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    Teachers should lead reform of our schools

    A new movement, Teachers United, hopes to transcend the sterile, labor-versus-management model of our education debate. Here's how to get beyond "the labor mentality" in public schools.
    Chris Eide: empowering teachers.

    Chris Eide: empowering teachers. League of Education Voters

    I would like to present a look inside the teaching core that we have in Seattle, with a spotlight on a different breed of teacher that exists in schools. I would also like to take a look inside our teachers' union, its structure, the narrative that  dictates its actions, and how that different breed of teacher is beginning to demand a different breed of labor leader.

    Let's start with a look at the union movement and the teaching profession. “After the post office,” former Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander said, “schools are the most unionized activity in America.” But it wasn’t always that way. Our two largest teacher unions are the National Education Association (NEA) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). The NEA was until the 1960s in majority populated by school administrators, not teachers. The founder of the American Federation of Labor, Samuel Gompers, felt that teachers didn’t belong in organized labor, in part because they were too educated. The image of a union worker was blue collar and gruff — not polished like teachers.

    Franklin Roosevelt, himself a champion of labor unions and collective bargaining, asserted that unionizing teachers was a bad idea. “The process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service…. The very nature and purposes of government make it impossible for administrative officials to represent fully or to bind the employer in mutual discussions with government employee organizations. The employer is the whole people,” FDR declared.

    However, in the 1950s, big private-sector union wins led to factory worker salaries outpacing teacher salaries. Combined with the fact that many teachers were subjected to shoveling snow or punching time clocks and stories of female teachers being sent home at the first sign of being pregnant, the situation was ripe for organized action. The United Federation of Teachers in New York City, under the leadership of Albert Shanker, went on strike, demanding collective bargaining rights, and they got it. From that point on, everything changed.

    Prior to 1960, just before collective bargaining in public education, union membership had been slowly moving toward 750,000 teachers nationally. Now, that number is upwards of 4 million. Teaching had begun to identify with the labor movement.

    But that labor mentality never fully took hold, even among union leadership. Albert Shanker himself in his later years became perhaps the nation’s most prominent education reformer. The father of collective bargaining in public schools and president of the American Federation of Teachers later broke far and wide from his membership, proposing the idea for charter schools, merit pay, and rigorous peer-review procedures. As someone who believed in the mission of educating our most disadvantaged students well, he imagined a new kind of teacher that needed to be protected. He foresaw a “second revolution.”

    To be sure, many people still identify teaching with labor. One Seattle Public Schools Board Director recently objected to Teach For America (TFA) teachers applying for positions in Seattle on the grounds that “there are still a lot of qualified teachers out there on their couches without jobs.” That is a labor mentality.

    A contrasting mentality is focused on the mission of closing the achievement gap. This is a departure from a compliant, credential-based model of teacher in favor of a justice-minded, outcomes-based one. In order to uphold such democratic values as equality, these teachers see their role as not to simply stand, deliver, and collect a paycheck; it is to take responsibility for every student and make sure that they succeed.

    This represents a shift in mindset: when you take responsibility for every student and their success, you have to act.

    This kind of teacher is frustrated by a system that holds them back, by peers who lack their urgency in solving the problem or who make excuses for why the problem can’t be solved. Our unions many times do just this, and fewer teachers identify with their unions as they currently operate. They appreciate the protections that the union provides against capricious acts. But few, if any of these reform-minded teachers are clinging to due process of dismissal rights.

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    Posted Thu, Jun 21, 8:25 a.m. Inappropriate

    I am curious as to what math program you used at Mercer. Was it the district ordered Discovery math or something the teachers were able to choose?


    Posted Thu, Jun 21, 8:51 a.m. Inappropriate

    "The image of a union worker was blue collar and gruff — not polished like teachers."

    Those "blue collar and gruff" people you say are so unpolished - they build this country and gave us a 40-hour work week. You're welcome.

    Combined with the fact that many teachers were subjected to shoveling snow or punching time clocks and stories of female teachers being sent home at the first sign of being pregnant, the situation was ripe for organized action.

    No kidding. Darn, I guess those unions are good for something like protecting workers' health.

    And Mercer Middle School? They got to go off-script, without a waiver that other schools must have to use a different curriculum. Many schools would like to change their math curriculum to get better outcomes as well.

    Albert Shanker did (based on Budd's design for a lab classroom within a school, not a separate school) proposed charters. And later, seeing them co-opted, withdrew his support.

    “there are still a lot of qualified teachers out there on their couches without jobs.” That is a labor mentality."

    No, it's not labor mentality. It's a basic statement of fact and one that the Renton School District recently used when they said they were unlikely to hire any TFA. They were pleasantly surprised to find experienced, fully-qualified but unemployed teachers in large numbers.

    How come the "labor leader" you spoke to won't allow you to use his/her name? It would seem like heresay otherwise.

