Wednesday, July 15, 2015

How AFT Blew It

I wouldn't devote one more post to deconstructing Randi Weingarten's early-bird Christmas gift to Hillary Clinton except that I'm an NEA member, and I'm living in fear that NEA president Lily Ekelsen Garcia's administration will lead us down the same path.

Arguing about Clinton (or Weingarten for that matter) is a tricky dance. Clinton tends to have a destabilizing effect on the brains of people who don't like her, who proceed to froth at the mouth at start ranting about conspiracies tortured enough make a truther blush. My opposition to Clinton (and support for Bernie Sanders) is not based on any belief that she is a terrible human being, a crazy-awful person, or some evil mastermind bitch on wheels. My reluctance to support her is not even based on my perception that she is extraordinarily inauthentic (though I think that magnifies her other issues). I just don't think she is remotely a supporter of public education or the teachers who work there. I think she would be perfectly comfortable continuing the exact same policies that we've suffered under for the past fifteen years and in fact would prefer to continue with them.

The counter-argument is that she's electable while Sanders is a modern George McGovern, beloved by liberals and doomed in the general election. Maybe Clinton is electable (though if that's the case I'd ask why? Could it be that she's electable because, other than her lack of a penis, she is indistinguishable from a Republican candidate). And there's a case to be made that endorsing early and ahead of the pack earns you a better voice in policy discussions.

But if she is electable, nobody's pretending it won't be a tough sell. And that's how AFT blew it.

Let me take a moment to tell you how I have always handled advising students who are in charge of putting on Prom. First, it takes months-- mooonnnnnnths. Because we make sure every student on class council has had a chance to propose an idea and explain that idea. Then students break into groups and they research and pitch the ideas. And then they discuss the ideas until every single person has been heard just as much as they want to be. And then they decide.

The process is long and involved and inefficient and often results in exactly the same theme-and-decoration decisions that the class president or I could have simply installed by fiat at the beginning of the process. But the long involved process doesn't just result in a decision about which color of vinyl to hand behind the cardboard castle. It also results in an entire group of students who are energized, informed, and invested. They know what we're doing, why we're doing it, and why it's the best solution we could come up with. They will work for that theme, even if it wasn't the one they most wanted.

The process of deciding on a candidate to endorse could-- and should-- also be the process of getting members educated, involved and invested in the decision. But leaders of large, unruly, cat-herding groups like a teachers union are reluctant to relinquish control. The irony here is that such groups are often run with the same top-down management style that has helped make education "reform" such a train wreck.

While AFT's tiny sample was legit for sampling purposes, Daniel Katz correctly notes that the massaging of the data makes it a bit suspect. But what it mostly did was completely fail to engage the members, and now instead of delivering a groundswell of Clinton enthusiasm, Weingarten delivers a free-wheeling cat-herding argument about leadership's choice for the union. Instead, the people who are excited about the endorsement are people like DFER-- the faux Democrats (also, faux democrats) who would like teachers to be Put in Their Place and for the unions to die. That's who's excited about this.

I believe some folks have grossly over-estimated Clinton's electability, under-estimated Sander's electability, and hugely under-estimated how much Clinton really doesn't support public education and the people who work there. I suppose time will tell.

But in the meantime, I'm really, really hoping that NEA will take a more careful approach to an endorsement. I hope we don't send the Dems the message that we will always be there for them, no matter how badly they treat us. I hope we don't cut the membership out of the process and just expect them to fall in line. And I hope we endorse somebody who isn't going to, once again, stab us in the back, front, and side.

The AFT used a long questionnaire  (about twenty-six questions, only eight of which directly addressed education). I'd like to see the NEA's list of questions include these two:

What did the Obama/Duncan administration get wrong about education?

What would your administration do differently going forward?

Because any candidate that wants support from teachers ought to be able to answer both of those, clearly and specifically. I'll be waiting.


  1. Thanks for the link to Bernie's answers to AFT's questionnaire. I was able to find Hillary's also, and Bernie's answers are so much better.

