Wednesday, September 19, 2007

My thoughts on Randi and teachers unions

I met Randi for the first time last month and saw her again yesterday at the Broad event in DC. As I've said before, I think she's one of the most forward-thinking teacher union leaders in the country (not to damn her with faint praise), as evidenced by embracing Green Dot among other things. She's smart, very effective at her job, and I think she really cares about what's best for children -- but the interests of her union and the interests of children often do not intersect, which puts her in terribly difficult positions.

For more on my views of Randi and teacher unions, see:

a) Excerpt:

When she advocates something that I don’t think is in the best interests of children, I blast her for it, but it’s not personal -- she’s just doing her job!

Many school reformers become outraged when this happens, but this is an unreasonable expectation. Just like any other union, they exist to fight for the interests of their members – things like higher pay, better benefits, shorter work hours and greater job protection – and they have been extraordinarily effective at achieving these aims. Does anyone get angry when the head of the longshoreman’s union fights for work rules that create more jobs, hours, benefits, job protection and privileges for his members, at the expense of the efficient and cost-effective operation of the port? Of course not – he’s just doing his job!

There is, however, one HUGE difference: no-one thinks that the longshoreman’s union cares one iota about the efficient and cost-effective operation of the port, yet the general public, media and politicians tend to suffer from the delusion that the teachers unions represent the interests of children!

b) Excerpt:

I'm a Democrat and I believe in the importance of unions in protecting workers, helping level the playing field with management and ensuring that workers receive fair pay and benefits and have job protections against unreasonable dismissals, retaliation, etc.

But where the teacher unions have developed a great deal of power -- especially large cities -- they have gone far beyond this role and frequently start behaving like the longshoreman's union, trying to intimidate or blacklist perceived enemies (just ask Eva Moskowitz), etc. Worst of all, when it comes to what's best for children, they -- like many unions -- seem to think it's part of their duty to protect the very worst teachers.

c) Excerpt:

... to the extent that teachers have a negative image, it's due primarily to two things: a) the behavior of the union, which much more closely resembles that of, say, the longshoreman's union rather than a professional association like the American Bar Association (if Randi wants teachers to be treated and paid like professionals, a good start would be for the teachers union to start ACTING like a professional organization!); and b) every sensible person knows that there are WAY too many lousy teachers, which reflects badly on ALL teachers -- and especially the union that fights fiercely to protect even the very worst teachers. If Randi really wants to improve the negative image of teachers, then she should EMBRACE the new reforms (which will happen on the day pigs fly and hell freezes over)...

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