    What an incredibly disrespectful piece about the teacher we have today in our classrooms. I am proud to say I graduated two sons from Seattle Schools and most of the teachers were very good and yes, did care about each and every child succeeding.

    Mr. Eide certainly makes it sound like we should just start all over with a new crop - "breed" - of teacher. I support ALL teachers and it's sad he doesn't.

    Keep in mind, he's trying to build his organization and he has Gates money to do it. It's not some grassroots organization.


    Posted Thu, Jun 21, 7:30 p.m. Inappropriate

    It sounds to me like Mr Eide is calling for elevating the union and giving teachers a bigger voice by engaging the silent majority. He is not advocating for abolishing the union. Teachers United is fulfilling a unique and critical role in bringing the voice of teachers to the policy table. The teachers I know that are involved in Teachers United are well respected among their peers and leaders in their schools. As a SEA Rep this year, I was personally frustrated by the lack of union meeting time spent on issues that relate specifically to teaching and learning, in spite of the fact that the Seattle contract specifically calls out closing the achievement gap as a priority. A strategy used by Teachers United that the union could also adopt are the facilitation of safe and structured conversations among teachers to discuss education related issues. I’d also advocate for the union to solicit input to guide decision making on policy issues. I find it ironic that the SEA motto is “one voice” yet there are many voices that have not been heard. It might be one voice, but it is certainly not one unified voice among all of the membership.


    Posted Thu, Jun 21, 8:57 a.m. Inappropriate

    Mr Eide, do you consider yourself part of this "new breed"? Even though you are no longer a teacher but, rather, a talking head on Gates' payroll? Maybe you're part of the new breed of union-busters like Rhee and Edelman? I'm sure the Koch brothers might throw you some dough.


    Posted Thu, Jun 21, 9:19 a.m. Inappropriate

    So Mercer got to pick their math program. No wonder they did so much better. I am all for allowing teachers to pick the best curriculum for their kids. Unfortunately, the district doesn't seem to allow that. So maybe it is the district that needs to change and not the teachers?


    Posted Thu, Jun 21, 11:38 a.m. Inappropriate

    From the recap of the situation prior to unionization, there can be little doubt that teachers need collective bargaining.

    That said, I can't accept the dichotomy Mr. Eide has proposed between a "labor mentality", described as "compliant, credential-based model" and "to simply stand, deliver, and collect a paycheck", and a responsibility model, focused on closing the academic achievement gap and a "justice-minded, outcomes-based" model. The teacher corps are not divisible along these lines. Elements of each of these can be found in every teacher. In fact, the presumption that a signficant number of teachers don't care about their students' achievement is not only false and divisive, it is damaging to our community.

    Responsibility and authority have to go together. Teachers cannot take responsibility if they are not also granted the authority to take the necessary action to fulfill that responsibility. It is not teachers' peers who are holding them back from fulfilling these responsibilities, but the administration, at the school-, district- and state-level, and the tragic lack of funding.

    The work done at Mercer was done under the District's radar. The system, not the teachers, not the union (which is the teachers), is the impediment to real leaps forward in serving students well. The teachers didn't design the system and they don't maintain it. That is done by administrators and bureaucrats. You want to blame someone for the ineffectiveness of public schools to address the achievement gap, look at those folks, not at the teachers who have to struggle in a system they didn't make. Accountability must start at the top.

    I'm all for holding teachers responsible for outcomes - as soon as they have the authority to do what needs to be done. Tell me, though. When are we going to hold principals, district officials, and state bureaucrats responsible for outcomes?


    Posted Thu, Jun 21, 12:29 p.m. Inappropriate

    Crosscut does itself no credit by giving this employee of union-busters, this liar for hire, a platform. His following in his former profession is nil, and his public credibility approaches that level.


    Posted Sat, Jun 23, 6:05 p.m. Inappropriate

    Ivan, this is a wonderful contribution. Do you know for sure that there are no teachers who are in his organization? Also, what is he lying about here? Your cheap shots are just that.

    Posted Mon, Jun 25, 6:22 a.m. Inappropriate

    Your defense of the indefensible, here and downthread, is noted. This guy is a paid propagandist, and you are his willing dupe.


    Posted Thu, Jun 21, 7:29 p.m. Inappropriate

    I am surprised to see so many comments about this piece as an attack on teachers. Instead, it should be seen as an effort to empower teachers to do what they are supposed to do: lead our youth in an educational pursuit of not just memorization of facts, but rather an ability to learn and assimilate information in a way that allows them to propel themselves into a productive future.

    It calls for merit-based approaches, i.e., if your students excel then you are rewarded. I agree that responsibility requires authority, but a lack of responsibility is often the case regardless of empowerment. This was certainly my experience in school growing up not long ago.

    In basically every professional field there is a reward system in place that allows those who are more productive to be rewarded, and vice versa. If one does not produce then they are traditionally not given reimbursement for their time, or at least not indefinitely. Whether it be business, medicine, law, engineering, etc, this principle holds true. Why should education, a system that sets the very foundation for our nation's future, be any different?


    Posted Fri, Jun 22, 6:17 a.m. Inappropriate

    The answer to your question, drbeau, is so obvious that I find it hard to believe that you didn't know it before you asked it.

    Doctors (except in emergencies), lawyers, engineers, and business owners can pick and choose who they accept as clients or customers. Public school teachers can't. Our system of public compulsory education dictates, by law, that our schools take all comers, including the most at-risk and the least prepared.

    Education "reformers" like Eide are fond of repeating their mantra, "Every child can learn" with all the frequency and intensity of the Nichiren Shoshu Buddhists chanting in unison "Nam-yo-ho-rengye-ko," as if mere repetition could somehow confer equivalency on all students who enter the public school system.

    Every child might well be able to learn, but few of them start from the same place, or learn at the same rate. Yet Eide and his corporate paymasters pretend that we can, and therefore we must, evaluate teacher performance as if they did.

    Don't believe a word they say. They're liars, plain and simple, and they want their hands in your pocket so that they might be further enriched.


    Posted Thu, Jun 21, 8:34 p.m. Inappropriate

    coolpapa, I don't think what you're saying is in opposition to Mr. Eide's piece. Maybe some of his language is strong, but you have been known to hike that territory yourself. You're a strong supporter of local control when it comes to education, and support of teachers as a talented, capable group, and so is he.

    I'm a teacher and a union rep, and I couldn't agree more that I get frustrated that a union that should be advocating for excellence. Unions should be as bad-ass as the guilds of old instead of wasting time with resolutions to support some labor movement in Nigeria, or wherever SEA's latest agenda is. Instead of having intelligent conversations about what's happening to education locally and how we can be excellent at what we do and respected for it.

    Westello, the union did bring us the weekend. Not you, because I'm pretty sure you've ever been union, but thank you to those who did. And those who did fight for fair wages and fair hours are nothing like today's union leaders. In fact, today's union is nothing like the unions who brought us our Tri pay. Last fall I stood on a corner, at the request of my union, to show the public we were upset at having to take a furlough day, and I stood there with maybe 20 other teachers, representing about 1,000 teachers. No one showed up. Was it the rain? Was it that we weren't paid to show up? No one was there. And that is the problem. Everyone has something better to do. Everyone's comfortable, and lazy.

    No one wants to get involved with today's unions because teachers are busy people, and going to union meetings is depressing and a waste of time. There's nothing invigorating or inspiring about it. It's not invigorating to be told, "Go to where they're gathering signatures and be a nuisance!" If all my union can do is be an obstruction to progress, that depresses me. What happened to forward momentum? The big energy boost is, "Go in front of the store and protest TFA." Who cares? TFA teachers pay union dues. Does no one honor that? Is there no bigger battle to fight? What about professional pride? What about standing up as a profession of educated people and fighting to be treated with respect because we deserve respect?

    Eide is right. If you want to attack him for no longer teaching, you may as well attack Mary Lindquist all the other teachers who left the classroom, reluctantly, so that they would have time to take on work they felt was essential to the profession. Creating a coalition of teachers who are active in both the union and in being heard in Olympia seems pretty essential to me.

    Our unions have lost their momentum. Talk all you want about how "unions are teachers." You're wrong. The union is teachers who have nothing better to do. Most teachers are innovative. Most teachers kick ass. Most teachers leave union business up to the poor devoted suckers who volunteer to be building reps.

    More teachers need to get involved, show up, and get unions back up and running in a direction that's something other than a circle with periodic Nigerian dances. I am proud to be union, but my union often embarrasses me. It does not speak for me. I'm trying to change that, and I encourage other teachers who never for a minute consider carving one evening out of their month to attend a union meeting to do the same.


    Posted Fri, Jun 22, 12:53 p.m. Inappropriate

    Sam, I'm a little surprised you would comment on my background because it has nothing to do with this discussion. And, you don't know me so you have no basis for your remark about me.

    Your other remarks certainly give more perspective especially as you are a teacher.


    Posted Sat, Jun 23, 5:52 p.m. Inappropriate

    This is awesome. Melissa Westbrook complaining that someone is commenting on her background instead of sticking to the points. Tell us, Melissa, did you ever have a union job? Did you ever teach? You spend time loudly decrying the people who are trying to do their job and claiming that they are puppets of someone else. I feel bad for this guy, the way you speak about him. Not just him, lots of people, from the comforts of your home. Why? Do you know that the people at the Gates Foundation are telling him what to do? He might be getting funded by them, but that doesn't mean they tell him what to do. Maybe you don't know how philanthropy works. For some reason, you seem to constantly assume the worst about people and organizations.

    Posted Thu, Jun 21, 10:29 p.m. Inappropriate

    "TFA teachers pay union dues. Does no one honor that?"

