Peter Greene read a column by Joe Klein of TIME magazine about what’s wrong with education, and Greene had a hard time controlling his indignation.
Klein did not like the contract that Mayor de Blasio negotiated with the teachers’ union. What really bothers Klein, he says, is that teachers have something to say about their working conditions. His bottom-line beef, says Greene, is unions.
“There are lots of things Joe Klein doesn’t get, and many of them are related to education. In the process of railing last week about a de Blasio “giveback” of 150 minutes of special student tutoring time in New York schools, Klein managed to trot out a whole raft of misconceptions and complaints. Here he gets himself all lathered up.
“I’m not going to take Klein to task for slamming assembly-line workers as if they are a bad thing. I know what he means– teachers should act like salaried workers instead of workers paid by the hour. Of course, if he tried to get his doctor or his lawyer to put in extra unbilled hours and be “paid in professional satisfaction,” I think he’d have another complaint to make. So I’m not sure exactly which profession he wants us to act like. Hell, even the oldest profession (I mean, of course, plumbing) charges by the hour…..
“It bothers Klein that the union negotiates things down to the half-minute, but he seems to forget that for every teacher union not saying, “We’ll work long extra hours just out of professional pride,” there’s a school board not saying, “You know what? We’ll just pay you what the work is worth and trust you to give us the hours needed.” Teachers could easily put in every single hour of the week doing the work, and many districts would let them do it, for free. “Wow, you’re working so hard and long we’re going to pay you more. really, we insist,” said no school district ever. Nor do they say, “We’ll trust you to do what’s right and never clock you in and out so we’re sure we get every hour you owe us.” A line has to be drawn somewhere; professionals also do not regularly give away their work for free. I agree that the half-minute is a little silly, but the line still has to be drawn.
“Klein also throws into the pot his assertion that real professionals don’t resist evaluation. This is partly almost true. Real professionals do not resist evaluation by qualified, knowledgeable fellow professionals who are using a fair and accurate measuring instrument. But if Klein’s editor announced “the guys in the mailroom have decided that you will be evaluated on how thick your hair grows in and how much garbage is in your wastebasket,” I don’t think Klein’s reply would be, “I’m a professional. That’s fine.”
“Teachers and our unions are not opposed to evaluation. We are opposed to bad evaluations conducted unfairly using invalid methods developed by amateurs who don’t know what the hell they’re talking about.
“Klein also asserts a bedrock principle for systems that are not working in schools– you don’t scrap them, but you fix them. I was going to hunt down a column in which Klein uses this same argument to vehemently oppose things like, say, letting Eva Moskowitz shove aside public schools to make room for charters. Because, if a public school is struggling, Joe Klein will apparently be there to argue fiercely that you don’t close public schools– you fix them. But my googler seems to be broken. Can somebody help me with that? Kthanks.
“But Klein saves the worst for last. You see, there’s a struggle going on in this country and it’s time to pick sides– either the unions or the students.
“That’s an interesting choice, particularly since these days many teachers are wishing that teacher unions would choose the side of teachers. But really– is that it? The biggest obstacle standing in the path of educating students is teachers’ unions? Teachers unions are out there saying, “We’ve got to smack down those damn students and get them out of our way”?
“I think not. I think in many districts, particularly big messy urban districts, the only adults around to stand up for the interests of the students are the teachers (whose working conditions are the very same as the students’ learning conditions), and the only hope the teachers have of being heard at all is to band together into a group, a union. Consequently, much of what good has happened for students is there not because of some school board largesse but because a teachers’ union (or a group of parents, or both) stood up and demanded it.
“It’s ironic I’m writing this, because I have plenty of beefs with the union. But to assert that making the unions shut up and go away would usher in an era of student greatness and success is just silly.
“Of course, I could be wrong. I would do a search for states that hamstrung or abolished teacher unions and which now lead the nation in school and student excellence. Perhaps there are such places. Unfortunately, my googler is busted.”