They’ve done their best to negotiate compromises to fight another day. The progress that education reformers have made in undercutting traditional union positions is staggering. Ideals that have been the life blood of teachers unions – like seniority and tenure – are being outright abolished or severely weakened.
In an effort to fight back, the unions are dispatching as many advocates and apologists as possible. Chavez-loving actor Danny Glover popped up in Indiana – of all places – to buck up unionized teachers. Michael Moore wowed the radicals with his Madison, Wisconsin speech. Perhaps the biggest apologist for unions – in fact she was the National Education Association’s 2010 "Friend of Education" – is Diane Ravitch.
The NEA often points out that Ravitch was an assistant secretary of education under President George H. W. Bush, as if that lends some credence to her criticism of Republican-led education reform.
Ravitch has been racking up frequent flyer miles in her effort to dismiss the relevance of charter schools, performance pay and increased teacher accountability. Her fundamental message is that everything would be fine in K-12 education if government would simply raise taxes and send schools more money.
Ravitch recently raised a point that underscores the union’s main mission: looking out for the adults who staff American public schools.
In a column in Education Week, Ravitch recounted a story she was supposedly told:
"A few months ago, I spoke at Santa Clara University in Santa Clara, California. It is a Catholic university, located on a beautiful campus. After my talk, a member of the faculty gave me a ride back to my hotel in San Francisco. He spoke about his long career in parochial education and why he had become a college professor, mentoring many Catholic schools in the region. At one point he had been the principal of an elementary school. I asked what he did about teachers who were not doing a good job, and he described the help and support he and others would provide. I asked what he thought of the current zeal to fire ‘bad teachers.’ He said something I will never forget. He said that we must remember that one has a moral obligation not to terminate someone's livelihood and career without long and hard deliberation; to do so, he said, required taking responsibility for ruining someone's life. We talked about the 'reformers' who are almost gleeful in their zeal to fire teachers. He thought that they failed to recognize the moral dimensions of leadership." (emphasis added)
Never mind the documented harm that occurs to children who receive substandard classroom instruction. Never mind the money and time squandered on individuals who are simply not cut out to be educators. We have a moral obligation to look out for the adults and "someone’s livelihood."
Ms. Ravitch, I am happy to take responsibility for the effort to increase teacher quality, and therefore put some teachers out of work. You can blame me. I'll bear that burden – without glee. But can you do me a favor?
Where is your moral obligation to speak out for the interests of families and children? You seem to believe that schools exist for the well-being of the adults who staff them. That sort of mentality is the reason public education is suffering in America.
We've lost sight of the fact that schools exist first and foremost for students, and teaching is a specialized career that some never master. There are other jobs, Ms. Ravitch. An honorable teacher who lacks the passion or skills required for the positions would walk away and find a more suitable line of work. And if they don’t walk away on their own, school administrators have a moral responsibility to show them the door – without glee. Unfortunately, due to union influence, administrators often lack the power to do so.
It’s about the kids, not the adults, Ms. Ravitch. The sooner Americans accept that fundamental concept, the sooner we can fix our schools.