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Teachers Union Honesty Died With Albert Shanker

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
Former American Federation of Teachers President Albert Shanker made teachers’ unions what they are today. He was hard-nosed defender of teachers’ rights, but he also came clean about public school performance.

In the making of “Kids Aren’t Cars,” I unearthed a 25-year old PBS interview with Shanker. His indictment of the public education system was stunning.

“You could do things that are absolutely wrong, you can have huge dropout rates, you can have kids who are leaving without knowing how to read, write, count or anything else and what do you do next year? Do the same as you did this year and the following year and the following year…”

And when Shanker – again, 25 years ago – rattled off achievement statistics, the host challenged him:

Shanker: When it comes to the highest levels of reading, writing, mathematics or science – that just means being able to read editorials in the New York Times…or write an essay of a few pages…or do a mathematical equation, not calculus…the number of kids who are about to graduate who are able to function at that level, depending on whether you’re talking about reading, writing, math science – 3 percent, 4 percent...

Host: Oh, come on!

Shanker: No! 5 percent. That’s it.

Does anyone honestly believe our education system – which has had billions of dollars more each year dumped into – is better now than it was in 1986?



Shanker was straight with the public – even if he didn’t see teacher quality and accountability as part of the solution.

If only current AFT President Randi Weingarten and National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel would be as candid. But I’m not holding my breath. The AFT and the NEA have presided over the decline of public education in America, and they know it. But if the union leaders admit to that, well, it would undermine their call for ever greater levels of “investment.”

But in the wake of “Waiting for Superman,” Weingarten and Van Roekel are acquiescing to the public outcry for accountability, and taking rhetorical baby steps toward reform, such as maybe one day making student achievement a tiny sliver of a teacher’s overall performance evaluation. Maybe.

The teacher unions are walking contradictions. They portray themselves as experts in education policy, but somehow never manage to deliver the goods. They claim to elevate the teaching profession, yet bend over backward to defend the worst among them, including a Michigan teacher deemed to be a danger to herself and others.

The sad truth is that the AFT and the NEA have an agenda that revolves around accumulating as much money and power as possible for themselves and their political surrogates. The teacher unions are a collection of far-left progressives who use the honored title of “teacher” to conceal their radical political agenda. How else to explain why the Rhode Island chapter of the NEA would participate in a rally for same-sex marriage? What does that possibly have to do with education?


Back to Shanker. Even though he ardently defended teachers, he was genuinely concerned about the quality of education being given to America’s school children. Can the same be said of Randi Weingarten and Dennis Van Roekel?

Consider this quote from social writer and philosopher Eric Hoffer and decide for yourself: “Every great cause begins as a movement, becomes a business, and eventually degenerates into a racket.”

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