a particular supermarket according to its home address. And each family would get its weekly allotment of groceries—"for free"—from its neighborhood public supermarket.

No family would be permitted to get groceries from a public supermarket outside of its district. Fortunately, though, thanks to a Supreme Court decision, families would be free to shop at private supermarkets that charge directly for the groceries they offer. Private-supermarket families, however, would receive no reductions in their property taxes.

Being largely protected from consumer choice, almost all public supermarkets would be worse than private ones. In poor counties the quality of public supermarkets would be downright abysmal. Poor people—entitled in principle to excellent supermarkets—would in fact suffer unusually poor supermarket quality.

How could it be otherwise? Public supermarkets would have captive customers and revenues supplied not by customers but by the government. Of course they wouldn't organize themselves efficiently to meet customers' demands.

Responding to these failures, thoughtful souls would call for "supermarket choice" fueled by vouchers or tax credits. Those calls would be vigorously opposed by public-supermarket administrators and workers.

Opponents of supermarket choice would accuse its proponents of demonizing supermarket workers (who, after all, have no control over their customers' poor eating habits at home). Advocates of choice would also be accused of trying to deny ordinary families the food needed for survival. Such choice, it would be alleged, would drain precious resources from public supermarkets whose poor performance testifies to their overwhelming need for more public funds.

In the face of calls for supermarket choice, supermarket-workers unions would use their significant resources for lobbying—in favor of public-supermarkets' monopoly power and against any suggestion that market forces are appropriate for delivering something as essential as groceries. Some indignant public-supermarket defenders would even rail against the insensitivity of referring to grocery shoppers as "customers," on the grounds that the relationship between the public servants who supply life-giving groceries and the citizens who need those groceries is not so crass as to be discussed in terms of commerce.

Recognizing that the erosion of their monopoly would stop the gravy train that pays their members handsome salaries without requiring them to satisfy paying customers, unions would ensure that any grass-roots effort to introduce supermarket choice meets fierce political opposition.

In reality, of course, groceries and many other staples of daily life are distributed with extraordinary effectiveness by competitive markets responding to consumer choice. The same could be true of education—the unions' self-serving protestations notwithstanding."

It's not hard to recognize Weingarten and her union in Boudreaux's parody. The sad thing is, it's so easy to see he's right and she's wrong. But, as the second to the last paragraph explains, this is Weingarten's and her union management colleagues' rice bowl. They simply can't afford to let their members experiment with any other approach that might decrease union dues and Weingarten's national power over education.

The more Weingarten speaks and writes, the easier it will be for taxpayers, parents, and, yes, even teachers to realize how misaligned teachers' unions and their union bosses are with better education for children in America.

No comments: