Teachers Unions: Not Unethical, Just Uninterested in the Public Welfare

His union is competent; it's just that he isn't

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.

15 thoughts on “Teachers Unions: Not Unethical, Just Uninterested in the Public Welfare

  1. It’s the damndest thing–some of my best friends are retired teachers who go bananas when I say outrageous things, like “I don’t think the teachers union cares much about schoolkids.” Seems obvious to you and me, but not to these otherwise decent and intelligent people. Go figure.

  2. I think it’s deceptively simple cognitive dissonance. The teachers do care about the students, and since the teachers make up the union, it seems obvious that “the union cares.” But the union has a mission, and it has little to do with the kids. It’s like corporate executives saying “we care about more than profits.” Maybe they do, but their corporation doesn’t.

    • you all spent trillions on a commie credit card killing the wrong people in the name of Jesus and say what about Teachers Unions being greedy and not caring about who ? lmaooo Sure they need to be fixed and the rights alternatives all this time have been frightfully ignorant. Matter of fact this entire blog is designed to scare poor and working class idiots into voting against themselves. I’m just glad the Reich Wing loves Jews this decade out of fear of Muslims. Keep the double standards ignorance and hypocrisy rolling.

  3. I cannot argue with your main point, however, I do have a quibble with your second point. The Washington D.C. school board got rid of 75 teachers, and you (or the principals in the article) described the misdeeds of 6. We have no idea what the misdeeds of the other 69 are. They could have been dismissed for just about any innocuous reason (did they park in the principal’s parking spot? Make the faculty look bad by comparison?) Worse, because those 6 are not identified and no reasons were given to the individuals we have no idea which of the 75 is responsible for cursing at his or her students, which one was chronically late, etc. All 75 teachers are tainted by association.

    By firing the teachers without giving reasons and then telling the press about the misdeeds of a few, the board behaved very unethically. Whether they care about the children, the teachers’ union was quite correct to challenge this behaviour before the arbitrator. Hopefully the teachers will be reinstated and those that are truly blameworthy can be dismissed again, this time with reasons.

    • I didn’t go into the details because it’s a long story. The gist of it is that these teachers were on probation, which means they should have been able to be dismissed at will. The absurd part of the story is that the arbitrator agreed that all of the 75 were properly dismissed for cause, but that the teacher union rules STILL required more process, hearings, notice, etc.

      • School boards may be able to dismiss probationary teachers at will (I do not know the law in Washington D.C.) but that does not mean that it is the ethical thing to do, especially when all of the fired teachers are tarnished by anonymous allegations against a few of them.

        • I don’t see how they are “tarnished” when the anonymity part is to their benefit. What would you want me to do? Bog the piece down with the allegations and defenses of all 75? If there is an unethical taint, it comes from the fact that, for example, a teacher who sent mass emails bitching about the administrators can’t be fired even if on probation. The lack of legitimacy to his reinstatement creates assumptions about the rest…if incompetent and misbehaving teachers can’t be fired, the public begins to assume that all unsuccessfully fired teachers are also incompetent and misbehaving.

          The fact is that in DC, as elsewhere, the bar is disgustingly low. I would consider the odds of a unequivocally good teacher getting fired in the District…even if he or she otherwise deserved it…to be in Snowball in Hell territory.

          • Anonymity benefits the guilty but, in this case, punishes the innocent (or at least the less guilty). If any of these teachers tries to apply for a job at another school board, the principal or whoever makes the hiring decision notice that they were dismissed from a Washington D.C. school in 2008 or 2009 and will say “Is this the one who told his students they are going to H-E-L-L or the one that kept rebuking his superiors?”. Even if the applicant in question was fired for a much more innocuous reason, they will not be able to explain to their potential employer why they were dismissed because no reason for the dismissal was given to them.

            It is true that the inability to fire incompetent or misbehaving teachers, even teachers on probation, brings the rest of the profession into disrepute. However, according to the article you linked to, the issue was not whether the school board can dismiss incompetent or misbehaving teachers but whether they can dismiss teachers, incompetent, misbehaving or otherwise without giving them a reason. According to the arbitrator, the “fatal flaw” was this failure to provide a reason, not that incompetent teachers had been fired. Ethically (and, according to the arbitrator, legally), these teachers were entitled to know why they were being dismissed.

            • Which is bull shit, of course. You send out an e-mail condemning the administration to an entire school, and you need to be told why you are getting fired?

              There have been a lot of more detailed pieces in the Post on this matter–I just couldn’t locate the one I was looking for.

              • Yes, procedural fairness is often kind of annoying, isn’t it? Nonetheless, it is what we all deserve, including those who condemn their employers.

                • No need to be sarcastic, and I don’t agree. Probation should mean termination at will, including “doesn’t fit in” and “I don’t like your cologne.” What’s the point of probation otherwise? The procedures are just ways to make it harder to fire someone you don’t want working there, which makes bosses less likely to do it, and hurts the function of the organization. In the private sector, I’ve fired employees on probation simply becuae they convinced me that they weren’t as good as I thought they were, when I needed someone who was. Nothing unfair about it at all.

                  • I understand that it may be fair to dismiss a probationary employee for any reason (I will assume that it is). What is unfair is not to provide them with the reason for dismissal.

                    Say I was a probationary teacher in Washington D.C. who was dismissed in 2009 because my principal did not like my cologne. If I am not provided with that reason, any school I apply to work at will wonder if I was fired because I told my students that they were going to H-E-L-L or because I sent e-mails that excoriated the administration and may not wish to hire me for that reason. When I am asked at an interview why I was fired, I will need to say that I don’t know, which will sound evasive and might lead the interviewer to conclude that I have something to hide. On the other hand, if I am told that I am being fired because I wear bad cologne I can : a) buy a different brand of cologne and b) tell any future employer that I was fired because my former employer did not like my cologne, not because I sent nasty e-mails or threatened my students with fire and brimstone.

  4. Jack,

    I realized how unfair the school system was when this situation happened me.

    Imagine this as a teacher: You are a single parent giving your personal best in what you love most.

    Unfair- This word ruins so many people.
    When distric t office make up two statues for a continuing contract teacher for 17 years to terminate her
    Being provided excellent evaluations by the administrators and district office
    To be given continuing contract with no provisions for the last 17 yearrs
    To have scores that meet or exceed expectations for all students
    To be shuffle to four different schools in the last four years and still your scores continue to rise
    To be in staff development every summer paid for by me to become a better teacher and bring to the classroom an experience my students will never forget
    To be a traditional teacher knowing before you left for the next grade you were ready to go on
    To be the first in your family to go and graduate from college
    To build half your life around what you have worked so hard for
    To be so close to finishing your educational leadership degree to find out later that
    YOU ARE TERMINATED FOR GOOD AND JUST REASONS

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