Education Opinion

When Push Comes to Shove

By Susan Graham — March 03, 2011 3 min read
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The showdown is on in Wisconsin and the media is loving it. Governor Walker claims he’s just doing what he can for the people of his state, trying to balance the budget. With real patriotic zeal, business leaders have stepped up to the plate and agreed to lower taxes. They are doing their part because this will automatically result in more jobs, which will result in more revenue, which will stabilize the state economy, and everyone will live happily ever after in the land of cheese.

It would all work out just fine it it weren’t for the teacher unions. All Governor Walker has asked them to do is give up their collective bargaining rights on everything except salary. I give the governor credit. It is a brilliant move. If they say no, teachers are obstructionists. If they say yes, it proves that all teachers ever cared about was the money! Oh, the teachers said they’d take a pay cut and reduced benefits, but that’s just a scam to continue to rip off Wisconsin taxpayers (apparently teachers in Wisconsin do not pay taxes). But the governor is smarter than a fifth grader! He knows that this is a wonderful opportunity to reform education by breaking the union, and if you don’t get rid of that collective bargaining thingy, they’ll keep trying to interfere.

Along with other school reform visionaries, Walker believes that schools will be successful if they are just run like businesses and the only thing holding that shiny day back is those “teacher unions that put the interests of adults ahead of those of children.” If the reformers weren’t thwarted by teachers and their unions, none of our kids would be left behind, they’d all be exceptional, go to college, and get great jobs. He’s got a mandate to make that happen.

He must have been at the Mayfair Hotel in DC in 2008 when Michelle Rhee explained that

People often say to me the teachers unions are here to stay, that they are big players, that I have to find a way to get along. I actually disagree with that. It's important for us to lay out on the table what we're willing to do, but what our bottom line is for kids. The bottom line is that if you can't come to agreement then you have to push your agenda in a different way and we're absolutely going to do that.

In other words, it’s her way or the highway because she cares more about the kids than the all the other adults. That’s why, on the night after her patron, the mayor, lost his re-election ibid, she walked the red carpet at Waiting for Superman and shared with the public that

Yesterday's election results were devastating, devastating! Not for me, because I'll be fine, and not even for Fenty because he'll be fine, but devastating for the schoolchildren of Washington, D.C.

This was how she insured that she would be all right. She said because the new mayor elect wouldn’t promise to give her the unquestioned support, she wouldn’t work with him. She gave two week’s notice and she walked out on the D.C. schools, the teachers, and those schoolchildren she said she cared so much about. She jumped ship to start her own non-profit that suggests that you send her money because “Schools need smart spending -- not more money.”

Oh, she tried to do the right thing by firing all the bad teachers, but she, like so many high minded people, were thwarted by the teacher union thugs. Her mentor, Joel Klein, had the same problem. He got disgusted and walked away from saving the children of New York explaining to the London Sunday Times

Five to 10 percent [of educators] are not remotely capable. It's easier to prosecute a capital-punishment case in the US than terminate an incompetent teacher. The union is going to protect incompetent workers -- that is their job.

It is surprising that an outstanding education leader such as Klein did not identify the research source for his data on teacher competency. I checked the National Center for Education Statistics and couldn’t find anything even remotely close to this kind of information. But assuming he is correct, then 90 to 95 percent of those teacher union members are competent to teach, yet willing to invest their money, reputations, and political clout to protect their incompetent members. Remarkable.

It took a big media blitz to finally get the message through to the general public, but with the support of leaders like Oprah, folks are finally catching on to logic.

Teachers are the single most important factor in student learning. Children in Finland do better on standardized tests than American kids. Therefore, Finnish teachers must be good and American teachers must be bad. Conclusion: Fire all the bad teachers and hire good ones. Unions represent the interest of their members. The members of American teacher unions are American teachers Therefore, the unions are responsible for America having bad teachers. Conclusion: Eliminate unions and there will be no bad teachers and our American kids would be smarter than those Finnish kids

Back in Wisconsin the governor explained

Over the past few weeks, a great deal of attention has been focused on Wisconsin. That's OK, because freedom thrives each time there is a passionate debate in our society.

Later, in a phone call with a journalist whom he mistakenly presumed was a major campaign supporter, he cleared up any confusion about how government of the people, by the people, for the people works.

We don't budge... We're not going to compromise...I'd be willing to talk, not negotiate... ... I've got layoff notices ready. We put out the at-risk notices. We'll announce Thursday, and they'll go out early next week. And we'll probably get 5 to 6,000 state workers will get at-risk notices for layoffs. We might ratchet that up a little bit, you know.... I'm not going to cave.... I'm not negotiating.

He explain why he just can’t work with one of his former colleagues in the Senate. It seems this guy

...is not there for political reasons, he's just trying to get something done. So he's good to reach out to for me, but he's not a, he's not a conservative. He's just a pragmatist..

Well, God forbid that we become pragmatic and lose sight of why we make policy. It’s about the politics, stupid, not stuff like the needs of children. Back in 2008, Rhee said

I think, if there's one thing I've learned over the last 15 months, it's that cooperation, collaboration and consensus-building are way overrated.

She walked from DC when the going got tough, but she reminded her reform club colleagues

We cannot retreat now. If anything, what the reform community needs to take out of yesterday's election is now is the time to lean forward and be more aggressive and more adamant.

You know, I’ve always maintained that you can learn something from people even if you agree not to disagree. But I’ve always maintained that we should assume good intentions on behalf of everyone. That’s why I’m wondering if I’ve had it wrong for all these years. Maybe it’s time to be a little more skeptical. I’m having a hard time finding the good intentions here.

The opinions expressed in A Place at the Table are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.