    I can respect their willingness to participate in the union, but I am dismayed at their limited training. If they were working with experienced teachers, as tutors or classroom support, I would be more sanguine about the program, but they are replacing fully-trained, experienced teachers. I find that very disturbing.


    Posted Fri, Jun 22, 6:07 a.m. Inappropriate

    sandik, any TFA corps member currently teaching was hired from a pool of applicants by a hiring team that felt they were choosing the most qualified person for the job. If a TFA applicant was chosen over an experienced teacher, it's because that experienced teacher wasn't the best applicant.

    When you say "limited training," you're assuming every applicant with a teaching certificate has been well trained. As someone who's met graduates from a variety of teaching programs, I can tell you a certificate is no proof of quality training.

    Whether or not you agree with TFA as a program, and I know many don't, we need to stop using "poor training" and "taking someone's job" as reasons it's not worth supporting. I've seen poorly-trained displaced teachers who have no business being in the classroom bump a highly-qualified, talented teacher. The program that runs that system is the union. Why aren't parents protesting a system that puts those teachers in charge of their kids?


    Posted Fri, Jun 22, 9:24 a.m. Inappropriate

    "sandik, any TFA corps member currently teaching was hired from a pool of applicants by a hiring team that felt they were choosing the most qualified person for the job."

    Or the principal thought he could score points by saying he had a TFA teacher on his roster.
    Or the Central Administration stacked the hiring team.
    There's an awful lot of factors that go into hiring beyond "qualified".


    Posted Thu, Jun 21, 11:02 p.m. Inappropriate

    As a parent of children in the public school system, this article is exciting to me.
    I, as well as many other parents, have lost hope and trust in the public school system and I think it has a lot to do with the teachers' unions. These unions went from representing our teachers in their collective bargaining rights to manipulating bills in the House/Senate, illegally striking, and losing sight of what is best for the students. It's nice to see these teachers standing up and speaking out for what is right.
    Just reading this article has given me a glimmer of hope that our school systems will get back on track to providing the best education possible to our children and I'm extremely grateful that there are teachers like these who are willing to lead the way. Thank you Teachers United!!


    Posted Fri, Jun 22, 6:28 a.m. Inappropriate

    "Rather than represent the variety of perspectives among the teaching corps, leaders proclaim that when they speak, they are representing the voice of all of their teachers. They claim that they are unified on each issue, and should you go against that, you are against teachers."

    To me, this is the key to the riddle. Union mentality is out of touch and top-down, and the messaging is often inaccurate. Union leaders would move the profession in the right direction by refusing to allow divisive language, by encouraging thoughtful dialogue as many in Seattle are trying to do, and by looking for common ground with those who are advocating for reform.

    As a teacher who has seen both the many benefits of organized labor and the limitations, I agree that the answer lies in the union working to protect its members from unfair practices and teachers working to speak out on how to help children succeed. No teacher goes to work every day looking to damage children.

    Collective bargaining is necessary. In a job that is historically under-compensated, in a job for which there is really no limit to the workload ("Jimmy, it's 6:30 am, what are you doing here?" "My mom had to drop me off early. Can I hang out in your room?"), it's important that collective bargaining allows us to set limits. On the other hand, how have we gotten to a place where each and every teacher with seniority is guaranteed a job? Where, if a principal tries to fire a teacher, an attorney jumps in and offers to represent the teacher for a cut of the settlement? I'd be interested to know how much districts pay to settle with teachers who should be fired, because settling is cheaper than going to court. And those of us in Seattle all know these stories - Bryant, West Woodlawn, Whittier. How much time and energy did a passionate principal waste fighting what should be a simple process? How much money have schools lost because the district is forced to settle to remove an incompetent teacher? And those are three of perhaps 40 situations in only one district. It's not okay.

    This system needs to change. Our unions need to update their views on what is reasonably to be expected of teachers, because I think what's reasonable now is different than it was in the '80s. It's reasonable to fire a teacher who is unable or unwilling to do her job. It's unreasonable to expect other teachers to work harder to make up for that teacher's deficits, or to ask families to hang in there until a lousy teacher retires. Parents should not have to volunteer in classroom every single day to support an incompetent teacher, and Seattle parents have all heard stories of this happening.

    ttownmom, you're not alone in losing trust and hope in the school system. I meet more and more parents who have pulled their children from public schools, and who have hated doing so, because the recent rash of rifs has resulted in unhappy, incompetent teachers being placed in front of their children. No one should have to support public education by sacrificing a year of their child's life.

    I'm excited there's a group of teachers courageous enough to have the union slam a shoe on the counter and scream "we will bury you!" at them. It's not anti-teacher to have common sense about how the system needs to change to serve students. It's not anti-teacher to say the time for excuses has come to an end. It's not anti-teacher to say each and every teacher should be excellent, or doing whatever it takes to get there.


