WaPo Editorial Board Denounces Democracy in WTU Election, Again

As could be expected, the Washington Post’s editorial writers have denounced Elizabeth Davis, the newly elected leader of the Washington Teachers Union, because they believe she won’t sell out like George Parker or Nathan Saunders did.

The writer of the editorial was probably Jo-Ann Armao, semi-official DC representative of the Billionaires Boys Club who run public education these days with help from ALEC, Bill Gates, Rupert Murdoch, various educational entrepreneurs, millionaire hedge fund managers, Wendy Kopp, Joel Klein, Michelle Rhee, and so on.

I will reprint the editorial in its entirety and follow it by the comment I wrote. You may want to add your own comments.

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D.C. teachers cast a vote against teamwork

By Editorial Board, Published: July 16

RECENT DEBATE about the future of school reform in the District has focused on a series of legislative proposals being championed by the chairman of the D.C. Council’s education committee. Getting less attention, but having perhaps as much potential to impact education, is the change in leadership of the union that represents D.C. school teachers. It’s not a good sign that the new leadership won on a platform that painted the incumbent as too compliant with reform initiatives being pushed by Chancellor Kaya Henderson.

 

Washington Teachers Union President Nathan Saunders was defeated in a July 1 runoff election by a veteran teacher and union activist who promised to push more effectively against school system management. Elizabeth Davis, who received 459 votes to the 380 cast for Mr. Saunders, takes over Aug. 1 as head of the American Federation of Teachers affiliate, which represents about 4,000 public school teachers.

 

There’s some irony in Mr. Saunders’s defeat. He won election in 2010 by fiercely criticizing then-incumbent president George Parker for too easily going along with reforms — notably changes in how teachers are assigned and evaluated — instituted by former chancellor Michelle A. Rhee. Once in office, though, Mr. Saunders forged a cooperative working relationship with Ms. Henderson, and the two were reportedly close to finalizing a new contract proposal that Mr. Saunders called “groundbreaking,” with provisions for a longer school day and school year. What helped influence his thinking, Mr. Saunders said, was the 43 percent of public school students in charter schools and the growing numbers clamoring to get in. “No kids in [traditional] public schools means no teachers,” he told us. Mr. Saunders’s cooperation became a liability in his bid for another term, calling to mind Mr. Parker’s verdict about his own defeat in 2010: “I think any union president that is pushing and getting in front of reform, you take a risk.”

 

Ms. Davis rejected that notion. “I am not playing to the stereotype of what unions are supposed to be about. . . . I won’t have us boxed in as anti-reform,” she told us, stressing that reform needs to be done right and teacher input is important. She wouldn’t comment about contract talks, saying she needs to read the pending contract language. She expressed some skepticism about the effectiveness of a longer school day in boosting student achievement and opposition to Ms. Henderson’s push to get chartering authority for system schools; she also supports a cap on charter schools. Most troubling is her belief that teachers at charter schools should be unionized, a move that would threaten the flexibility that has allowed these independent schools to create new ways of getting disadvantaged students to achieve.

 

This was an election decided by a small percentage of those eligible to vote and an even smaller proportion of those who are purported to be represented. The question that now confronts Ms. Davis and the new leadership team is whether to stick with what makes for an effective campaign — what Mr. Saunders called the “fire and brimstone stuff that looks good, sounds good” — but fails to bring about improvements in the city’s schools.

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My comment (one of many, most of the comments more or less agreed with me, but there are a few writers who feel the need to demonize teachers at every turn).

TexasIke59
9:43 AM EDT
 
 
That’s garbage. Teachers in DC have been doing their best to teach in difficult circumstances for many decades. They continue to be demonized by the wealthy few who profit from the de-facto segregation of our school system. I worked at the same school as Liz Davis for one year and have followed her advocacy work in the classroom, getting students to do outstanding writing and agitation for better schools and other reforms as part of the curriculum. 
 
We need leaders like that, not active sellouts and thieves like George Parker or Barbara Bullock, or leaders who simply ‘went along to get along’ like Saunders ended up as. 
 
Hopefully, she’ll be able to enlist more teachers to take an active part in union affairs and to get parent organizations to resist the idiotic mandates loved by WaPo management, the Walton family, Rhee/Henderson, Rupert Murdoch, Bill Gates, the Koch Brothers, ALEC and all the rest of the destroyers of public education. 
 
Charter school teachers could certainly use a voice in setting policy at their schools — where the vast majority of teachers are gone after three years, not five, because they are burned out by impossible, conflicting demands, even worse than in the regular public schools. (And let’s remember that the main reason the DC charter schools have slightly higher scores than the regular public schools is because of the enormous attrition – pushouts and dropouts of low-achieving and hard-to-discipline students, who are sent back to their neighborhood schools!) 
 
I certainly hope the Davis administration actually follows through on organizing the charter schools. It’s a measure that has been repeatedly approved by votes of the union membership, year after year, but neither the Bullock, Parker, or Saunders administrations ever took up that mandate.

