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Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Teachers have no friends among the journalistic elite

by digby

I'm sorry to blast Alex Wagner's show two posts in a row, but this segment on the Chicago teachers strike is so smugly biased and ill-informed my head is exploding:

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Wagner: As 26,000 chicago teachers enter the third day of their strike there is no sign of an agreement between the union and chicago public school officials, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is calling on both sides to come to a deal. Policies that the Obama Administration supports are at the root of this dispute. The teachers are to the pushing for more pay, but instead are fighting evaluations that are tied to student performance. This is always, Governor Rendell, a tricky mathematics, if you will. The question of education reform versus teachers unions, obviously a place for both. It's particularly tricky for the administration, given the fact they definitely need the support of labor going into November.

Rendell: I don't think this issue in the state of Illinois will affect the electoral vote of illinois but it's an important issue because Rahm Emanuel is showing again, that Democrats can stand up to unions when their demands are unreasonable. I hear it's not economics. The economics in this contract are good for the teachers. It's the demand that's really untenable and the American people think that teachers like everybody else should be evaluated.

Lindgren: What I'm guessing Rahm is betting on the thing that will resolve this, the power of the chicago parents association.

Wagner: right

Lindgren: Which I'm guessing is supremely unhappy day three of their schoolchildren, I think they're getting baby sat four hours a day and then let out into the, you know, to ... where.

Rendell: He happens to be right. Teachers should be evaluated. What the unions should be doing is trying to work with them to frame the evaluation in the fairest way possible to their members. That's what unions should be doing.

Wagner: It's worth noting what the chicago is proposing, student performance on standardized tests count toward 25% of teacher assessment would go to 40% in five years. It's hard to say look, we don't want to be evaluated. You just need to keep paying us what you're paying us.

John Heileman: A shockingly untenable position. There really are at this point in the world of teachers unions those getting with the program and those that are digging in their heels and resisting the program. There are unions that have looked at race to the top, have looked at the fact that a lot of the demands unions have made in the past have gotten in the way of things we should be focussed on, kids and their education, and they are working with reformsers to be adaptive to the new realities. others have dug in their heels. The chicago union right now looks retrograde, looks ridiculous. Rahm will win this battle.

Lindgren: I would say that one thing is for sure, it is very hard to be a Chicago schoolteacher, so I think the fact that like they have fought for a lot of these gains, will they have to give up some of those things I'm sure they will.

Rendell: but evaluations --

Heileman: nobody is asking to give anything up.

Lindgren: they are asking them to give up a 4% pay raise.

Wagner: They are, as you noted in the break, making an average of $76,000.

Rendell: look --

Wagner: let me say one thing. The narrative is somehow the teachers unions do not have the children at heart.

Time magazine reporter: No, absolutely. I think the bottom line is going to be a long and high stakes game of chicken and worth remembering what happened in washington where there was a similar game, reform was pushed through in part because there were pay rises but the mayor lost his job.

Wagner: I'm not betting against Rahm Emmanuel on this one. If there's someone i don't want to find in a dark alley at night to play a game of chicken with, Rahm Emanuel.

Heileman: smart woman.

I could be mistaken, but I think those are all supposed to be either Democrats or journalists. If I didn't know better I'd think I was watching a roundtable at the GOP convention.

We are at a point at which teachers are clearly seen as the biggest assholes in the world who should be happy to work in terrible conditions and be willing to be fired when kids don't thrive in that environment. I could never have imagined that when I was a kid. Seriously, teachers used to be considered the backbone of our culture and one of the foundations of the middle class. Now they are "retrograde and ridiculous" according to the privileged chattering classes who can't even be bothered to inform themselves of the real issues.

Here, read this lovely essay by Corey Robin about why people hate teachers. Read this piece by Rick Perlstein about what's really happening in Chicago. And read this Mother Jones explainer so you'll know when elitist jerks like John Heileman go spouting off half cocked.

Then go take a walk. I'm going to.


I keep hearing about how difficult it is to fire "bad" teachers and they should be able to get rid of tenure and union guarantees so the kids don't suffer. I wonder how many people understand that "bad" is in the eye of the beholder?

Let me tell you about my brother-in-law, a highly educated high school English and Drama teacher who teaches in Alaska. He assigned a book of Native Alaskan tales to senior students which included a vaguely sexual allegory. This is a school district with a a substantial subculture of conservative evangelicals, many of whom are extremely active in the district and have a slight majority on the school board. One of the parents complained. My brother-in-law went through months of harassment and nearly lost his job. It was the union that saved him.

You see, what you think of as bad teachers -- lazy, uninterested, whatever -- is not necessarily what other people think of as bad teachers. They want to be able to fire my brother-in-law with no recourse because he assigned a book that offended them. And I'd imagine some would like to fire a teacher who teaches evolution or Shakespeare too without having to deal with all that difficulty that a union requires. This was why academics and teachers fought for tenure in the first place.

I realize that the "teaching to the test"/evaluations issue is different. But the effect of breaking the teachers unions --- which is what this is fundamentally about, just ask Ed Rendell --- will result in "good" teachers being endangered in exactly the same way as everyone seems to want for the "bad" teachers.

If union bashing is supposed to be about what's good for the children, I think people need to think a little bit more deeply about what this really means.