Our thesis is this: look at one of our failing systems – we’ve selected education – and see who benefits from the actions and policies that now govern the system. We’ve suggested that it is everyone involved in providing the elements in this system but not those who should be served by it.

We’ve said it is most obvious that our children are not benefitting.

Now we suggest that the system’s primary provider – its teachers – find no real lasting benefits either.

Sixty-five years ago when some of our most talented women found teaching as one of three more or less professional jobs available to them (nursing and secretary the other two) the newly established Liberal Party of New York began working for teacher tenure to prevent the firing of a qualified teacher just because someone wanted a cousin to have a job in a school system. The Liberal Party helped the fledgling teacher’s union win the battle for tenure and helped them win the battle for a decent salary schedule and academic freedom.

Today the Liberal Party sees the teacher’s union as being more concerned about its own benefits and corporate positioning – and the 200,000 union dues checks it receives every month – than it does the plight of the teachers in the classroom. Those union dues reflect every raise a teacher gets.

Is money enough? Is that all there is for a teacher? Whoever went into teaching for the money?

Michael Mulgrew
Michael Mulgrew
During the Michael Bloomberg years teachers received a generous pay increase as Bloomberg ran for reelection and wanted their votes. The increase was so beneficial that the UFT’s long-reigning President Randi Weingarten took her success to Washington where she became President of the national union, the American Federation of Teachers, and left the UFT in the hands of her long-time lieutenant Michael Mulgrew.

Yet schools did no better in providing an education for its children then they did before the increase. Then came the Bloomberg drought: his refusal to find a middle ground with all the municipal unions and their decision to wait through his disputed third term until a new Mayor was elected – one who might not only give them the raises they wanted but back pay as well for the years they worked without a contract.

It seems both decisions were cleverly made. Bloomberg put away more money in his rainy day fund for unexpected emergencies and New York’s new Mayor Bill DeBlasio began negotiations with the UFT and gave teachers back pay plus raises in a contract which would be in force through 2018.

So if this is true, how can we claim that teachers are not doing well and seem to have become the scapegoats in the drive to find a real reason American public education is failing?

So it seems we should be able to add teachers to those who are presently benefitting from the present system of public education.

But we think not. We think instead that the United Federation of Teachers is benefitting while their teacher-members are sending monthly dues checks and getting slaughtered by an American community sick and tired of how the system is failing its children. Testing them, not teaching them. Protecting bad teachers from being removed. Introducing a new curriculum so difficult that all the children are failing.

We will very soon see a wave of parent-led law suits following the success of one in California which resulted in the striking down of teacher tenure so as to “get rid of bad teachers”.

We see a much-hailed new curriculum- the Common Core – come under attack because children who had been succeeding in school began failing tests in the Common Core at a rate never seen. Parents were first stunned by these failures…then livid.

A few months ago 33,000 children in New York refused to take the latest round of Common Core tests- given only in English (Language Arts) and math. Parents said “no”.

Three States using the Common Core have dropped it.. barely a year since its hurried introduction.

At an Education Forum held last Summer by the then Mayoral candidate Tom Allon, UFT President Michael Mulgrew, told a small group of us questioning him about Allon’s main theme that the instruction of teachers at the college level was totally inadequate and that little or no real professional education was offered once a teacher was hired, said this “Look I receive 200,000 (union dues) checks every week…”

uftlogoJust the other day UFT members in NYC voted to accept the deal between Mulgrew and the DeBlasio administration although much of the detailed material about who would be receiving back pay and how much of their health benefits they would have to give back was still not made public. We’re not even sure they understand it.

Besides a few extra dollars in their paychecks what else has been done to help teachers perform at a level far above the one they are at now? Not much.

They know the children won’t benefit. But let’s look at what it means to be a teacher today and wonder aloud why teachers continue to support union leadership which does nothing more for them but increases union dues checks to UFT headquarters on Wall Street (yes, where the big corporations play, why not?) considerably.

As glass ceilings for women began to move up in America, women seeking a professional career no longer had to depend on nursing or teaching. The esteemed former President of the even more esteemed Columbia University Teacher’s College said some years ago that they no longer received women of the same caliber intellectually as they had in the 1950’s. He said those women were going into medicine, law and business.

Where do our teachers come from today? Studies show they are from the lowest third of the SAT scores as they enter college. A study showed that the share of the highest achieving women who were teachers fell by half between 1964 and 2000; another showed an 80% drop.

More studies show that when some teachers are fired, the question of job security for new teachers becomes a serious consideration about the choice of teaching as a career. Because they are so poorly prepared by Schools of Education – the findings of a Blue Ribbon panel on which Randi Weingarten was an approving member although she said nothing beyond her affirmative that would actually put pressure on those schools to improve teaching designs, new teachers are so insecure going into their first classrooms that they have no idea whether they will be good or bad teachers in a few years.

In fact what is more unsettling is the rate of teachers leaving the profession within five years of beginning it. The rate now is 60% who quit before five years. In New York City the rate is almost sixty percent within three years.

The very fact that the Union claims it only wants fair due process for its teachers does enough to make firing a really bad or ineffective teacher a lengthy, expensive proposition for a school system. The only teachers who are really fired quickly are those committing criminal acts or becoming sexually involved with students. Teachers who are fired no longer pay union dues.

A good deal of this may truly get turned around if parent legal actions to end tenure become so difficult that the union will have to find another approach but endless delay in helping teachers retain jobs SOME should not have.

Combine the effort to end tenure with the fury about the Common Core and we see additional pressure being put on teachers.

It was clear from the beginning that State Governors would be attracted to the Presidential call to adopt the program and get large amounts of Federal money to introduce it quickly. But a program which attempted to change how teachers were teaching – instead of what teachers were teaching must have deserved some time to help teachers understand and learn this new approach.

Randi Weingarten
Randi Weingarten
Randi Weingarten sat on the New York State Blue Ribbon Governor’s Advisory Board and not only approved the introduction of Common Core but the speed with which it was thrust on teachers and of course, on their students.

Once she heard that the testing program built into the Common Core, would be used to begin evaluating the abilities of teachers, she hastily backed away and a year after its introduction

She sought a two year delay in its use to evaluate teachers.

Is this the help teachers need? Is that the best the union can do – fight every effort to evaluate teachers but do nothing to help teachers get what they truly do need: a better basic education in Schools of Education and continued seriously designed professional education once they are teaching.

Will teachers ever begin to wonder why their union can’t do more to help make them the professional educators they want to be?

Will teachers ever have the courage to demand something more from their union in return for lifetime dues payments? Yes, teachers pay dues until they either leave NY – and so get no benefits – or die.

We can’t answer that. Perhaps as the pressure on teachers mount, they will either walk away as so many older and younger teachers are doing or decide to take back their union from people who are truly benefitting from a system that is leaving its members in the mud.

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