2009-01-02 / School News

School Scope

UFT Leads The Race To The Bottom
Commentary By Norman Scott

Norman Scott Norman Scott The NY Times' Bob Herbert titled a recent column A Race to the Bottom. He talks about the attacks on workers while millionaire bankers get bailouts. He focuses on the assault on teachers and autoworkers, quoting extensively from a speech by UFT/AFT President Randi Weingarten. What's interesting is that in the midst of this supposed defense of teachers he says:

But Ms. Weingarten's defense of her members was not the most important part of the speech. The key point was her assertion that with schools in trouble and the economy in a state of nearcollapse, she was willing to consider reforms that until now have been anathema to the union, including the way in which tenure is awarded, the manner in which teachers are assigned and merit pay.

Here we go again as both Herbert and Weingarten engage in the more subtle form of teacher bashing by putting issues like tenure, merit pay and the assignment of teachers on the table as the causes of the problems in education. What Herbert doesn't get is that these ideas have not been anathema to the UFT/AFT.

Rather than pointing out how all these market-based ideas won't work and will in fact damage education, Weingarten goes along with the plan when she agrees to put these issues on the table.

The economic crisis is a gift to Weingarten who can use it to justify giving away the store.

Now let me make this clear. This is not just a tactic of Randi Weingarten. Albert Shanker started rolling this ball down the alley many years ago and Randi is giving it her own spin. And as far back as 1975 Shanker used the economic crisis in NYC to go along with the layoffs of 15,000 teachers, the cutting of prep periods, the freezing of salaries for years, the closing of schools and lots of other attacks on education, all the while using teacher pension funds to help bail out the city. He followed up in the early 80s by promoting the accountability and standards movement in alliance with the business community and politicians, which ultimately led to George Bush's No Child Left Behind Act that bases everything on high stakes standardized tests.

When the financial attacks come this time, the script Weingarten will use was written by Shanker 33 years ago. The quote above just about says as much.

What UFT and AFT members need to see clearly is that Randi Weingarten is not there to represent their interests but to serve as the agent for the phony education reformers in selling teachers on the plan even if it leads to undermining the union at its core.

She does this piecemeal by using scare tactics and saying, "See they wanted the whole loaf and we gave them only 75 percent but look at the victory in preserving 25 percent." We have seen it is only a matter of time until the other 25 percent goes, too.

What do the teacher unions get out of this? While teachers at the school level see their unionism destroyed, the union at the top flourishes with incoming dues, a seat (minor) at the table and a sense of power and influence - for the leadership - while the members flail helplessly.

People like Joel Klein don't want the UFT to go away. They serve a muchneeded function and the political and business/corporate powers that be will continue to praise Weingarten as one of them.

And so she is.

Flunkin' Duncan

Given his cabinet appointments, I'm still waiting to hear from all those Obama bashers who claimed he was pallin' around with who knows whom or what? I asked in a recent column how they wanted their crow prepared. Now, it is interesting, given the campaign, how the left has been extremely critical of Obama's new pals.

Or are they really new?

His appointment of basketball buddy Arne Duncan as Education Secretary has raised a storm. Duncan has run the Chicago school system for seven years and the results have not exactly been stellar. Some view him as a compromise between the vicious styles of Joel Klein here in New York and Michelle Rhee in Washington DC.

But in reality, Duncan is just Klein/ Rhee light, signing on to the same old "blame the teacher" accountability crap. You can read all about the Arne negatives on my blog, because I want to make a few points about this accountability business. Accountability runs in one direction

The massive bailout numbers being thrown around due to the financial crisis must raise questions in the minds of educators. In the 25 years since A Nation At Risk was released we have been told there is an educational crisis in this nation. But has anyone tried to bail out education during this supposed crisis? Instead we have heard about achievement gaps and low graduation rates that can only be addressed by closing schools, which after all are about going after teachers.

Reducing class size on a massive basis to close the class size gap, the real civil rights issue of our time, between urban and suburban kids has been deemed too expensive since I entered the NYC school system in 1967. The Bloomberg/Klein administration has been particularly dismissive of class size, preferring to spend money on accountability and high priced consultants.

Class Size Matters' Leonie Haimson was joined by Randi Weingarten and Lillian Rodriguez Lopez, president of the Hispanic Federation, in sending a letter to lame duck NY State Education Commissioner Richard Mills, which opened with this:

On Friday, Dec. 12 the NYC Department of Education released class size figures nearly four weeks past the November 15 deadline. Instead of reducing class size, as required in its Contract for Excellence plan, the data reveals that class sizes increased at all levels this year - for the first time in ten years. Increases occurred in grades K-3, grades 4-8th, and grades 9-12th. As a result, the city failed to achieve its state-mandated class size targets, by a considerable margin.

The entire letter is posted on my blog, but I should point out that the UFT always signs on to these things, but in actuality has resisted all calls for making class size reductions a basic contract negotiating demand.

Imagine if even a hundredth of the funds that have magically appeared in recent months had been made available all these years to attack the crucial educational issues.

We chose a good week to head off to the Aventura Spa Palace in the Cancun area of Mexico to eat, drink, be merry and gain 5 pounds. I better cut this column short. Gotta get to the gym.

Norm writes more of this drivel every day on his blog: http://ednoteson line.blogspot.com/Email Norm at normsco@gmail.com.

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