No One Listens To Me Said The Gorilla!

Rick Hess makes an interesting point about influence and deference with regard to teachers.  But isn’t there a more basic problem with this common rhetorical argument that no one listens to teachers:  Their interest groups are the most powerful in the education space and among the most powerful in public affairs nationally as measured by a variety of indicators of involvement in partisan and governmental politics.   It’s easy to say but actually hard to argue with a straight face that teachers as an organized group don’t have influence on policy or policymakers or aren’t heard.

If there is a disconnect between what teachers think and the positions of their unions and associations, then that’s a different issue.

17 Replies to “No One Listens To Me Said The Gorilla!”

  1. That is like saying that pound for pound, Sugar Ray Leonard is a much better fighter than Godzilla.

  2. yeah… seriously. eli’s net worth is a drop in the bucket compared to the amount of cash K-12 spends in the public sector – forget the paltry amount broad and gates put into ed philanthropy as a percentage of K-12 spending by govt

  3. I read Hess’ post, and I said to myself, “That’s right, if teachers embrace change and influence it towards workable ideas…good things happen.” I was thinking about this from a school/LEA perspective. Good principals solicit their teacher’s input on school policy, and good superintendents solicit the input of the local union. Public opinion on unions have soured, but as a teacher, I still get asked all the time in the community what I think of this or that going on at a school or in a school district.

    All the national B.S. with NEA/UFT/Acronym union people pushing all kinds of left-leaning policies don’t penetrate into my life at all (except that union dues sometimes pay for the lobbbying).

  4. Dude, if I heard a gorilla speaking, *AND* it was in English, I would so listen to whatever it said. That would be so awesome!

  5. “Their interest groups are the most powerful in the education space and among the most powerful in public affairs nationally as measured by a variety of indicators of involvement in partisan and governmental politics. It’s easy to say but actually hard to argue with a straight face that teachers as an organized group don’t have influence on policy or policymakers or aren’t heard.”

    Andrew’s lack of time spent teaching is showing here.
    I guess it our fault of letting the “unions” get away with things while we teach.

  6. It’s not rank-in-file teachers’ fault (I don’t think that’s Rotherham’s point), that their profession is well organized and among the most powerful (if not THE most powerful) interest that has influence in shaping the contours of K-12 policy-making in the U.S.; no, the larger point is that whenever teachers stand up at policy meetings in DC or wherever it might be (a school board meeting) the frequent charge that the “teacher voice” is missing is really not empirically true.

    The “teacher voice” at least if one cedes that operationalizing “teacher voice” as the union/association voice is among the most dominant in the policy space. That’s no one’s fault. It’s just a fact. And I’d seriously love to engage anyone who thinks that isn’t true, because I could dump some serious facts out onto the table to demonstrate how teacher union interests are among the most prioritized voices that has impact on policy and agenda-setting.

  7. Here is a little quiz for you if you are not a teacher, but are someone who is well-educated and very interested in educational “reform.” You don’t have to share your answers with anyone:

    Would you teach in an “inner-city” school for more than two years?

    Would you consider making K-12 teaching a career for a salary that will probably not exceed $80,000 after thirty years of service?

    Would you consider any job that is labeled “women’s work?”

    Would you encourage your very bright son or daughter to become a public school teacher?

    If your answer to each question is No, you are not alone. Unions have absolutely nothing to do with our educational problems (The teachers in our highest-performing districts are unionized). No, the problem is cultural: many of our citizens do not value K-12 teaching and many of our “best and brightest” people will not consider it as a career. Many of our “reformers,” who profess to value it, are just giving it lip service but they would not do it themselves; nor would they encourage their children to do it. However, there is a heap of money to be made by privatizing our schools and THAT interests many of our countrymen. That’s the problem we have and nothing will improve dramatically until we recognize this cultural “difference” and do something to change it.

    “When the largest stakeholders in any endeavor are seen as the opposition, you will fail.”

  8. Linda’s “would you do it?” argument doesn’t hold water because you could make the same points (and more) about the military. Many of the people who spout so freely about defense policy didn’t and wouldn’t consider joining the service. Should we then ignore their opinions? Should we end civilian oversight of the military?

