DeVos, the Teachers Unions, and Political Cartoonists

While not endorsing the message of the below cartoon, Eduflack was fascinated by the following piece that appeared in the Tampa Times last week (the newspaper of record for Eduflack’s parents during winter time). 

I recognize that far too many people are looking to sources like Saturday Night Live and the Daily Show for their news these days. But what was most interesting was that the DeVos confirmation rose to the level of a syndicated political cartoon (particularly one distributed by the Washington Post Writers Group) and that the cartoon would differ so strongly from the editorial content that the Post was publishing on the same topic. 

Any sightings of this in other newspapers? If so, please share.

AFT’s New Battleground

Earlier today, AFT President Randi Weingarten delivered a barn burner of a speech at the National Press Club. In remarks that were clearly crafted to go after Education Secretary-designate Betsy DeVos before her confirmation hearings later this week, Weingarten also laid our her “four pillars of public education,” spotlighting the importance of promoting children’s well-being, supporting powerful learning, building capacity, and fostering collaboration.

While one can (and should) quibble that much of the four pillars seem to focus on the the adults in the room, and not the kids receiving said public education, the speech is an interesting read. 

Dear ol’ Eduflack feels the need to question the title of the remarks, and the entire setup. In speaking under the banner of “Four Pillars to Achieve Powerful, Purposeful Education … Or Reigniting the Education Wars,” Weingarten posits that the education wars were put to bed after the passage of ESSA in late 2015, even noting, “despite the extraordinary political divisions in the country, and after the damaging failures of policies like NCLB, we finally reached a strong bipartisan consensus on a way forward to improve public education in America.”

Clearly, I’m spending my time on a different battlefield. With continued, harsh rhetorical battles on everything from Common Core to testing, teacher evaluation to technology, school choice to alt cert, bathrooms to the Pledge, it seems quite a stretch to suggest that the education wars were ever extinguished. For a speech that is almost entirely inside baseball, are there any individuals who attended the speech or might read the remarks who can honestly say we believed the education wars were continually burning in some way, shape, or form?

Regardless of your perspective, the speech is worth the read. You may agree with all of it, you may see it as a blueprint to understand how others will attack all you hold near and dear. 

So I ask you to join with us as we stand up for the well-being of all children. For powerful learning. For capacity building for teachers. For community collaboration. Please join with us as we stand up for the promise of public education, and for the public schools all children deserve. 

AFT President Randi Weingarten, January 9, 2017

A Surprising Backer of “Fair Share”

As just about everyone engaged in education policy knows, today the U.S. Supreme Court is hearing Friedrichs v California Teachers Association. For those who need the Cliffnotes, the case is about whether a public union (California’s NEA affiliate) can require those who choose not to be union members to still pay agency fees for the collective bargaining benefits they receive.

Or even more simply, if you are a school teacher who chooses not be part of the teachers union, should you have to help pay some of the costs for all of the work that goes into negotiating your salary and benefits and that provides you the job guarantees you expect, whether you hold a union card or not?

Longtime readers of Eduflack would probably assume that I come down on the side of Friedrichs, joining with many other reformers in a supposed effort to stand up to the unions. But you’d be wrong.

I believe in the “fair share” arguments that the CTA and their supporters are making. I believe in the editorial stance that the Los Angeles Times took this morning. I believe that since Friedrichs benefits, she should pay her fair share for the collective bargaining rights she enjoys. She doesn’t have to pay the full freight of being a union member if she doesn’t want to, but we have to acknowledge that fair is fair.

My reasoning for such is simple, and quite personal. Twenty five years or so ago, I watched as my mother, and NEA member and high school teacher in West Virginia, walked the picket lines for better pay and better rights for teachers. Most of her fellow educators walked with her, as did most of the educators across the entire state. They did so against great threat. Striking teachers were told they would not be paid. They were told they would be punished for their actions. They were sued in court.

In my mother’s school, there were two or three teachers who chose not to strike, as is their right. They went into school each day during the strike, sitting in empty classrooms and drinking coffee. These teachers would be paid. And then they would receive the pay increases, improved benefits, and greater protections that the striking teachers fought so hard for.

