Monday, April 9, 2018

Striking, Choice and Unions

No real surprise here. It was only a matter of time (minutes) before someone used the teacher strikes in West Virginia et. al. as an argument for school choice.

Here's Tillie Elvrum at Campbell Brown's The74. Elvrum has been a school choice advocate for a while, serving as the president of PublicSchoolOptions, a group that doesn't just support school choice, but is all in for cyber schooling. They run a Bootcamp for parent advocacy. They are also unusual in the choice arena in that they advocate for the removal of "access barriers" that keep some students from being able to choose charters. That seems linked to Elvrum's own story, which is that her child with special needs got the help he wanted at an on-line school; it's hard to predict how many other charters would have found a way to push him out.

At any rate, she has made it clear why public schools are awful-- that damn teachers union. And she is consistent in her blaming. The strike in West Virginia is not a teacher strike- it's a "teachers union strike." When his son was kept out of school by a strike, "the demands of the union kept him from his most basic need" also described as "when the unions in Pennsylvania walked out on my son." The ugly tug-of-war that happens at these times? That occurs "when unions force teachers to walk out of classrooms."

This is the classic argument-- teachers and the teachers unions are entirely different things, with teachers somehow at the mercy of union decisions that are made by....? I don't know. Evil union officials who all have some secret power over the rank and file?

Elvrum is painting a picture that is not particularly representative of reality. Teachers don't like to strike, and when they do strike, it's because they feel they're out of options. Teachers certainly don't strike because the union says they have to. In fact, if you think teachers meekly follow union orders, check out the number of NEA and AFT members who voted for Donald Trump. I can assure you-- all fifty five counties of WV don't walk out on strike because the union says to-- they walk out because the individual teachers have had it. [That's why it's called a wildcat strike-- because they walked out in spite of the union, not because of it.]

But some reformsters find the Evil Union narrative useful because it supports one of the charter/choice selling points-- come to our school, where there is no evil union and teachers just do as they're told. The Evil Union narrative also goes along with the idea that real rank-and-file teachers feel a special sacred calling to their work and never trouble themselves with vulgar concerns like how much they get paid or whether they have insurance or the conditions in their building. It's the union that puts those thoughts into our teachers' heads. Those nice ladies would be happy to work for a baloney sandwich and a pat on the head if some Evil Union guy wasn't whispering in their ears with indecent suggestions about decent pay.

Like many anti-strike arguments, it allows some folks to pretend that everything is okee-dokee in teacher land and that nothing needs to be addressed, which when you think about it is a really ironic argument for an ed reformster to adopt since it boils down to-- our schools are a terrible mess and don't serve our students well and need to be completely overhauled, except for the parts having to do with teachers, because those parts are perfectly perfect. Lots of reformsters are smarter than that, but those that aren't at being flushed out of the brush by the new wave of strikes. They don't have a lot to contribute to the current conversation, but it is useful to see their argument fully revealed.


  1. 1st, unions are not generally established and nurtured in industries that don't deserve them. Treat the employees well, compensate them generously and supply clean, pleasant & safe working conditions and unions don't thrive and job actions won't occur.

    2nd, charter and many independent schools have problems with attracting and keeping teachers also. There are cases where "students are punished" because of adults' actions in these schools where teachers leave mid year or a school goes belly up with little warning.

    3rd, in OK, KY, AR, etc, I'd argue that the teachers are doing the legislatures and the public a favor by finally blatantly pointing out the problems in their jobs and work environments while willing to stick around in the hope that their situations will improve. Don't know about the rest of this audience, but I would have just quit and gone to a better situation.

  2. As the uber-wealthy and the politicians they control move to end FDR's New Deal, thinking finally that they will put everyone back in their place, unions (labor) are waking up. I don't know how it will turn out, but I think organization of many previously unthinkable workforces is going to take place.

    1. Anon, my take on the states' situation is more fundamental than any of the ubers' & their puppets' beliefs about SS, Medicaid, Medicare,etc...

      It comes down to what these guys & girls profess to believe: The free market. There would be much less strife IF the combination of qualitative & quantitative bennies & compensation for teaching was competitive with other industries in which the talents required for teaching the various disciplines (& this included the elementary crew, who I suspect as a crew, have amazing organizational & management talent) was competitive with those other industries. In this regard, the teachers in their various organizations & disorganizations are IMO making the wrong argument.

      To illustrate, let's take a 1st grade teacher (and these people work their asses off!!!) in a good-to-great situation where she has only twenty squiring, churning, snot-faced, somewhat diseased precious charges.

      1st, there are not that many people who would take only $8 an hour to watch just one of them. So take 8 $/hr x 6 hr and you get $48. And this doesn't include the joys AND headaches of teaching kids how to read boring, childish, repetitive sentences over & over again.

      Now our saintly (I am not being sarcastic here) teacher has 20 of them. And she's getting them to buy into internalizing the most basic of skills required to survive in western civilization, reading.

      Let's do the math:

      8 $/hr x 6 hr/kidlet x 20 kidlets/day x 180 days = $172,800.

      If a teacher with her set of skills would offer her services, to say, 5 students of similar abilities for 180 days on the open market in many locales, she could make between $40K & $45K with the only headaches being that she would need to have more complicated tax forms to fill out & have to figure out her own retirement scenarios...which some of the free-marketers want for teachers anyway.

