The mistake Governor Schwarzenegger made with his recent proposals was to attack "teachers and nurses" instead of "teachers and nurses unions." Honestly, who would really think that the best way to improve student learning is to grant teacher tenure after 10 years instead of 2 or 3? And his pension system reform wouldn't have affected anyone hired before 2007, yet at the first signs of resistence he withdrew that proposal. The tenure proposal had already been withdrawn.
Had he been smarter, he'd have been more clear that the UNIONS were the special interests, not the members. Despite the rhetoric from CTA, the unions and the members are not synonymous. The clearest example illustrating that point I found here:
Here is an analogy. Your lawyer may represent you, but you are not your lawyer and your lawyer is not you. Your lawyer’s law firm is not made up of its clients; it is made up of lawyers. A labor union is not an aggregate of its members. A labor union “represents” its members. This is a very important distinction, and one I will delve into further in future posts.
There are reasonable things the governor could do to lessen the special interest holds of unions while simultaneously freeing their members from union tyranny. For starters, he could initiate a drive to make California a Right-To-Work state, wherein employees are not required to be union members. Pit the members against the unions, governor, and sit back and watch the feathers fly! Unchain our hands, let us breathe free!
The Republican party has already created a web site that allows teachers to sign an online petition opposing the "teacher tax", the $180/year increase in dues that CTA wants. Now that the pension and tenure proposals are off the table and CTA no longer has to fight them, there's no need for this increase, right? Knowing CTA, I'm sure they'll find some reason they absolutely need my money. Barbara Kerr hasn't gone to enough "Building Rep Dinners" or some such fluff.
In today's column, George Will discusses an idea by one Patrick Byrne:
His idea -- call it The 65 Percent Solution -- is politically delicious because it unites parents, taxpayers and teachers while, he hopes, sowing dissension in the ranks of the teachers unions, which he considers the principal institutional impediment to improving primary and secondary education.
The idea, which will face its first referendum in Arizona, is to require that 65 percent of every school district's education operational budget be spent on classroom instruction. On, that is, teachers and pupils, not bureaucracy.
Will goes on to state that only 4 states spend more than 65% in the classroom, and 15 states spend less than 60%. According to firstclasseducation.org, California ranks 21st with only 61.7% of its education budget being spent in the classroom. With its bloated bureaucracy, my district must certainly spend less than that.
In my 8 years of teaching, I've seen only a couple (that's 2) teachers I thought should be let go for ineffectiveness. Plenty subscribe to educational fads with which I didn't agree and thereby commit some form of educational malpractice, but they should be directed and retrained and allowed to continue filling their classrooms with a passion for learning. Honestly, I just haven't seen that dead wood that I hear so much about. This isn't the column for getting into the philosophical discussion about why our students aren't doing as well as they should, or for how to fix that. It is the column for discussion of how to remove one of the major roadblocks to improvement--the unions.
Arnold is right--there are entrenched special interests out there, impediments to improvement. Knocking the unions down a few pegs would be absolutely the right thing to do. However, he's screwed up at every turn:
1. He came after the members, not the unions.
2. He gave the unions something to galvanize around.
3. He gave the unions a reason to increase dues.
4. He caved in almost immediately, leaving the unions with potentially millions more in dues money and power.
5. He weakened his own ability to fight them in the future.
6. In the end, the people who lost the most were the 1/3 of union members who disagree with their state union.
I'd hoped for better.