None of the risk, all of the reward. Those teachers who chose to cross the picket lines of their fellow teachers were in a win-win. They didn’t jeopardize their careers, nor did they have to wonder how they were going to pay their rent that month. And then they received all of the benefits that they themselves refused to ask for. They got it because the teachers union negotiated it. Everyone benefits or no one does. That’s what a union and collective bargaining is all about.

At the time, my mother explained to my younger sisters the importance of unions and of collective bargaining. Her father was a lifelong member of the Teamsters. After dropping out of high school, he joined the Army. The Army taught him to drive a truck. And the Teamsters turned that skill into a profession. Because of his union, he was able to provide for his family of seven. When he cast a vote as a Teamster, it was always what was best for the group, not what may be best for him personally. They were a brotherhood, believing a rising tide lifted all boats.

I realize that many believe the Court will side with Friedrichs and determine that “fair share” is unfair for those not wanting to be in the union. I hope that isn’t the case. Yes, it is the right of every worker to determine whether they want to be full members of a public union or not. Yes, it is the right of a teacher to not want to pay for lobbying or political activities if they choose so. But it is also the obligation of that teacher, if he or she benefits from collective bargaining, to pay their fair share of the costs of said bargaining.

 

Is It Really Spying?

This week AFT President Randi Weingarten was in London. She wasn’t there to enjoy the sights and sounds, though. She was there for the Pearson shareholders meeting. And you can see her full remarks here

It should come as no surprise that she spoke out against high-stakes testing and the sheer number of assessments going on in classrooms across the country. But she also focused in on one of these themes ther has been popular on social media these days–cyber spying on students. 

Specifically, the issue is tracking what students on social media platforms are saying about Pearson and about the tests Pearson is responsible for. The story has become its own beast, and WaPo’s Emma Brown had one of the more level-headed stories on it. 

Granted, student privacy and cyber stalking are big issues right now. But the whole topic begs an important question. Is social media monitoring really spying?

Every student who posts to Twitter or Instagram or Facebook (though not so much FB, as there is more for his or her parents) does so because they want people to see it. They want attention. They want the clicks. They want the eyeballs. If folks aren’t watching, it might as never even happened. 

So when you put your views, even about testing, out there for all the world to see, should we get worked up when the testing company you are writing about is watching? Should we be surprised there a multi-billion-dollar company is taking note of what is said about their product?

Personally, I rarely post about companies on Twitter. Instead, I focus on education issues. But this month, I praised one company and shamed another. I offered laurels to Wicked Good Cupcakes because they offer a great product and even better customer service. I swung brickbats at Frontier Airlines because of the opposite (just awful customer service). Both were clearly monitoring Twitter. Wicked Good responded right away. It took Frontier the good part of a day to respond with a CYA response. 

I offer it as reminder that all watch social media. That’s sorta the point. So why get all worked up when companies are found to actually watch and respond to socials media? That’s what we are looking for. That what everyone who makes a post hopes for. Social media is for the attention seeker. 

Student privacy is a serious issue. It demand real policies and careful oversight. But we cheapen the issue, and risk losing control of it, when we throw the label on all sorts of issues that don’t deserve it. 

Social media monitoring isn’t a threat to student privacy. It is just good business. The threat is students who share too much information in the first place. If we don’t want testing companies to know what students are thinking, we need students to stop posting about their tests. 

How About Those Edu-Elections?

If anything, yesterday’s midterm elections were entertaining. We saw incumbents defeated. We saw incumbents previously left for dead winning big. We saw darkhorses win in the end. We races long written off come in within recount range. For those without a vested interest in a specific candidate, it was a heckuva night.

While yesterday’s results will be deconstructed ad naseum in the coming days and weeks, let’s take a look at some of the edu-implications.

The Power of Teachers’ Unions

It was the best of times and worst of times for the teachers’ unions. Teachers were able to start the night by crowing loudly about Tom Wolf’s win for the Pennsylvania governorship, knocking off an incumbent Republican governor who had slashed state education spending and sought to cancel out teacher contracts in Philadelphia. The unions also got to wrap up Election Day wit a big win, as Tom Torlakson was re-elected as state superintendent for public instruction in California, turning back reformer-backed Marshall Tuck. (And we will set aside the fact that the job has very little actual power in California education, with the real strength lying with the state board of education).

