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Teaching Profession Opinion

“Washingtonitis”? Weingarten’s Too Clever By Half

By Rick Hess — May 13, 2010 2 min read
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On Tuesday, over at the National Journal blog, AFT honcho Randi Weingarten blasted those who would use Harkin’s unfunded $23 billion bailout as an opportunity to overhaul problematic, industrial-era labor practices that inflate costs and consume scarce dollars. She termed the Education Trust’s proposal--that federal bailout aid be made contingent on states striking down strict “last hired, first fired” policies--to be a harmful and “academic” example of “Washingtonitis.” Now, there are reasonable questions to ask about the proposal (does it just apply to state statutes? Would it impact contracts?), but it’s a smart idea that would lend hard-pressed districts essential flexibility as they scramble to close yawning shortfalls. And, for the record, I’m not at all sold on Weingarten’s assertion that thinning the teacher ranks--if done sensibly (which is what the proposal helps make possible)--would hurt students.

Now, it’s one thing for Weingarten to argue that the proposal is a bad idea. But notice that she carefully avoids doing that, because it would be one more blow to her effort to market herself as a “reformer.” Instead, she plays a too-clever-by-half lawyer’s dodge, in which she claims that now is not the time to worry about anything other than pushing cash--and that only those suffering from “Washingtonitis” would think otherwise. The unspoken catch, of course, as Weingarten well knows, is that it’s only when the feds have the leverage offered by an imminent $23 billion bailout that they can provide state and local reformers with the muscle needed to overcome NEA and AFT resistance to altering “last hired, first fired.” Quite a little irony. If it weren’t such a transparent flim-flam, I think I’d admire Weingarten’s chutzpah.

And just what is the batho-infused calamity that Weingarten depicts, anyway, in her litany of impending woe? That districts which didn’t plan ahead, spent every nickel they could in good times, and overhired and overpromised, are struggling to adjust to reality now that the good times have come to a halt. I’ll readily stipulate that it wasn’t the teachers’ fault that management acted this way, but I also don’t recall them complaining about excessive hiring or questioning whether their districts could afford the benefits and raises they’ve been offering. In any organization, public or private, for-profit or non-profit, we take the bad with the good. I know it stinks, but such is life.

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