    2. RE: your speculated $172,800 income for a self-employed teacher of 20 1st-graders. And how would such a free-lance teacher find students? By advertising. Where would the class meet: in her home? (I have tried to get a rider on my home ins for teaching young children: risks are hi, nobody will play)-- no, she'll have to rent a space big enough for one class, available 180 days/yr [good luck. & costs $$$.) AND pay a fat insurance bill. How will she invoice/ collect the $/ dun/provide consequences for deadbeats/ do the [complex S-E] taxes? She'll have to hire an admin. How to handle admissions/ phone-calls during the day/ grading reports/ constant communications w/parents/ accreditation etc communication w/state? More admins... I could go on.

      What you are proposing is a small business w/about 3.5 employees incl teacher. I have done some figuring for my area [central NJ] -- where $8/hr for bbs does not cut it, it's more like $10/hr, but used yr figure anyway. Estimating costs for very modest employee salary/ payroll tax/ modest health plan, & small store-front rental, insurance, acad/ art/ music & office supplies& office furniture, computers, supplies, phone/ cable/ internet/ elec/ water, outdoor/playground eqpt, wkly cleaning services... I come up w/ $73,500 as teacher/ bus mgr annual gross salary. Starting salary for pubsch teachers in this area is close to &60k... & it would take a very experienced 1st-gr teacher-- w/bus experience-- to pull this off. [i.e., someone who is already making $73500 as a central-NJ pubsch 1st-gr teacher.] Bottom line: why would she? She wouldn't. Unless she could charge double that $8/hr, which the market wouldn't support.

      Hopefully you get my drift, which is that pooling public $ for pubsch facilities/ personnel gives the taxpayer a pretty good bang for the buck. Privates/ free-lancers have to charge a lot more to even stay in business. Unless they are going to severely slash services/ quality in order to offer competition - so why would you choose them?

  3. what these folks don't know that they don't know is just stunning...thanks for pointing out these logic fails.

  4. This garbage is just sooooo 2010, the high water mark for teacher bashing, a year which culminated in WAITING FOR SUPERMAN, the most despicable and dishonest propaganda documentary ever made outside of Nazi Germany. (Tulane professor Lance Hill called it the most despicable documentary since TRIUMPH OF THE WILL.)

    To dip your head in this cinematic septic tank, watch the following clip from WFS:

    ( 36:42 - 37:40 )
    ( 36:42 - 37:40 )

    As his "evidence" of how bad public school teachers truly are, director Davis Guggenheim pulls from:

    1) A TV cartoon --- SIMPSONS episode
    2) A comedy feature film --- SCHOOL OF ROCK

    In the latter, WFS, of course leaves out that Jack Black's character of the lousy, lazy teachers was actually --- in the story, that is --- an imposter posing as a teacher to pocket his salary.

    Got that? Even in this fictional world, THE LEMON TEACHER WASN'T AN ACTUAL TEACHER(!!!) For the purposes of the documentary, however, this out-of-context clip allowed him to represent the mass or majority of teachers in U.S. public schools.

    Interspersed with this "evidence" is $700,000-a-year poverty pimp Geoffrey Canada making the bogus claims that teachers get tenure just for "breathing", and that it's impossible to fire them.

    (The film portrayed this guy Canada as an inner-city equivalent of Mother Teresa or Albert Schweitzer, but left out his 3/4's of million annual salary, and the fact that he once expelled an entire grade for getting bad test scores. Teacher/activist Brian Jones was on a panel with Canada, and blasted him for that. He told Canada to his fact that, even if Jones had Canada's power, he never could or indeed would do such a thing. Shame on you!)

    Canada claims that a public school teacher's ability to teach or "help children is totally irrelevant" to their being hired or retained to teach.

    WTF is he talking about? I guess all that grueling vetting I --- and other teachers go through to be hired --- that was was all for show, as are the in-depth evaluations teacher undergo, and all those regular walk-throughs by administrators.

    Watch WFS.

    There is nothing or no one challenging this bullsh--. Ravitch's first book THE DEATH AND LIFE OF AN AMERICAN SCHOOL SYSTEM had come out a year before the film came out, so finding interviews that would provide balance to the film's thesis would have been easy.

    But this was never about balance. It was corporate propaganda, with Davis pulling down a multi-million-dollar salary as he acted the role of "The once-pro-union progressive who now sees the light."

    Remember how Duncan and Obama praised this. (That idiot Duncan claimed WFS was a pivotal moment in U.S. history, on a par with Rosa Parks refusing to give up her seat. Can you believe that???!!!)

    At one point, Guggenheim shows a clip of AFT's Randi Weingarten screaming like Hitler to a crowd of teachers while talking over it ... to make the point ... teachers union leaders are evil.

    As with the entire film, the above segment is downright evil. It's what the Nazi's did in their propaganda against Jews. It's what KKK and Aryan Nation propaganda does to blacks.

    WAITING FOR SUPERMAN came out in FALL 2010, just before Scott Walker's first election. Walker-ites played this non-stop to turn Wisconsin's citizens against their public school teachers. So many others, including Chris Christie, would play this before giving speeches, to again, scapegoat and demonize public school teachers.

    Thankfully, this garbage --- which worked so well 8 years ago, ain't working so well now. Tillie Elvrum comes off as an unhinged loon.