Randi’s Choice

In TNR Richard Whitmire and I look at the Washington D.C. contract situation and the larger challenge facing AFT leader Randi Weingarten.  Update: The feedback on this article has been fascinating.  Weingarten critics are again furious that she be given any quarter, it should be a bear-baiting!  Weingarten fans are furious that Richard and I would even consider D.C. an important test case because of the villainous Rhee!   And some people, especially non-edu types think that this is what it appears:  A really interesting and important situation to watch.

11 Replies to “Randi’s Choice”

  1. I can’t believe that you really believe your own spin. But implicit in your article is an awareness that this issue is primarily about national issues, not the 56,000 kids in D.C. If we’re arguing that Rhee and her backers, bringing in mega-bucks and talent from all over the country can improve conditions for those kids in D.C., then of course those “reforms” can succeed at least in the short run. But unless you really believe that the same unlimited resources will then be bestowed on the kids in the rest of the country, you are not being fair to unions and teachers.

    If Rhee is willing to compromise, I don’t doubt it will happen. And that would be the best thing for D.C. and it wouldn’t be bad for the rest of the nation. I’m hoping that you are playing a role in that process.

    But if you are going to stand by Rhee’s record of “reform” you gotta know that teachers will fight to the end. And by the time the legal battles are over, the squandering of Race to the Top funds in endless litigation will just be a distant memory. Rhee is now putting on a charm offensive, acting “contrite” and you may believe your “sources” about the private negotiations. But you have to decide whether to fight to the end for data-DRIVEN accountability or not. We will never surrender on that. If I read Whitmire correctly, I suspect that he’d vote for ongoing war. I’ve got to believe, however, that you realize that “Jaw, jaw, is better than War, war,” and that the Obama administration will come down the same way.

  2. If Doctors were paid on merit pay as Rhee proposes, who would tackle the tough cases with questionable outcomes?
    When I first began teaching after 15 years in business complete with an MBA, I viewed tests as a quality control measure reflective of my ability to provide competent instruction. Now I know why they say you can lead a horse to water but can’t make it drink.
    Our school administrators have invented failed policy after failed policy and somehow teachers get blamed for implementing them. I’d like to suggest that in the inner city where I teach we first make schools safe, then create a tone of respect. After that we can attempt reforms in a scientifically controlled manner to see what works.
    Reformers like Rhee claim to have found the Holy Grail when in reality they haven’t even begun the search.

  3. Hi Keith,

    I’d suggest you have two things backwards in your doctor analogy.

    First, it’s hard to compare doctors and teachers, because barriers to entry in medical profession are high.

    1. Lots of would-be doctors early in college change majors, because the bio and chem requirements are so hard.

    2. Lots of would-be med applicants decide not to apply b/c their MCATs are low.

    3. Then Med schools reject more than half of all applicants.

    4. Then residency programs reject weak med school students.

    Contrast to teaching:

    1. American teachers come from lowest third of college grads.

    2. Nobody who wants to get a masters in ed is ever denied.

    * * *

    Second, doctors ARE rewarded for merit, and in fact it’s a badge of honor to take the tough cases.

    What happens is best specialists are recruited to the top university hospitals. They go there because they LIKE to have the tough cases (more interesting!).

    In some ways, it’s parallel to teaching, and in some ways it’s the inverse of teaching. Veteran teachers often avoid the toughest classes (inverse to doctors) and choose to teach honors courses (more interesting! – parallel to doctors).

  4. GGW,

    I’d suggest you have two things backwards in your doctor analogy.

    First, it’s hard to compare doctors and teachers, because stigma against entering the teaching profession are high.

    1. Lots of would-be teachers are discouraged from entering the profession by their family because “you’ll never be rich.”

    2. Lots of would-be teacher applicants decide not to apply b/c they hear teachers bashed by the media and politicians.

    3. Then Ed schools have to make certain their coursework meets State Certification Standards created by politicians, which really have little to do with training teachers.

    4. Then student teacher programs are too short, offer little support and rarely place teachers in realistic teaching environments.

    Secondly, the vast majority of doctors work in private practices and HMOs, performing the same procedures every day. They receive merit pay for seeing more patients and treating them as cheaply as possible. They will never have to cure 100% of the 20-30 patients they see 3-4 days a week. No government organization re-examines their patients to see if they truly are healed. Contrast that with teachers who are expected to see 150 students, teach them something new every day and undergo the scrutiny of administrators, parents and the state ed dept.

    The best-paying teaching jobs are in the suburbs where the real estate taxes are higher, discouraging teachers from taking the tougher urban classes.