But what happened in between will have many people questioning the political power of the teachers’ unions. AFT and NEA put major dollars and major GOTV muscle into taking the governorships in states like Wisconsin, Illinois, Florida, Georgia, and Colorado. All went Republican. Strong union support couldn’t even help true-blue states like Massachusetts and Maryland elect Democratic (presumably pro-union, pro-teacher) governors.

Those Dems that did win the big chairs have some “history” with the teachers’ unions. In Connecticut, Dannel Malloy barely won re-election, and likely owes his win to teachers after just two years seeking to eliminate teacher tenure. In Rhode Island, Dem Gina Raimondo won the race, largely because she took on unions as part of a pension reform push she led.

Put all together, and the unions had limited impact in statewide elections, particularly in those states they targeted.

The Role of Ed Reformers

Yes, the AFT and NEA had a rough night. But it wasn’t all rainbows and lollipops for education reformers either. They lost their biggest prize of the evening when Torlakson beat Tuck in Cali. Reformers only won half the prize they sought with a big spend in the Minneapolis school board race.

Ed reform Dem governors like CT’s Malloy and NY’s Andrew Cuomo only won by seeking to reframe or rewrite their past support for reforms, as Cuomo practically came out as anti-CCSS.

In fact, reformers seemed most proud by Raimondo’s win, believing pension reform is a sure path to more education reform.

While much of the edreform community tends to focus on Democratic reformers, it was a good night for GOP edreformers. NM Gov. Susana Martinez., MA Gov.-elect Charlie Baker, and GA Gov. Nathan Deal to name but a few.

Common Core Impact

When it comes to the political impact of Common Core, support of opposition seemed to be neither help nor hindrance. The Fordham Institute’s Mike Petrilli says that half the Republican governors are pro-Common Core. For those like Ohio’s John Kasich, such support didn’t hurt him at all. School Reform News reported that nine of the 10 GOP govs up for re-elect yesterday were against Common Core. For those like Wisconsin’s Scott Walker or Florida’s Rick Scott, opposition to the Core helped. (Though I have to question School Reform News’ math, as with OH’s Kasich and NM’s Martinez, I already have two of the 10 GOP govs pro-CCSS, without adding voices like NV’s Sandoval and GA’s Deal.)

Those Pesky Statehouses

Over the weekend, John Oliver ranted about how few were paying attention to state legislature elections. And he is absolutely right. For education, that’s where the action will be, from CCSS to testing, from teacher evaluations to school funding. We still need to wait for the dust to settle, but the initial returns seem to show that GOP governors will have more supportive legislatures behind them, while Dem governors will have a few less supporters on their benches. Issue coalitions may very well win the day in state capitals, particularly on issues such as education.

No doubt there is more to come. The one thing we know with certainty? With Sen. Lamar Alexander taking over as chairman of the Senate Education Committee, it is safe to say we have a Senate chairman who, as a former gov, former EdSec and former university president, knows a thing or two about the issue of education.

Making Tart Cider from an Apple Cover

Last week, I told myself I wasn’t going to write about the most recent Time magazine cover. You know, the one with the gavel smashing the apple. The one designed to draw readers in for a story on the story behind the Vegara decision, a telling of how moneyed interests got involved in an effort to strip away teacher tenure in California.

I wasn’t going to write because I’m not a fan of this “reform by litigation” strategy. I wasn’t going to write because I believe the real story should be about the kids and families who brought the suit, why they brought it, and what they hope to gain now that the court has ruled in their favor. I wasn’t going to write because too many people focus on the “tenure for life” side of the fight, and not enough on the needed due process rights of teachers. And I wasn’t going to write because Vergara becomes a slippery slope to vitriolic attacks on teacher evaluation, Common Core, student assessment, and just about every other issue one throws in there. No good comes of such a heated fight largely void of fact.

I wasn’t going to write after reading multiple emails from the AFT, including a fairly compelling one from Randi Weingarten. And I even wasn’t going to write after seeing some of the responses to the Time cover story, including one from Badass Teachers that again made this all about poverty, corporate takeovers, and declared the real issue was a teacher shortage (which for me seemed to read like BAT was making a case for Teach for America, but another story for another day).

So of course, after some Twitter back and forth last evening and this morning, I feel compelled to write. Not to defend Time. Not to defend Vergara. Not even to point out the irony of me being accused of hyperbole and then being told that “the fate of pub ed hangs in the balance” of this discussion on a Time cover story.