    Posted Fri, Jun 22, 12:55 p.m. Inappropriate

    "...have the union slam a shoe on the counter and scream "we will bury you!" at them."

    And you know this happened? When and where?


    Posted Fri, Jun 22, 8:24 a.m. Inappropriate

    Mr. Eide sat in front of me with his wife, Bree Dessault, who is one of the distict's "executive directors" this past winter down in Olympia at the hearing about charter schools. He was there to testify in favor of charter schools and I was there to testify against them. Against them not because I don't want change in the schools, but because the business model solutions to K-12 public education point the gun at just about everyone except those who should be in the crosshairs. We need higher quality teachers, for sure. You don't get that with the underprepared teachers on a burnout pathway with TFA and you don't get it from attacking teachers or unions. You also don't get it when you fail to claim curricula is a huge problem. Of course, Mr. Eide realizes that it wasn't just teachers, but a different math textbook that helped raise scores as it would district wide if the bureaucracy would just make the change. Again, teachers, instead of the super, "Chief Academic Officer" (Ha!) and school board in the crosshairs. The timing of this with the charter school initiative is not coincidence. Worth remembering is that this kind of article isn't journalism, it's campaign literature.

    Posted Fri, Jun 22, 11:50 a.m. Inappropriate

    Spot on, Kate Martin! Very insightful. Very penetrating.

    There are all together too many forces present that are trying to dismantle what's good in the name of privatizing (balkanizing) education. Public education is supposed to benefit all--not just the few. It's as if the corporate mentality of the school board bureaucracy is the real problem. You'd get the same thing with privatized (for profit?) education, too. That's where the "top-down" mentality really resides and impedes true education reform. Where are the textbooks that work? Who are the ones deciding which books to supply the schools with? Are the powers-that-be in conversation with the folks in the classroom? If not, how is that affecting the success of the kids?

    If there is a failure with the teachers' unions, then it perhaps can be said that it is in a failure in presenting a united front of teachers and pro-active principals to the school boards--all in the name of the best education possible for the students. As Kate points out, "You also don't get it (education reform and quality teachers) when you fail to claim curricula is a huge problem." Meanwhile, teachers have been forced to teach to the "accountability" tests--versus a transcendent understanding of the material. That's called shooting yourself in the toe in self-defense.

    Posted Fri, Jun 22, 9:40 a.m. Inappropriate

    Context is everything, and when arguments are made as if the issues being discussed exist in a vacuum, it can very confusing, especially to readers who don't have much of a sense of the big picture. There is nothing in our educational system that is not vulnerable to justifiable criticism--teachers, unions, curricula, and the local, state, and federal education bureaucrats. Are there some teachers who ought not to be in our children's classrooms? Yes. Are union leaders often feckless game players who focus on the irrelevant? Yes. But it's just wrong to think that whatever criticisms might be justifiably directed toward teachers and unions is the real root of the problem. Most teachers care, and most teachers are doing a good job.

    And these criticisms of teachers have to be understood in the political context of now almost thirty years of aggressive attacks on unions by factions within this country that would simply rather they didn't exist. If unions are a problem for anyone, they are mostly a problem for these folks. They don't want to say that, so they are letting out all the stops, including articles like this one, to convince you they are a problem for our kids.

    As Kate Martin said this article has to be read and understood in the context of the very aggressive efforts by these same factions to push for charter schools. Charter schools in the abstract seem like a good idea. Why shouldn't there be more choice? Why shouldn't there be more opportunity for schools to innovate? But you have to understand charter schools as a tool being used by these factions to destroy the traditional community accountable public schools that is at the heart of our democracy to turn them into low-cost education mills. Charter Schools Balkanize school districts; they create more problems than they solve. There are real problems and they need real solutions.

    Charters and TFA are phony solutions, and they have to be understood in the current political context. Ask yourself who is pushing them. Where is the money coming from to promote them. Why do these people care? Is it really all about what's best for the children? I hope most readers here are not naive enough to believe that.

    Posted Sat, Jun 23, 12:52 a.m. Inappropriate

    It's fascinating to see such tortured "reasoning".

    When I was elected to a volunteer (unpaid) small suburban city council about 20 years ago, I was anxious to help control spending of what I assumed to be a large amount of money.

    Then I became aware the local school district's budget was far, far bigger.

    I think businesspersons have figured out too: we spend a LOT of money on education. $10,000 per year per child. More in the wealthier districts. Lots of people in this world. Most of them have children, who need 12 or 13 years of public money spent on them. Like a nice new car every couple of years' worth. What would 10% profit on that amount be?

    It makes the profits of cell phone companies, of computer software companies, of oil companies, of defense contractors, look like chump change.

    But there's a sticking point: all those teachers, who we don't pay well, who must be obsessed about something to spend their time making so little money while putting up with snotty noses, whining, and teenagers' insults and assaults, and not allowed to smack them around like many parents would. Not even allowed to ground them.