    Doctors who take on the toughest cases spend very long periods with only one patient at a time and thousands of dollars of resources and support at their fingerprints. They are considered brilliant even if they only cure half of the tough cases.

  5. In terms of teacher quality, the doctor analogy is an important parallel case to at least consider as sort of a thought experiment. Imagine for a moment that we required of doctors that ALL of their patients maintain a minimum level of health in various areas. If not, they lose their license to practice medicine. What would doctors say to that? They would grumble, “Oh, I don’t have to take that, I’m a doctor” or “How could I possibly prevent what the patient may do to the detriment of their health outside of my office,” or even wonder how they could control all the social factors, such as poverty and a proliferation of cheap, crappy food, that compromise their patients’ health.

    The larger problem here is that we do not trust teachers. A huge proportion of the public pays teachers a lot of lip service, including so-called reformers, but the bottom line is that no one really cares about teachers. It is a low paid, low status occupation and has been so for over a century. Teachers are expected to sacrifice themselves entirely for the student, and what population is expendable enough to lay themselves at the sacrificial altar each and every day: white, middle-class, women.

    I would argue that teachers should have complete and total control of their labor, their curriculum, and their professional development as intellectuals. Start treating the profession respectfully and I think it will attract precisely the kinds of people reformers are seeking. Middle-level managers, or principals, should have a more facilitative role rather than supervisory. They need only manage the school and the students to the degree that teachers can adequately perform their job and not serve as the be-all-end-all curricular and pedagogical gatekeepers.

  6. I will never, and I mean NEVER, support merit pay for teachers until the slapdash, silver-bullet, do-it-yesterday, one-size-fits-all approach to “fixing” education ends. Do you know how many initiatives, approaches, programs, etc., I have had to implement in my 13+ years of teaching? Today I sat in a two hour workshop about the latest acronym, RTI. It sounds GREAT – until you realize that it requires extensive support for classroom teachers, including embedded professional development and and one-on-one coaching. I would LOVE to have coaching on effective teaching strategies, data analysis, using evaluation effectively, and on and on, but I will NEVER get it unless I seek out (and pay for it) on my own. Michelle Rhee can make all the promises she wants, but if I were a DC teacher, I wouldn’t believe a single damn word of it. And I’d be damn sure my union knew I didn’t believe it too.

  7. Some people just don’t get it. Teachers just want to be treated like professionals.

    Professionals that belong to unions, can’t be fired, believe their managers should play a “a more facilitative role rather than supervisory,” are granted tenure, are paid according to seniority plus a bonus for taking education classes that virtually everyone admits have no effect on teach quality, are allowed to veto decisions made by their employers, and constantly bitch about the Superintendant (no matter who it is).

    Yep, teachers sound just like all the other professionals I know.

    Oh, and many of them believe that any school run without union approval should be illegal.

    Listen to yourselves. It’s not a real mystery why people don’t take teachers too seriously, especially when they talk about being professionals.

  8. Hippy,

    Everyone thinks they can comment on teaching and the education profession because they were once in school or are the parent of a student. Your comment shows the typical ignorance when it comes to “teach quality” and other aspects of education as an institution. Well, if teachers do sound like other professionals that you know, then why are they not remunerated and maintain a certain level of respectability as other professionals?

    I think what happens here is that people see the word “union” and it does something to them, like evoking feelings of socialism or the Red Scare, something old fashioned and stupid like that. I just do not know where people like Hippy or whatever get some of their information. What is this about a school running without union approval? I seem to recall being able to choose whether or not I was in the union and still be able to work in a school. And this whole tenure thing, a really big misunderstanding from people who have no understanding of the profession.

  9. Well, a lot of people get upset when they hear the word “socialist.” In fact, when Randi Weingarten ran for re-election as UFT President, she made it a point to mail out an expensive multicolored mailing calling her opponent a socialist, or worse, a radical socialist or something.

    It was so scary, in fact, that fewer than 25% of working teachers bothered to vote at all.

    It’s funny, with what’s going on in this country, that people can look around and determine the solution is making things worse for teachers. You’d think they’d want to make things better for themselves.

  10. NYCEd,

    I voted in the last UFT election, and I certainly never saw that brochure. Most NYC teachers are intelligent to know that the UFT isn’t powerful at all, and that the alternative to Randi would be even less powerful and considerably less palatable to the outside world.


    Teachers don’t have power, they have rights as employees because of US labor laws and because we have something called a contract. It allows us to teach, rather than clean the toilet. It prevents fly-by-night rising politicians from changing the face of education because they want to be powerful. No other group of professionals has the need to be protected from the whims of every windbag that blows through town, but teachers definitely do. The union protects us from having absolutely no input into our classrooms.

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