To the Editor:
When I think of President Barack Obama, many qualities—smart, intelligent, good-looking—come to mind. But after I read your article “School-Turnaround Call Points Up Challenges,” (Aug. 12, 2009), a new description entered my list: union-buster.
President Obama must bear responsibility for the actions of U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. As secretary, Mr. Duncan has identified 5,000 low-performing schools in need of turning around. He calls 2,000 of them “dropout factories,” and, with the help perhaps of private-sector groups, wants to change the inner workings of these schools. His gut instinct is to go in and fire first, hire second. For those teachers lucky enough to retain their jobs, he apparently wants to abrogate collective bargaining agreements by lengthening school days and reducing job security.
For whatever reason, Mr. Duncan overlooks measures that are friendly to students, parents, and unions. These include lowering class sizes, expanding music and arts programs, adding more enrichment and extracurricular activities, and hiring more administrators at troubled schools, so that teachers can remove disruptive students.
In the Arne Duncan scheme of things, private enterprises may be scaling up and adding layoff experts to their management ranks to turn around failing schools. While the profits flow for these private-sector ventures, union members will be scaling down—and perhaps heading out to the unemployment lines.
There is something very sad shown when a country goes after its unions. For one, the government begins to lose touch with its working-class roots. Unions are by no means perfect, but they represent one of the best institutions we have to look out for the common man.
Forest Hills, N.Y.
A version of this article appeared in the September 16, 2009 edition of Education Week as Is ‘Turnaround’ Plan Simply Union-Busting?