    Obsessed workers can spoil the fun for corporate raiders, especially if they work together.

    The profits are bigger without unions to deal with. Labor economists have determined the typical union raises its members' compensation by 20 or 25%. And the costs of education are just about entirely labor, so 20 or 25% of those costs is real money.

    So let's complain about how Johnny can't learn and it must be the schools' fault. Wait, no, it must be the teachers' fault. Wait, no, everybody knows some good teachers, and some good people who are teachers, so it must be the "bad teachers" ' fault, and who is to blame: the unions.

    Teachers weren't born yesterday and most of those who haven't sold out to corporate interests know there will be less of the limited pie for them if corporations and their CEOs and stockholders take a cut. There aren't ANY profits to be had now, in our silly public education system - can you imagine a PhD leading a for-profit corporation of 4 or 5,000 employees for only $250k per year? Those administrators must be obsessed too.

    All of this "Education Debate" (advertising campaign) is cleverly distracting from the real problem: children who have less support at home than they should, throughout their childhood, even prenatally. Parents working two jobs, scraping to pay the costs of survival for their families; students with jobs working illegal hours to help their families and falling asleep in class; students late because their parent(s) had left for work and no one work them and no one drove them to school when they missed the bus and no one had the energy or the education or the English language skills to sit down with them and help them with their homework or their free and reduced lunch application or whatever.

    THE REAL PROBLEM IS THE SYSTEM. We pay people who work hard less than they should get because corporations and greed are king. We let lenders from banks to credit card companies to payday loan sharks put and keep them and their children in a hole. We don't fund their education to try to compensate for this; wealthy parents live in wealthy districts and those districts spend more on education than the poor districts where the poor people live. We consign many of their children to a life of scraping by, of working like livestock, being milked.

    Some people get wealthy doing this. They are good at hiding their wealth, their ideas, their racism and classism. They want to be wealthier. We let them, because they have control of the courts, of the elections, of the laws and their enforcement. Now they want to siphon 5 or 10% off the top of our education expenditures. They want their part. A nice new car every two years or so. From everybody.

    It's classic greedy corporatism, with no recollection of the fact that a rising tide lifts all boats, with no willingness to wait for the greater remuneration available to them when a whole society is better educated. They are cutting our national throats by diluting the education of the poor, but they are too much focused on the next hit, like crack addicts. Gotta get those profits now. Teachers in the way of maximum profits, opposing private profiteering which results from charter schools which tout what a good job they are doing without mentioning they only accept the family-supported motivated students; parents, if you aren't willing to show up once a week to help, if your child doesn't do a complete job filling out the application, your child need not apply, because she won't be accepted. And if his grades or attendance or attitude starts to slip, and he doesn't respond adequately to requests for improvement, he will be out. But you don't read about that in the media, you don't hear it from Arne Duncan.

    So bad teachers are the enemy of children. Our schools are failing. That's what the corporate drumbeat is, spending lots of money in hopes of making lots of money, when in reality, the system, and many of those corporations' leaders, are the enemy.

    Yes, it's possible to succeed if you are poor. If you have support from home, are well-fed and well-treated and read to and spoken to from birth, or perhaps if you are tremendously motivated personally from the 2nd grade on, you can succeed. You can succeed if you get a spark of inspiration from a good teacher and you already have the fuel of a family behind you and the oxygen of a generous, supportive community with resources to share with you.

    Don't blame public school teachers for the lack of fuel, of oxygen, of a bonfire.

    Posted Sat, Jun 23, 2:15 a.m. Inappropriate

    I just reread Mr. Eide's article and noticed it is misleadingly titled. Do so yourself and see what you think. The headline ropes people in with "Teachers should lead reform of schools" when the headline (if summarizing the contents) should actually be "Teacher unions are bad." My guess is that he would have gotten less readers with that headline.

    Posted Sat, Jun 23, 9:12 a.m. Inappropriate

    Eide didn't write the headline; Crosscut did.


    Posted Sat, Jun 23, 11:19 a.m. Inappropriate

    I appreciate learning more about the history of the labor movement and how that sets the stage for where we are today. I didn't realize that Albert Shanker broke with the very organization he created in pursuit of what he thought was new and better ideas for what was best for teachers and children. That is the kind of free, critical thinking we want from our educational leaders. Without this type of courage, we'll get nowhere.

    I want the best teachers to be shaping our education movement. We need teachers to feel a sense of possibility, ownership, and an entrepreneurial mindset when it comes to problem-solving the very difficult questions of public education. I do not want my children in a classroom where a teacher attributes my child's future potential to outside factors like poverty or corporatism rather than their own professional skills. Especially when we have schools and teachers who are proving it's possible to close the achievement gap and speak out for what our kids deserve. There's no excuse, really, if we know it's possible and we've got examples in our own backyard. Give teachers more opportunity to flex their voices and to contribute to this dialogue without an outdated labor system holding them back. We can't do it without them.

