Forget Wisconsin, The Unions’ Biggest Loss Was in CA. And What It Means For Improving Schools

Wisconsin is significant but I think what happened in San Jose potentially signals more: A 70-30 approval of  a Democratic mayor’s push to change his city’s pension and retirement structure. I take a look at that, and what it means for school improvement at TIME:

Bad news for teachers and other public-sector employees: America is more than ready to cut your pensions and benefits. While most politicos had been focusing this week on the Wisconsin recall, an election 2,100 miles away in San Jose, Calif., may be a bigger harbinger of the kind of austerity voters are developing a taste for….

…But voters need to understand the choices here as well. Unless cuts in public-sector benefits are coupled with improvements in working conditions and job satisfaction, there is a real risk that schools will not be able to attract the kind of people we want in classrooms…

Are you hard to satisfy? Here’s an easy one, click here to read the entire article at TIME.

15 Replies to “Forget Wisconsin, The Unions’ Biggest Loss Was in CA. And What It Means For Improving Schools”

  1. Good teachers don’t go into the profession for the money, but generous retirement benefits are hardly a disincentive either. And if we cut those benefits while continuing to treat teachers like DMV clerks — with lockstep pay schedules, little trust and few opportunities to take leadership roles or be entrepreneurial — it will become even harder to attract talented workers.

    No talented worker would fall for your promises. They do not need it.

    No one does anything out of love in this country. R, you should love your job and do it for free? Yeah, right.

    I did not do my job for free, and the military knew that. I respected my job and its duties and did them well. I did not love it.

    Teachers are rational. They respond to incentives. And what you are offering are NOT incentives. They are present, certain, punishment, and delayed, benefits. Smart people are NOT fooled.

    As far as the demise of teacher unions there is no doubt. They were never that strong. If you wish to earn your stripes pick a really strong union: Try the AMA, or the CNA, or the ABA, or ALPA, or the police and firemen unions.

    I dare you. Walker did not, and with good reason. He would have lost. Obama has NOT picked on the the federal civil service, and with good reason. He would lose.

    So, the teacher unions were never that strong. They were an easy target, and they are not the brunt of the problem. According to the NBER, the influence and labor market distortion claims of the right simply do not comport with the declining power and member representation of labor unions. They went on to prove that professional associations, their lobbyists, and state professional licensing boards inflict massive and damaging labor market distortions on the economy.

    The biggest mistake every made by the hapless, stupid teachers was to cling to the word “union”. If they had only picked the word “association”, and if they had engaged in only the most dilatory self policing like the AMA.

    Here is a thought experiment. Why is there a ten year waiting list to be a cop or fireman? Could it be that after only 15 years of service they fan retire with a pension that is three times that of a teacher?

  2. Who will hold the edu-reformers accountable.

    Our education system is headed in the direction of the military-industrial complex. I would suggest that most of you try reading a military contract for ship repair.

    That will give you an idea of what privatizing will really do. The first major experiment in privatizing govt. employment occurred during the Iraq War. Blackwater operators worked right alongside regular enlisted and earned 6 times the pay and almost 4 times the benefits.

    Teacher pay and benefits are falling. Edu-leader pay is exploding. Precisely what is it that an edu-leader does RIGHT NOW for the education of a particular student.

    I have NEVER heard one congent, or clear answer to that question. So, who is holding our leaders in education ACCOUNTABLE?

  3. Teachers unions are also weak because they are predominantly (and increasingly) female and just not as aggressive as traditionally male unions like firefighters, autoworkers, or teamsters.

    In addition, a large percentage of teachers are not really the primary breadwinners in their household. So the urgency about pay and benefits are not so acute as they would be for a traditional head of household. A lot of female teachers are married to men in more lucrative professions and so there is something of a tendency to just shrug when it comes to pay and benefits.

    I say this as a male teacher looking around at many of my female colleagues.

  4. What the results of Wisconsin and San Jose mean is that people have come to realize that this is “our new reality”: we will not be as well off as our parents and it will be worse for our children unless we are riding the coattails of the money people, as Andrew Rotherham or Michelle Johnson does with Whitney Tilson, Bill Gates and Eli Broad.

    But, it good to know that those to whom much have been given, much is expected and we will have them to look out for us.