What Teachers Need To Do — or, rather, What Traitors Have Led the DC Teachers

I would like to commend Diane Ravitch on an excellent post on why teachers in Philadelphia need to organize and go on strike. She refers to a local Philly opinion piece: a  column that explains in detail why they should do that.

The big question then becomes HOW do you do that. Hopefully the Philly teachers have gotten rid of any corrupt, sellout union leaders like we’ve been plagued with here in DC. That’s what the teachers in Chicago had to do in order to organize the strike that took place there.

I say that concerning DC because, of our last two teacher union presidents of my local, WTULocal6,

(1) even though she sometimes talked a good game, Barbara Bullock confessed to stealing somewhere near five million dollars from US TEACHERS right from under our noses, partly by verbally abusing anybody who crossed her in any way. I saw her do it, and I’m sure she also browbeat Esther Hankerson, who was my colleague at Francis and at Deal JHS and was #2 in the WTU leadership under BB…  Bullock was only sentenced to a few years in jail, and is now free. I’d be surprised if even 10% of the stolen money was ever recovered.

Funny how embezzlers and corporate thieves get off easy, especially in comparison with those caught with certain drugs…. Think of the Enron thieves and Michael Milken (he’s out!) and then read the book by Michelle Alexander and you’ll see how the ‘War on Drugs’ is essentially acting like the Jim Crow laws (read “Slavery by Another Name”).

I regret now that,  like many others, I did not notice BB’s corruption, and I also regret not making a public, principled protest when I found how she was maneuvering not to have monthly membership meetings — ones that might have helped hold her to account. I sat on labor-management contract negotiation committees as a rank-and-file presence during the arduous process of hammering out a new contract between the Board of Education and Superintendent of schools (and their lawyers and the city council and mayor as well) on the one hand, and the Washington Teachers’ Union on the other, around 2000-1.

 

You may ask, how did I not notice she was stealing? Very simple: I don’t follow women’s fashion at all — I try my best not to look at my wife’s fashion magazines (except for some of the really cute models, to be honest) and don’t pay any attention to labels. I get my clothes from Costco, Filene’s, sales, discount catalogs like Sierra Trading Post, and whatever my family members get me. The other two teachers and I were by far the worst-drerssed people in the rooms whenever we had negotiations — you know that all of the lawyers and bureaucrats negotiating for the Board of Ed (few of whom had ever taught) were dressed to the nines every single day. Personally, I just thought that Bullock wore really ugly, loose-fitting clothes because she was overweight; I also just thought she really liked her to-me-unfashionable long wispy hair and pocketbooks that looked funny to me, too.

 

Later on, after BB was convicted and went to jail, I ran into the other two rank-and-file classroom teachers who were on the negotiating team with me that year and asked them if they had any inkling of the monies that BB was stealing. We all had the same reaction. None of us any idea that all that ugly stuff was worth all that money. Stupid me, I had no idea she had not one but many, many expensive, wigs — all of them ugly (in our opinions). I saw a whole bunch of white-elephant figurines on her desk once, and made a comment that those looked like Republican symbols. Apparently that’s her college sorority’s symbol. (Why does anybody need dozens of them, all different?)

But that’s apparently what she and her crony Henderson spent their ill-gotten cash on, that they stole from me and my colleagues: kitchy tchotchkes.

 

We definitely agreed that she was an amazingly good negotiator. But despite that, Barbara Bullock’s betrayal make all teachers look stupid and criminal.

In my opinion, the fact that BB and her closest associates were so publicly corrupt, (convictions and confessions, not just allegations, remember) had a HUGE negative effect, nationally.

That betrayal demoralized teachers and friends of labor everywhere. It also emboldened the billionaires, Wall Street crooks like Milken, the Koch Brothers, Joel Klein, Bill Gates, the Amway family, hedge-fund traders,  right-wingers and religious fundies and assorted eduShysters who want to divert funding for public education for the poor into their own bank accounts, even though they say the exact opposite.

It’s the results that count.

Their first attack is on the teachers, and boy have they been busy at it for the past 6-7 years. And you know something — the same group of edudeformers are the same group that invented the PLATINUM parachute for themselves and the sub-minimum-wage job with no benefits, difficult-to-impossible transportation at crazy hours, no job security at all, and the balloon mortgage on your house that you put all your savings into. They are also the ones that brought you the fact that after all those years in college and/or grad school, you’re still an unpaid intern working part-time at a bunch of demeaning jobs, and you can’t pay off all those student loans, and if you declare bankruptcy, the one debt you can NEVER write off even a portion of, is your student loan. Even though it those loans were often supposedly guaranteed by the gummint. (You didn’t read all the fine print! ) And brought us banks that failed and economies that have huge fractions of unemployed, all around the world. While the One-tenth of one percent is more wealthy than any ruling class any time, any where, in history.