    Posted Sat, Jun 23, 4:14 p.m. Inappropriate

    "Outdated labor system?" Oh, give me a break! When teachers find it difficult to "flex their voices and contribute to the dialogue," chances are that the administration is the party that is making it difficult, rather than the teachers' unions, or their collective bargaining agreements.

    There is nothing "outdated" about teachers having collective bargaining, or contracts that apply equally to all, or tenure, for that matter. The question I keep asking these so-called "reformers," which they never yet have been able to answer, is:

    How are we to attract and retain the best teachers we can get in Washington when the effect of all these "reform" policies is to erode or eliminate teachers' job security and bargaining power?

    I can only conclude that the "reformers" don't want the best teachers to come here and stay here, and don't care if they don't. They want docile, cowering cheap labor -- teachers who shut up, teach to the test, and do what they are told.

    Eide and his corporate puppetmasters want to Wal-Martize our public education system, and I, for one, am out to stop them.


    Posted Sat, Jun 23, 7:52 p.m. Inappropriate

    Ivan, are you saying that administration is the reason that teachers aren't more a part of the dialogue? Also, your question rests on the assumption that the best teachers are interested in job security and bargaining power. What about those teachers that are there to do the best they can to improve every day for the sake of the kids they teach? Not everyone entering the profession sits and contemplates whether or not to enter based upon bargaining power. That is a ridiculous assumption. Also, "outdated labor system" is probably incorrect, you are right. Mismatched labor system is probably more accurate. Teachers aren't exactly punching a time clock and loading freight or working an assembly line. Why have the same time of labor system then?

    Your conception of what reformers want from teachers is absurd. You are more objecting to the standards themselves than the role of the teacher. Should the role of the teacher be to teach any darn thing they choose? How in the heck would you be able to guarantee that students will be prepared to compete in a competitive work environment let alone be good citizens if we just let teachers teach whatever they feel like? Think about what you're asking for just a second before you type.

    Posted Sun, Jun 24, 5:59 a.m. Inappropriate

    There is nothing inconsistent, nor incompatible, nor mutually exclusive, about teachers demanding greater job security and bargaining power so that they CAN "do the best that they can to improve every day for the sake of the kids they teach." It's not "one or the other," it's "one AND the other."

    There is nothing "mismatched" about clear guidelines, enforceable by contract, for wages, hours, and working conditions. Maybe you think teachers should work off the clock without compensation. Do you? Well, I don't. If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.

    And I want you to tell me where I have said that teachers should "teach any darn thing they choose." Nice straw man there.

    There's nothing "absurd" about my conception of what reformers want from teachers, either. I said they want to "Wal-Martize our public education system," and that's exactly, precisely what I meant. Follow the reform money, the same money that keeps propagandists such as the liar for hire Eide, and his incompetent wife, on the payroll, and you'll see that quite a bit of it comes from the Walton Family foundation. Sorry, pal, you are the one who is being absurd here.


    Posted Sun, Jun 24, 9:23 a.m. Inappropriate

    Ivan, you missed the point. Teachers should have protections, of course. What I said was that your claim about WHY teachers ENTER the profession cannot be limited to their need for bargaining power.

    Your next point is troubling: "Maybe you think teachers should work off the clock without compensation. Do you? Well, I don't. If you think education is expensive, try ignorance." Perhaps I'm wrong to think that teachers should do whatever it takes to get their students to where they need to be, but you seem to be like the type of teacher who is punching a clock. I think that's what Eide is talking about here. If all of the teachers are punching a clock, we're going to stay where we are, or actually get worse because I bet a heck of a lot of teachers aren't just punching a clock like you right now. Plus, how does your little quip about 'try ignorance' fit in there? [Insert bumper sticker line here too.]

    "And I want you to tell me where I have said that teachers should "teach any darn thing they choose." Nice straw man there." Fine, let me explain that to you. Our state has agreed to standards that will, in theory, get kids to graduation prepared for what's next if they're met. I don't know if they do this or not, but I'm assuming they'll at least get kids close. You say that reformers just "want docile, cowering cheap labor -- teachers who shut up, teach to the test, and do what they are told." This is referring to the value that reformers put on test scores as a way to tell whether what they're doing is working. Good test scores come from kids meeting those standards, correct? If you aren't then teaching those standards, you are teaching any darn thing you want. Does that help you to understand?

    What the heck does 'Wal-Martize our public education system' even mean? Does it mean that each school will have a greeter at the door? Does it mean that you go into a huge warehouse-like school where you can find anything you want at a cheap price? Does it mean that people are stocking the shelves at minimum wage? I would bet that's the metaphor you're going for here. Teachers just do what they're told and get paid very little for it. If that is the future that reformers are going for, I'm with you. That's really bad and it's not good for anybody. If the goal is to find a model that works and brings the good products to more people for prices they can afford though, that seems good though, doesn't it? There are some elements of Wal-Martizing that might be good for students who can't afford to go to the expensive schools (read: private schools or even public schools in neighborhoods like Ravenna or Ballard).

