Finally, I’m diving into this topic, now that the strike’s over — in part on purpose, actually, because I’m always a little afraid to comment mid-stream, as things are unfolding and changing so quickly. I needed time to ruminate and absorb.
Sometimes, I worry that I’m too much of a cynic when it comes to charter schools and the privatization of education in this country. I hear condemnations of teachers’ unions as a bunch of whiners who have no actual solution to the problem, and I worry — is that true? Is that me? I don’t want to be a whiner — I want to inspire and support positive change. Thus, such rhetoric has always made me pause, always made me listen to both sides, always made me check myself at the door and question my own beliefs.
So I clicked on a link to an op-ed piece entitled “Unions are an Impediment to Change.” I wanted to hear the other side of the story, and what I got instead was an assumption-laden condemnation of how unions are standing in the way of “real change.” An excerpt, so you can see what I mean:
The evidence of this “solution-phobia” is on full display this week in Chicago, where the local union has already won considerable concessions from the city, including generous raises and other protections. In return, the city has asked for reasonable and necessary reforms that benefit children, like the implementation of a teacher evaluation system that would help identify whether teachers are actually succeeding at elevating student achievement. The union balked and took to the picket lines.
The assumptions abound: 1) that the union was after money to begin with, 2) that the reforms asked for by the city are indeed “reasonable” and “necessary” and “benefit children,” 3) that the evaluation system actually evaluates quality teaching, 4) that the union finds reform of any kind something to “balk at.” My bet: none of these assumptions are valid. Here’s a shocker: the writer is the CEO of Success Academy Charter Schools in NYC.
A little peeved, I clicked around some more and found a response critiquing the existing power struggle between business-based models and education. Lipman, professor of educational policy studies at UIC, points out that the charter system has not shown any particularly impressive results, and that business models are promoting the very top-down models that education doesn’t need — not when the ones at the bottom are the ones who are most knowledgeable about what students need. She closes with:
After absorbing 15 punishing years of these policies, they have had enough. Compensation is not their biggest concern. They are fighting for respect and for a vision of public education that is grounded in equity, respect for teachers, a rich well-rounded education for all students, and the financing priorities to realize it.
Here’s a link to Lipman’s entire piece, if you want to read it: “A Battle Between Education and Business Goals”.
I come away from these two pieces exceedingly disheartened. I was watching Rock Center earlier this week and Brian Williams spent an entire segment pointing out the extreme partisan BS that happens on cable news shows. Well, it happens in the written/online news media, too, and as Williams pointed out, it doesn’t get us anywhere. No one is listening to anyone on the other side, and these two pieces are evidence of that. Do I agree with Lipman? You betcha. But neither Lipman nor Moskowitz are taking what the other believes to heart, or reconsidering/revising their stances or their approaches to the problem. Which gets us nowhere but into this deadlock, wherein there’s a “dialogue” NYT’s website between these people, but there’s no real talking going on.
I’d love to see some real dialogue — teachers sitting down with our country’s educational leaders, everyone with open ears and open minds. Too much to hope for? Probably.