  2. I am not a huge fan of Berine's post secondary education policy. The largest problem is that replacing tuition with tax dollars is a transfer from the relatively poor to the relatively wealthy. Why should parents working for minimum wage pay taxes so that the children of the wealthy can go to Berkely, Michigan, or UVA at no cost to the family?

    There are also many problems in the details. Here is an interesting column from the Chronicle of Higer Ed:

    1. You're actually sort of right for a change. I'd hate to see wealthy families who could perfectly well afford college getting a free ride. I also don't think general taxes should pay for free college on top of everything else that general taxes pay for.

      Instead we could either implement a transaction tax on trades and investments, a higher sales tax rate for luxury goods or a greatly increased top marginal tax rate and that money should pay for all students below a certain income level (perhaps two or three times the federal poverty level) to attend public universities for free. Fair?

    2. Dienne,

      I am often right, but alas it is not always obvious to others. I argued this position on Dr. Ravitch's blog as well, and though I don't remember your support there, I am grateful for it here.

      A means tested tuition payment does make a great deal of sense, but merit based aid benefits the middle and upper classes much more.

      The problem with taxes on luxury goods is defining what is a luxury and how to prevent the weathy from avoding them. The yacht tax, for example, only destroyed the yacht building industry, putting many skilled carpenters out of work. The wealthy simply purchased homes that did not float.

    3. Actually, Bernie's proposed bill doesn't pay for college tuition using the general fund. It's paid for by "a tax on Wall Street transactions by investment houses, hedge funds, and other speculators." And it isn't a free ride for the wealthy. It's only for in-state tuition at a public university and the way it works is that it makes up the difference between the cost of tuition and fees and the amount a student gets from Pell Grants plus the FAFSA expected family contribution.

    4. Do you have a source for that tragic yacht story, TE? I'm having a hard time imagining the wealthy foregoing their yachts just because of a few extra bucks in taxes. And, really, if we can decide what poor people can and can't buy with their food stamps, it really shouldn't be that hard to decide what is or isn't a luxury good.

      Or, as noted before, we could just go with a transaction tax on investments and/or a top marginal tax rate. We could also close a lot of loopholes for off-shoring of assets. But I'm sure you'll have some baloney libertarian excuses for why those wouldn't work either.

    5. The yacht story is garbage. People still buy huge yachts (which is a tiny market to begin with). The question with the tax break is whether the ownership location of them is moved around by shell companies to avoid paying any tax or if they can be "lured" back to pay SOME tax.

      The end result? Your uncle who buys a small boat to go fishing, pays tax on the whole boat. Dan Loeb buys a small hotel at sea and pays on only a fraction of the boat.

      But "jobs".

    6. Here are a few links about the yacht tax:

      A transaction tax on investments would impact the countries largest investors: public employee retirement funds. Do you want to take even more money away from these funds?

      Increasing the top marginal rate would probably raise some money, but not a lot. We can look around for some CBO estimates.

    7. The tax on investments being talked about will only affect frequent traders: hedge funds, not retirement funds.

    8. 20 plus year old articles on yacht taxation do not actually address a point. There were taxes on yachts before the tax breaks. Billionaires bought yachts. They then set up various offshore shell companies to own the boats and avoided paying ANY taxes. The tax breaks are an effort to lure them back into actually participating in any taxation by capping the sales tax to a micro-fraction of the boat's worth.

      And there we get to the point: for the past 30-50 years, the extremely wealthy have managed to have the tax code rewritten so that, even though they may pay a nominally larger amount of money in taxes than the average citizen, they pay a tremendously smaller proportion of their income in taxes than most of us. The tax code has become a giant accommodation of the ways that they make most of their money, and this tax break is simply another example of it.

      You suggested the wealthy would stop buying boats. That's nonsense. They'd just continue to use their wealth to hide what they bought from legitimate taxation. As they've been doing for decades.

    9. See my response below. It ended up in the wrong place.

  3. We can't afford to let any Democratic candidate off with just a few questions. They need to be drilled intensely about vouchers, charters, privatization, standardized testing, teacher evaluations, VAM, unions, etc. Any who can't or won't give thorough and satisfactory answers should not get any teacher support.