    Last, as a reader, I have to ask: do you know Eide or his wife? I doubt it. If you don't, man, that's terrible to say. You're not going to get any support from people like me or other readers here if you go on saying things like what you did. Mudslinging is childish and mean, Ivan.

    Posted Sat, Jun 23, 4:44 p.m. Inappropriate

    "I didn't realize that Albert Shanker broke with the very organization he created in pursuit of what he thought was new and better ideas for what was best for teachers and children."

    No, he didn't break with them but he did champion the idea of charters. Then he later disavowed charter schools as they morphed into something completely different from his vision of experiments by teachers, for teachers for better education.

    Charter schools today are not by teachers or for teachers and thus our teachers lost yet another opportunity to collaborate and innovate because it got taken over by others with other agendas.

    Anyone who believes that the issues in our public school system should be laid at the feet of our teachers is not really following the bouncing ball.

    Teachers are not nearly the problem that Microsoft millionaire philanthropists are.


    Posted Sat, Jun 23, 7:47 p.m. Inappropriate

    Wow! Ya gotta hand it to these people. This is a well oiled propaganda machine! The truth, however, is quite different from the picture painted by Mr. Eide. I worked at Mercer Middle School and was a member of the team this, “new way of thinking about unions” supposedly espouses. These talented educators didn’t recently adopt or embrace a "key shift to view the teaching corps as a team." The “team” mentality was alive in the classrooms of Mercer Middle School long before he and Andrea got there. The progressive academic growth of Mercer students can indeed be attributed to these extraordinary teachers who have been teaching at Mercer for years, but there are numerous variables (including wrap around services available) that Mr. TFA failed to mention. Shouldn’t actual facts be included in the discourse of ed. reform?
    As an educator, I am driven EVERY DAY by my desire to close the achievement gap. I work collaboratively to help other teachers improve their practice and seek out colleagues and professional development opportunities to enhance my own skills. I am constantly mindful of the fact that I have a mere 180 hrs a year to instruct, inspire and TEACH. Without a doubt, what I do to impact student learning makes a difference in the lives of my students. Politically though, as an association representative, I am driven by my desire to close the opportunity gap. With my union, I lobby for equitable funding for ALL learners (not just the kids in my class). I advocate for National Board Certification to improve teacher quality for all WA students (not just the kids in my class). The work of the union reaches far beyond the threshold of my classroom to help students succeed! Unions are not the enemy of students! Nor is the political component of union advocacy unrelated to teaching and learning. The reform battle field is political, as the language “League of Education Voters” indicates. I too “stand for children.”
    I don’t stand, however, for corporate influence on education policy. I don’t stand for the privatization that made Michigan management co. CEOs rich, but failed to give a damn about the needs of kids in Detroit's, Flint's, Benton Harbor's or Grand Rapids' urban schools. Ironically, the Public Schools in Bloomfield Hills, East Grand Rapids and the suburbs of St. Joseph are still thriving and turning out graduates prepared to compete in a global economy. These well funded, suburban, public schools in affluent communities have never been slated for takeover. Think about that LEV! Why is that LEV? Charter Schools have been around for 20+ years in MI. There is a record available for responsible decision making for WA voters! 80% of Michigan Charter Schools are run by management companies that PROFIT from ill-equipped buildings and the work of underpaid, exploited (non-union) teachers. MI Charter Management Companies have failed these cities and their children.
    We fail our students if we don’t hold "The League of Education Voters" and those who “Stand for Children” or put "Students First" accountable for the misinformation they distribute. It is because of their well funded tactics and effective propaganda campaign that the political aspect of union membership is so imperative. This “listen to teachers” ploy is as phony as their names.


    Posted Sun, Jun 24, 10:32 a.m. Inappropriate

    I was all ready to break down the propaganda of this article, but this comment does it so well. Thank you for the reality check Biddick.

    I'll add a couple comments though:
    For all the fluff in this piece, it's big takeaway is a veiled call for merit pay based on test scores, a now thoroughly debunked policy.

    Even though he was one of the originators of the charter school idea, Albert Shanker changed his views on charters when he saw how private interests were co-opting the idea.


    Posted Sat, Jun 23, 8:45 p.m. Inappropriate

    The same tired arguments are being replayed by the pro-teacher crowd again and again and again and still Jill can't read that well. It's never the teacher's fault nor is it the administrators nor the WEA's fault that a quality education in this state is beyond the reach of most students. So it must be the parents or perhaps the students fault. Who else is there to blame? Why not all of us?


    Posted Thu, Aug 16, 6:35 p.m. Inappropriate

    Al Shanker proposed charters - and then withdrew his support - but it's incorrect to say he proposed merit pay. Never happened.

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