  5. Woman Asks Obama: ‘Is This Our New Reality?’

    ABC News’ Audrey Taylor and Kristina Wong report: With 15 million out of work and the economy still sluggish, the frustration among Americans is palpable.

    At a recent town hall meeting in Washington, D.C., President Obama acknowledged that the “unemployment rate is still high and people are having a tough time,” but one woman in the audience who voted for the president wasn’t satisfied.

    “Quite frankly, I’m exhausted. I’m exhausted of defending you, defending your administration, defending the mantle of change that I voted for, and deeply disappointed with where we are right now,” said Velma Hart, a veteran and chief financial officer for veteran service organization AMVETS.

    “I’m also a mother. I’m a wife. I’m an American veteran. And I’m one of your middle-class Americans. I have been told that I voted for a man who said he was going to change things in a meaningful way for the middle class, she told the president. “I’m waiting, sir. I’m waiting. I — I don’t feel it yet.”

    “Mr. President, I need you to answer this honestly: Is this my new reality?” she asked the president.

  6. A correction for Andrew:
    there is a real risk that schools will not be able to attract the kind of people we want in classrooms
    Should read:
    there is a real risk that schools will not be able to continue attract the kind of people we want in classrooms

  7. It seems there is no champion for teachers today. Perhaps Americans have been held captive by the Jaime Escalante effect. Perhaps conservatives have been successful in demonizing all public sector workers as shiftless ne’er-do-wells. No one makes reality teevee shows out of us. Documentaries made about us suggest we are at best pawns and worst barely competent.

    But behind it all is the salient fact that Americans do not value education. They just don’t. Never have. Oh sure, they will say they do in focus groups and surveys and will show up for their kid when the time comes. Anti-intellecutalism has been the crazy aunt in the American cultural attic since the time of the Puritans. In a nation which equates freedom with the ability to make unlimited amounts of money, there is little hope for a future in which social justice plays a vital civic role and teaching will be relegated to the position of educational android, third class. It’s always been much easier to import knowledge than make it at home. When developing and many developed nations start hoarding their best and brightest, the Sun will dim on the dim-witted Americans.

  8. I believe in choice. And I believe in choice for all participants in the world of education. We hear that word used repeatedly and selectively by the edu-reformers and the massive testing monopolies, i.e., Pearson and ETS.

    Recently there was a parent/child protest against high stakes testing in NYC. It was the usual insipid complaints by an intellectually bankrupt teachers union. They have no good ideas.

    Now, let’s take the concept of choice and distribute it to all education market participants. Right now, testing companies are paid to administer tests. They also get free access to very valuable data. This data is extremely detailed and offers a treasure mine of personal information.

    Just like a shark feeding frenzy, think tanks, non-profits, R’s posse, and the edu-bureaucracy line up for their gorging on this free data. But why does this data have to be free? This is a market failure. The demand curve for testing is artificially low since it is not allowed to capture the massive positive externality of this data. If it were allowed to do that, parents would get paid, monopolies would pay more, and markets would then allocate this data to its most efficient use. Right now this data is free and it is wasted.

    I want parental choice in this market to be maximized. And that can only occur with the free market discipline of price. Here are my recommendations:

    1. Parents individually choose whether their child shall be tested.
    2. That test data belongs to them.
    3. They may choose whether they wish to sell their child’s data.
    4. That data will be sold to the highest bidder.

    Right now, testing companies are being paid twice. They profit from producing the tests, and they profit again by the tidal wave of incredibly valuable, individualized, personal, data.

    It is time to end this abuse of parents and their children. If the data is physically limited in supply and valuable, then it MUST HAVE A PRICE. The testing monopolies and think tank industry must pay parents for this data. What will the right wing think tanks say. They will scream. They will attack. They will call it nonsense. But it is not. It is data that belongs to parents.

    And this one simple free market principle will end the edu-bureaucracy. R, think about it. Your entire career depends upon free data. That gravy train is ending.

    To the edu-bureaucracy: There is no such thing as a free lunch. Pay for that data. As an aside, I am not an economist. I picked up an introductory test I found in the lab, read it during lunch time, and now I sound as good as any of the multiple six figure right wing think tankers.

    One last note: “Think tank” really means “Department of Agitation and Propaganda.”

