Wednesday, September 19, 2007

A Unique Partnership for a New School Year

Speaking of Randi, here's her monthly paid column in the NY Times, in which she celebrates her union's partnership with Green Dot to bring a Green Dot charter school to the South Bronx.  I'm a fan of Steve Barr and Green Dot and am delighted that they're coming to NYC, so kudos to Randi for helping make this happen -- it's in marked contrast to the teacher union in LA, which has done everything possible to undermine Green Dot.

    Anyone who has ever had a job knows that being actively engaged in what happens in your workplace — being valued and empowered — makes you feel invested and willing to go the extra mile to get  results. Teaching is
    no different. It is why professionalism and respect are  so critical to those in the classroom. And it is precisely why Green Dot  Public Schools — a unique charter school operator based in Los Angeles — caught the eye of
    our union, the United  Federation of Teachers, and why we decided to partner with them to bring a  Green Dot school to the South Bronx.

That being said, there are a number of assertions Randi makes in this column that I take issue with, most notably this: "before the charter school movement became so politicized and anti-teacher."  HA!  It's the unions that are massively politicized, with armies of lobbyists, picketers and phone bank volunteers, giving millions of dollars to politicians at all levels, etc.  Charter schools are getting crushed by this political machine, which is one of my pet peeves (and one of the reasons we created DFER, so that in the general school reform debate in the Democratic Party it's David vs. Goliath rather than an ant vs. Goliath).  
As for charter schools being anti-teacher, nothing could be further from the truth, as every charter school I'm aware of recognizes that talented, motivated teachers are the key to a successful school and therefore does everything possible to recruit and retain them.  Randi is failing to distinguish between teachers and teacher unions -- this is 100% deliberate, of course, as the unions are extremely clever in twisting anything they don't like into an attack on teachers themselves (or, is possible, children).  Teachers should rightly be celebrated (most of them anyway), whereas their unions often behave reprehensibly.  

It is indeed true that most charter school operators choose not to be unionized, but that's simply because most teacher unions and their contracts (in big cities anyway) are a total nightmare, standing in the way of obvious, common-sense things that are necessary to run a good school and educate children properly, like being able to reward great teachers, pay more for math and science teachers, fire ineffective teachers, etc.


A Unique Partnership for a New School Year
Randi Weingarten, NYT, 9/16/07

One of the reasons that the beginning of the school year is such a hopeful time is that it represents a fresh start. The classes are new and there is energy and a sense of purpose in the air. And the spirit of co-operation is at its most evident. Unfortunately, for students and teachers alike, as the year wears on, much of the hopefulness we feel at the beginning of school wanes. Typically, we get pushed into the familiar bureaucratic routines, usually by someone in an office who has forgotten what it’s like to be a student and has never had to hold the attention of a classroom full of kids.

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