Public unions and their Democratic supporters (and supported) are not going to have much luck winning the public relations battle with Republicans as long as teachers unions are front and center. Teachers unions are not— I repeat not-–primarily concerned with the welfare of schoolchildren, or the public, or the deficit, or even education. Their priority is the welfare of their membership, and if any of those other stakeholders have to take it on the chin to make sure that the teachers have good salaries, benefits and iron-clad job security, well, that’s just the way of the world.
This doesn’t make teachers unions unethical any more than lawyers are unethical to represent their clients. But it does mean that any time a teacher’s union official claims to be concerned with anything but his members, he or she is lying through their teeth. And that is unethical.
On Thursday, the head of the largest national teachers union proposed “a major concession” to make it easier and faster to fire tenured teachers who are not making the grade. The concession was prompted by a series of damaging news stories over the past few weeks, such as
- The Los Angeles school district took five years to fire six teachers for poor performance at a cost to taxpayers of $3.5 million.
- In Washington, D.C., 75 probationary teachers were dismissed for alleged incompetence in 2008 and 2009. One cursed at students. Another had “excessive absences and latenesses, including 24 tardies and 20 days of absences after returning from two months of sick leave for an injury.” One teacher’s lesson plans were “always sketchy or nonexistent,” according to his principal. “He has had an excessive failure rate at every marking period and has not provided any interventions for his struggling students.” One was dismissed for sending mass e-mails rebuking her supervisors to the entire staff; yet another had been “AWOL” for about a month before being terminated. One teacher did nothing in class but play DVDs. All of these and more like them ended up being reinstated by an arbitrator, with full restitution of salaries. “It’s a great day for D.C. Public Schools, ” said one of the teachers. “Who would want their children taught by any of these teachers?” asked the Washington Post editorial page, a bit more rationally.
- Worst of all is the surreal situation in New York City, where hundreds of teachers considered too inept to teach are kept out of classrooms in the so-called “rubber room”, but continue to collect full salaries and benefits.
So what was the “concession” offered in response to public and media outrage over these and other outrageous examples of bad teachers using union-negotiated requirements to keep jobs they aren’t qualified to do, at public expense?
“Under the proposal, a teacher deemed ‘unsatisfactory’ would be required to submit to an improvement plan which could last anywhere from a month to a year,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers. “If administrators and peer experts thought the teacher had not improved, they would refer it to an arbitrator who would decide within 100 days to keep or dismiss the teacher.”
In other words, it would take as long as 15 months to remove a teacher who is unfit to be in a classroom. This would be great for the teachers involved, but bad for the budget and the children. That’s okay—the unions exist for the teachers and they are doing their jobs, fulfilling their duties.
But let’s not have any more of the nonsense about it all being for the children. If the teachers union is really interested in students and schools, let them make it possible to get rid of loafers, fools, incompetents and scam artists in the teaching ranks quickly, so they hurt as few children as possible while wasting as little money as possible. Otherwise, the teachers unions should do their jobs representing the teachers as they have been doing it, and local governments should do their jobs as most of them haven’t been doing it, standing up for the public and their kids.
And let’s see who the public thinks has their best interests in mind.