    I find it fascinating that someone can say “Unions have absolutely nothing to do with our education problems” and then finish with “When the largest stakeholders in any endeavor are seen as the opposition, you will fail.”

    Despite the union’s rhetoric to the contrary, teachers are not the largest stakeholders in the public education system. They aren’t even in the top three. Students, parents and taxpayers all stand to lose more when the system fails. Maybe the union should stop treating them as the opposition.

  9. A letter writer in the latest issue of Education Week said it better than I can so I’ll quote him:

    “For no other profession does this country expect the ‘best’ people to work for embarassingly low wages (the embarrassment being collectively shared by us all.) The question of how to get great teachers into the classroom is easily answered: Pay them. With money. I would love to never again hear a politician’s empty platitude about how much we ‘value’ education, if only I could know that we paid teachers a salary commensurate with our expectations for them.” Michael Louden

    The purpose of my “quiz” was to show that most highly educated people would not agree to become teachers under the present conditions; THAT’S the big problem in education. That’s the problem that we are ignoring.

    When our citizens decide they want a better teaching force then we have now, then we’ll see big changes. In this sense, of course, the citizens are the “major stakeholders.”

    Research tells us that the teacher is the most important variable in the schooling of the child. In the context of providing instruction at school, the teacher is the major stakeholder.

    The teacher’s union is a labor organization that can only bargain for wages, working conditions and hours of employment. The union and teachers are not one and the same. Once the teacher is in the classroom, she makes almost 100% of all decisions regarding instruction and these decisions have nothing to do with the union. Any changes that occur in schooling must have the cooperation of the teacher. To me, this is common sense and I am surprised that anyone would question it.

  10. Linda is of course correct when she notes that our society’s “most highly educated people would not agree to become teachers under the present conditions.” But, what the evidence seems to suggest is that our society’s most highly educated people are turned away from teaching because of conditions which the teacher unions continue to support, namely: differentiated pay, differentiated status among teachers, and high stakes accountability tied to evaluation. Think about the professions that our most highly educated citizens prefer (the Ivy League graduates in the U.S.).

    Let’s see: Investment Banking, Finance, Law, Entrepreneurs. What is the common denominator here? Making a lot of money, but doing so under differentiated terms and market pressures in which pay is tied to performance as judged by the employees clients. It’s not fair to say on the one hand that our society’s smartest people avoid teaching because of the conditions of that profession, when the very conditions that non teacher reformers want to implement (e.g. pay for performance; more accountability/high risk reward pay) are precisely the conditions the union opposes but that top college graduates want as demonstrated by the careers they currently choose.

  11. Correction: in the first paragraph of my last post, it should have said, “conditions which the teacher unions continue to oppose.”

  12. Once teachers gain control over their profession, the union will become a professional association in the same sense that the the American Medical Association is.

    Few people seem to realize that when teachers started to organize, they were not allowed to have a true professional organization that would be free to make decisions about curriculum, instruction, peer evaluation, and entry into the profession. Legislators only allowed them to form a labor union, which can only bargain for working conditions and salaries.

    There is good news in The Los Angeles Times today. Teachers have been granted the opportunity to operate 22 schools. This could be the change that elevates the profession and therefore the instruction for our children. Hopefully, it will become the model for our nation.

  13. This is a common argument organized special interests make. “Oh, no one listens to us, and we know the most about this issue. And the journalists and the editorial writers are just in love with the good government types and demonize us.” Meanwhile, behind the scenes, the organized special interests are the ones literally writing the legislation. That’s where the real power is wielded.

  14. the hart names “Investment Banking, Finance, Law, Entrepreneurs” as professions that our “most highly educated citizens prefer.” Leaving aside the fact that “Entrepreneurs” is not a profession, this is flat wrong. Among our most highly educated citizens, I would not count any of the ones the hart mentions. Instead, I would list medicine, engineering, science, and university-level liberal arts teaching. None of these is dominated by highly differentiated pay-for-performance schemes. Hospitals, for example, don’t give big bonuses to doctors who reduce their patients’ blood pressure the most, for example.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.