Teacher Voice From Washington…And, Is The AFT Going All Sherman Over Michelle Rhee?

I don’t know exactly what’s happening inside the Washington D.C. teachers’ union but I do know the following two things:

1) I’m getting emails from some really pissed off teachers who say that the Vice-President of the union, Nathan Saunders, is a little out of control. Here’s one that was too good not to ask for permission to print:

“He [Saunders] went on a rant filled with propaganda and lies to incite the masses, it was unreal. He stated that the chancellor hates “old” teachers and only wants to hire new teachers. Saunders (who apparently used to work at Ballou High School and was found asleep at his desk when then-superintendent Janey came around for observations) put a lot of effort into trying to create a rift between new and old teachers. He stated some made up economic numbers to show that young people would be flocking to take our jobs, since we make more money than the average starting salary of a college grad. He said the union’s job is to make sure that every member has a job next school year and that there should be a hiring freeze. He talked about going to Congress or holding some type of protest and signing petitions against the union president. Saunders actually said (in addition to many other jabs at George Parker) “kill the President.” The kicker for me in the meeting was when Saunders said it wouldn’t help schools to have new teachers, because even though our reading scores are low- veteran teachers have relationships with students and this helps students to “keep from jumping off roofs.”

2) Word from more than a few folks is that the national AFT officials have a hand in this having concluded that current union President George Parker has gone all Neville Chamberlain on them in the face of the one who must be stopped: D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee.

Update: Antonucci is not buying part 2. I should have worded it more precisely. What I’ve heard from multiple places is that some national AFT officials have a hand in this, I didn’t mean to imply all of them with the “the.”

Update II: Some speculation in the comments section about where Al Sharpton is or is not on this. I don’t know, but if he’s in DC attacking Rhee’s reform proposals that would be a pretty fast 180 from where he was last month, so I’m skeptical.

Update III: Not too hot, not too cold! Smart money says that many at the AFT don’t consider Saunders a picnic either, in part because of stuff like what is above. They say, keep your eye out for a stalking horse…

14 Replies to “Teacher Voice From Washington…And, Is The AFT Going All Sherman Over Michelle Rhee?”

  1. I don’t think he’s gone all Neville Chamberlain. I’d argue he’s gone all Randi Weingarten, and may indeed become the next union leader to receive praise from ex-Education Secretary Rod “The NEA is a terrorist organization” Paige.

  2. At a funders meeting earlier this month, Michelle claimed that the new contract would be radical. If this reaction is any indication of what’s ahead in DC, the eduwonk community will have lots to consider.

  3. What does Eduwonk think about the fact that Al Sharpton was at a church at 9th and N, NW Thursday night railing against seniority? Did Randi leave Washington Tuesday resolved to bring in big guns — and the race card — to stomp out Michelle Rhee? Inquiring minds want to know!

  4. This is great. Possibly the most conservative blog out there. Kill the Unions. Teachers are the bums and deserve the blame for are failing schools . Go Rhee go.

  5. This isn’t about liberal or conservative. It is a fact (not a partisan issue) in ED policy that teacher quality is the greatest indicator of student achievement in schools. If students aren’t achieving it is both fair and appropriate to review teacher quality in the district. School reform shouldn’t be aimed at what is best for adults- but at what is best for children. Take a look at DC stats or a walk through DC schools and you will see that some teachers here are not serving children.

  6. People who honestly want to improve education should make adjustments in regard to seniority and tenure, but not challenge the basic principles.

    I find all of the above to be dismaying, but I don’t doubt that there is a lot of dirt in teachers’ politics, as in all human instutions.

    Remember the advice we give in regard to school turnarounds – get some quick victories. If we could just START with getting rid of our most dysfuynctional teachers, as we repudiate Rhee’s and BloomKlein’s approach, then reasonable people in the middle could make constructive compromises.

  7. I don’t know if you can say Rhee and Eduwonk are conservative, but I do think Rhee (almost always) and Eduwonk (on occassion) are prime examples of the learned elite in this country who are creating a divide within the ranks of the traditional Democratic party. Being just privileged enough to Teach for America and having just enough time to reflect on the lofty notions of education reform are quite different than having to walk in the shoes of the multitude of single parent teachers out there who have to work, pay child care, pay out of pocket health care, and cling with all their might to the lowest rungs of the middle class.

    An essential component of Rhee and the rest of the DC/New York focused urban reform movement is the arugment that we need to improve the prospects of our urban youth and if we need to leave a few teachers’ bodies lying on the side of the road in the process– so be it.

    In the end, we do need public education to be the road map to the middle class, but if your new map takes teachers out of that middle class in the process, you are going to have a fight on your hands. And, as your new Education Sector report indicates, teachers expect that fight from their unions. The reform movement needs to work with the union or in the end, they may be the ones on the side of the road. Although in Rhee’s case, I am sure she could parlay a postion with Democrats for Education Reform or some other similar “non-conservative” yet elitist group.

  8. Wow. Eduwonk wrote earlier this week that union supporters might want to avoid the impression that they view public education as a jobs program. But Lou’s post is unabashed in talking about public education as a jobs program.

    If we were discussing the medical world and the need to protect the livelihoods of ineffectual doctors or hospital administrators, people would be up in arms because lives are at stake. But when it comes to the education of poor and minority students whose futures are at stake, we’re supposed to sympathize first and foremost with the ineffective “professionals” who are failing them? How is that even defensible?

    If protecting the salaries of ineffective single-parent teachers can even be considered a public policy priority, those protections should not be provided at the expense of public school students. Find non-public school funds to support them and get them out of the classrooms where they are a detriment to kids.

    Rhee’s attempts to reemphasize student learning as the mission of her district and her efforts to challenge the entrenched special interests that dominate the public education system in DC strike me not as elitist but as courageously progressive. And WTU is lucky to have Parker in charge because he’s giving the union some much needed credibility when it talks about serving the interests of students.

  9. Wendy Kopp–like her friends, our nation’s selfish corporate bosses, and the people Teach for America has placed in school-district leadership positions–preaches, but does not practice, accountability when she claims Teach For America and its branches, the KIPP and YES charter schools, have done anything of substance to close the achievement gap. Blaming teachers, rather than supporting them, is something new to the United States of America.

    Education professors argue whether 40% or 20% of TFA teachers remain in school past the required two-year period of service, but neither advocates nor enemies of TFA have presented ANY evidence of them improving the academic results of significant numbers of students. Michelle Rhee’s desire to fire hard-working teachers, and replace them with spoiled short-termers, represents interest-group politics rather than common sense.

    The only argument they have comes from the outstanding perfomance of kids at KIPP and YES, and these students attend charter schools after their families have made application to schools they know have longer school days; extended school years; mandatory Saturday classes; and loads of homework.

    Teach For America performs a public service by placing good students in poor communities, no doubt; and its spinoff charter schools provide a quality education for kids whose ambitious families. But the theory that TFA youngsters, and firing the teachers we have, will make all inner-city students high achievers, well, how stupid do you Ivy Leaguers think the rest of us are?

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