    Of course, what should happen and what will happen.... Sigh.

  4. TE, I object to Kevin Carey, the author of the article in the Chronicle of Higher Ed you have the link to, calling Bernie Sanders and his ideas "charmingly utopian" and "kind of weird." There's nothing particularly "charming" about him - the general consensus is that he lacks charisma - but more importantly, there's nothing utopian or weird about his ideas. They're all very practical, specific, and doable.

    Carey doesn't object to anything about the funding of the higher ed bill, he just doesn't like the strings attached (bear in mind, states have to apply for these grants, and it's not mandatory to do so):
    (1) in five years, 75% of instruction has to be done by tenured or tenure-track faculty
    (2) leftover money from the grant must be used for academic purposes such as expanding course offerings, increasing full-time faculty, and providing faculty support as in professional development and shared governance.
    (3) leftover money cannot be used for non-academic facilities like student centers or stadiums, nor can it be used to pay administrator salaries.

    On the one hand, Carey says tenure is an important part of academic freedom, yet he thinks this stipulation will lead to too many PhD's and, somehow, "labor exploitation." (?) It's exploiting PhD's to have them teach? He also poo-poo's the "professor-centered vision of how to operate a university." Aren't professors the most important part of a university, just as teachers are the most important part of K-12 education?

    The stipulations make perfect sense to me, given that it's known that universities are top-heavy in administrators and are cutting corners by using more and more low-paid adjuncts to instruct, while not admitting people to tenure-track programs. Shouldn't most instruction be done by more knowledgeable people? And while student unions and rec centers and stadiums are nice, they're a big reason why college costs have risen so much, and shouldn't academic money be used for academic purposes? I think the stipulations show Bernie has his finger on what's really going on in higher ed.

    Carey thinks that instead of the bill, higher ed can be made more affordable by using technology to design a new kind of innovative "organization" specializing in fewer course options. (?) Sounds kind of like Phoenix to me. How is that innovative or desirable? I think Carey's the one with the weird ideas.

    1. Rebecca,

      The problem is that these distinctions don't make a lot of sense. Take the distinction between administrator's salary and faculty salary. At institutions like mine, the chancellor, the provost, many, but not all, of the associate provosts, all the deans and almost all the associate deans, all the department chairs, all the program directors, all the graduate directors, and all the undergraduate directors have significant administrative duties AND are faculty members. Which of their activities can be funded under Bernie's plan and which not? Every faculty member will starve on a search committee, screen and interview job applicants, and vote on hiring priorities. Are they administration while they do that work?

    2. Search committee members do get to eat, so that should be serve not starve.

  5. Peter, what do you think about Green Party candidate Jill Stein? Her statements on education seem to be very supportive of public ed. I finally took a look yesterday.

  6. Laurie, to me the Green Party has the right platform on all the issues, but pretty much so does Bernie, and he has much more specific ideas on how to actually implement them.

    1. But if you look at the specifics, I think Jill Stein has a much better grasp of the issues facing public education. Sanders (along with every single Democrat) just voted against the bill to codify parental opt out rights.

    2. I understand what you're saying, but did you read Bernie's answers to the AFT questionnaire? The "a long questionnaire" link in this post of Peter's is his answers.

  7. Rebecca,

    Retirement funds are the largest traders in these markets. They buy and sell financial assets every minute.

    If your talking about high frequency trading, I would agree there is an argument to tax them out of existence, but if you do that your tax raises no revenue.


    The tax on yachts destroyed many small boatbuilders because the relatively wealthy stopped buying yachts. I suppose it could be different this time, but why do you think the relatively rich would behave differently today than they did in 1990?

  8. "Could it be that she's electable because, other than her lack of a penis, she is indistinguishable from a Republican candidate)."

    Educators need to cultivate a viewpoint that is positive rather than deficient. I suggest you re-word the above:

    Could it be that she's electable because, other than her possession of ovaries, she is indistinguishable from a Republican candidate)?