    Cheers and best wished to all of you as you fight the edu-bureacracy. Remember, you have choices. Sell that data to the highest bidder. It is your property.

  9. Philip, here’s an even more post about that issue and why all of us around the country need to pay attention

    “Many of us fear that our state and federal education bureaucracy is becoming inextricably tangled with for-profit testing companies and thus deeply compromised, like the military-industrial complex that President Eisenhower warned of just before he retired. Their testing obsession is undermining our schools, not only in this city, but nationally, and it has got to stop. ”


  10. Bill Jones wrote: “Right now, testing companies are being paid twice. They profit from producing the tests, and they profit again by the tidal wave of incredibly valuable, individualized, personal, data.”

    Actually, they also profit a 3rd way from the free time and labor provided by teachers and students. My school has been more or less shut down numerous times over the past few years for “field testing” of the new STAR tests that are being developed by Pearson under a half billion dollar contract. Teachers get to spend a half day proctoring field trials of draft tests. Students get to sit through yet one more standardized test for which they receive nothing. Last time around a lot of students got wise to the scam and refused to cooperate. Well, they showed up, penciled in some interesting patterns on the scantron answer sheets without opening the test booklets, turned them in and then promptly pulled out a book or put their heads down to sleep. Teachers who have grown weary of the whole thing just shrugged and said fine. Other kids who were making an effort figured out the game and gave up too. no one wants to be suckered into providing free labor for Pearson. Kids have learned to save their effort for the one test that actually counts for something..the SAT. The rest of the standardized tests are completely meaningless to students as long as they pass, which the top 80% to without effort.

  11. Dear Mr. Rotherham: This is in response to your TIME article on the subject. Not wonky enough… It’s cut and dried. Cut is a past tense in this case. So is dried. It originated in agriculture or forests, where hay or lumber needs to be cut and dried before use. It’s cut cut cut, present, past, past participle.

    Of course we don’t give four principle parts in English, because the third, present participle, is so totally regular: just add -ing to the present. Or, in the case of cutting, double the final consonant and then add -ing.

    Former English professor? No. English profs believe in long paragraphs. I’m a former mass communications prof. We’re being published and they aren’t.

    BTW: Why does the United States of America have the world’s finest universities and the world’s worst high schools?

  12. “And if we cut those benefits while continuing to treat teachers like DMV clerks — with lockstep pay schedules, little trust and few opportunities to take leadership roles or be entrepreneurial — it will become even harder to attract talented workers.”

    What kind of lunatic thinks that teachers want to be leaders or entrepreneurial?

    Teachers *want* the lockstep pay schedules. Yes, even really good ones.

    If you think the entire character of teachers should be changed to some go-getting, cutthroat, competitive winner take all profession, fine. You’d be an idiot, but whatever. But stop pretending that teachers want this now.

    And oh, by the way, if you change the nature of the job to the sort you envision, you’ll never get more than a fraction of the teachers you have now.

    Really, you are one of the more profoundly ignorant eduformers in the field. It’s not that you’re stupid, you just have a vision of what teaching should be that’s just utterly disconnected from reality. But I guess that sort of delusional thinking pays well in the eduformer field.

  13. Cal, Along those lines, read this:

    Over more than 20 years in the field of education—including two with Teach For America—I have helped promote state standards, the Common Core, the hiring of teachers with strong content knowledge, longer class periods for math and reading, and extra support for struggling students, to name a few. I have recently discovered, however, that what I believe as an education policy wonk is not always what I believe as a father. I am incredibly fortunate that my two young daughters are ready learners who attend a high-functioning school. That said, I make the following confessions:
    As a policy wonk, I push for high academic expectations for all students. I know that American competitiveness requires excellence in subjects such as math and science that our schools do not teach very well. As a father, however, I find that what matters most to me is that my daughters are happy in school.

    My daughter’s kindergarten class included a troubled boy who was going through the foster-care placement process. He is exactly the type of child that can benefit most from an excellent education, but he regularly disrupted class. One day, when I was in the classroom, the teacher—talented, but inexperienced—spent more than half of her time trying to keep this boy on task.
    I feel for children like him; my company works with schools and districts to improve outcomes for these kids. But I was angry. The other children were clearly uncomfortable. His disruptions reduced learning time for my daughter, and seemed to steal some of her innocence and excitement about school.

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