No, I write just to insert some facts into this whole discussion.

First, let’s look to Time magazine. It is no secret that the newsweekly industry has been on a bad streak. Many of Time’s competitors have stopped printing hard copies all together. Time’s print circulation is now down to about a million. It claims a total readership of about 3 million. That includes all those who read a six-month old edition in a doctor or dentist’s office or who leaf through a year-old one at their local Jiffy Lube. Fact is, fewer and fewer people read Time. And those that do often read it online, never seeing the cover at all.

So all of the attacks on Time. all of the discussions of #TimeFail, do nothing more than boost interest in Time. It is a win-win for the magazine. What was an irrelevant magazine is now all that one segment of the population is talking about this week. The number of readers visiting the site is increasing. More eyeballs on content means higher ad rates. In the words of Charlie Sheen, Time is winning.

Don’t agree? Time’s parent company also publishes Sports Illustrated. Every February, tons of folks protest SI because of its swimsuit issue. Subscribers opt out of the issue. Letters of protest stream in by the bushel full. Subscriptions are famously cancelled. Yet they keep publishing. Why? People read it. Publicity draws interest. Interest means ad sales.

And speaking of protests, let’s take a look at the petition currently demanding an apology from Time for the “rotten” cover. As of yesterday, organizers were claiming 50,000 signatures. Sounds impressive at first, yes. But there are about 4.5 million current teachers in AFT and NEA. A little more than 1 percent of them have been moved to sign this petition to date. To put it in a different light, last year more than 35,000 people signed a petition asking the White House to build a Star Wars-style Death Star. Similar numbers got behind nationalizing the Twinkie industry, removing Jerry Jones as owner of the Dallas Cowboys, and replacing the U.S. justice system with one “Hall of Justice” a la the Justice League cartoons.

When there are a million signatures on this petition, folks will take notice. And it may surprise people to know that Eduflack has signed the AFT petition. Why? While I believe it is an interesting story, I don’t think the cover is a fair depiction of the content.

Of course, I also see the gavel on the cover as being a symbol of the litigation strategy behind Vegara, and not as the “hammer of corporate privatization” as I’m seeing far too often on social media these days.  But what do I know? Sometimes I do think a cigar is just a cigar.

A Contract Negotiation Too Far?

Since the Vergara case, we have heard a great deal in the media (and in social media) about teacher contracts and collective bargaining. This has been particularly true in places like Chicago, still reflecting on the 2012 teachers strike and what that means for upcoming context negotiations.

According to ye old dictionaries, collective bargaining is “a process of negotiations between employers and a group of employees aimed at reaching agreements to regulate working conditions.” That’s the meaning most of us expect.

That means discussion on salaries and benefits. Contributions to Healy insurance and to pensions. The number of days one works. And even how one is evaluated on the job in the years governed by that collective bargaining agreement.

On his This Week in Education blog, Alexander Russo this AM highlights an article from In These Times that looks at what Karen Lewis’ successor at Chicago Teachers Union is focusing on, particularly as the lead in for the latest round of contract negotiations.

The profile of CTU’s Jesse Sharkey focuses on many of the issues we should expect, such as proper staffing levels and financial supports for programs such as special education. But then it takes an interesting turn. It nots a third priority:

a real commitment by city government to help alleviate the strangling poverty facing wide swaths of the city—concentrated in the largely African-American South and West Sides—by instituting more progressive taxation of the wealthy to fund public education, a policy long championed by Karen Lewis.

While one can understand that cities like Chicago need to look at new ways to bring additional dollars to he public schools, how is “progressive taxation” for the city a topic of collective bargaining?

And if it is a negotiating point, does it mean it continues up the chain? Is it then a point for the state union to address with the governor and legislature? Should Randi Weingarten and the AFT be pushing for higher tax rates in DC to see federal income tax gains trickle down to the schools?

Once again, it seems Chicago may be the testing ground for his theory. If successful, it could open the door to everything but the kitchen sink being negotiated. In 2012, there was strong public support for CTU during the strike. But does negotiating a topic like his lose that good will, and be seen as little more than a power grab or a point of leverage.

Time will tell. Time will tell.