In places like Pakistan and other third-world countries, workers are  burned alive or otherwise killed. Here in the US, more and more workers long for the good old days when they only had to work 40 hours a week, had health and other benefits, paid vacations, a decent, fully-funded pension plan, and the right to have elections for their own union representation who could speak for them if case they had a disagreement with their boss. For many of us, those things, like the weekend, are things of the past. If you only want to work 40 hours a week and expect overtime for anything more than that, you’re a ‘moocher’. If you want a guaranteed pension and a freely-elected local union and paid health care, you’re a “lazy union thug”.

But if you are a billionaire who never worked a day of actual hard labor in your life, who simply managed to find all the loopholes to squeeze large amounts of money from every working person out there because you run a near-monopoly or have figured out how to disassemble companies and fire workers and dispossess homeowners to rake obscene profits, well, then you’re an outstanding visionary. Who can tell the teachers what to do, in detail.

 (2) And then remember her successor, George Parker? Once he lost the following local union election, he literally went over to the enemy!

Just think of it–the person who during election campaigns claimed that he would defend the interests of teachers, students and parents, actually went to work for Michelle Rhee’s astroturf-funded organization, RheeFirst. Sorry, “Students First”, which is doing everything it can to break teacher unions, degrade teaching into a part-time, non-professional job in every low-income public school whose sole responsibility is to read from a script, give out and collect standardized tests every single week that were written by other low-paid temps, and — don’t forget — work miracles on a 95-hour workweek with no benefits. Yeah, our past union president went to work for arguably the most anti-public-sector “Edu-DEform” organization out there – funded by the worst of the worst billionaires.

 When the last contract came up for a vote, it was very difficult for teachers to see how much it differed from previous contracts. In the past, we got to see the old contract printed with the parts that were changing being very carefully annotated, which is as it should be. Contract language that was being retained would be in an ordinary font. Sentences, words, letters and paragraphs that were being deleted were written like this with crossouts. New contract language was in bold-face.

However, this time, none of that clarity. Teachers got a copy of the new contract, and only someone who had as much undivided time as a lawyer could possibly go over the two contracts line by line to see what we teachers had given up. Time, of course, is one of the things that a teacher does NOT have.  Even I, a retired teacher, didn’t have time to analyze the changes in the short amount of time we had.

This last WTU-DCPS contract, which for the first time brought in special, poisoned bonuses that were paid for by some billionaires for just a couple of years, at the same time that the schools were imiplementing – without any field testing whatsoevber – a radically new evaluation system largely based on mindless following of a single teaching model and a random-number generator called “Value Addicted”, was a real game-changer all over the nation.

Apparently Randi Weingarten, the head of the American Federation of Teachers, and George Parker colluded on this contract — and it really sucks. It was a real step backwards for the labor movement.

Benedict Arnold, traitor to the new American republic >200 years ago, George Parker, traitor to teachers much more recently.

 Philly teachers, I hope you are successful in organizing. Be aware that there are many, many folks all over the country who do not believe the stories being peddled by the billionaires and their paid mouthpieces like Michelle Rhee. If you organize well, you can win.

Good luck and timing wouldn’t hurt, either. I wish you the best.

 

How do we organize in FAVOR of improved public education?

All those in favor of promoting and improving free, public, integrated, comprehensive, universal public education are fighting against a very well-organized, heavily funded, and powerful opposition.

We have all of the right-wing think tanks and major media editorial boards against us. (Don’t believe me? See an article by the late Milton Friedman, in the Washington Post, from 15 years ago. )  NCLB was planned and implemented precisely to destroy the public schools, and is working quite well. We have both the national Republican and Democratic parties vilifying teachers and trying to eliminate free, comprehensive, universal, public education. Public schools appear to be more and more racially segregated, and the charter schools are even worse. We have “philanthopists” representing untold billions in private wealth (essentially stolen from the public) who are trying to privatize public education, and to eliminate some of the few remaining areas of union organization left in the US.

But what are WE going to do about it?

Well, we can do some research to point out the lies and distortions put out by the pro-privatization side. My blogs have mostly been research articles, in which I have been attempting to use facts and statistics to refute the lies peddled by the pro-privatization, anti-public-education, anti-union crowd that is exemplified by Rhee. I have used data from the websites of NAEP, OSSE/DCPS/NCLB,  S.H.A.P.P.E. and the 21st Century School Fund among others. The American Federation of Teachers employs some well-intentioned professional researchers and statisticians who have come up with some very interesting and useful data over the last decade or so.

But don’t expect any union leadership these days to actually be on the side of the rank-and-file. The term “sellout” is still a correct description of the vast majority of union leaders. For example, the current and past leadership of the Washington Teachers Union  have been a pretty sorry lot. Some of them have been too busy lining their own pockets (and hiding this from the teachers) to fight for reform, no matter what they proclaimed publicly.

(Of course, the theft of a few million dollars by Bullock and company didn’t bring down the entire economy, unlike the thefts by CEOs at ENRON, AIG, Bank of America, and so on.  But it did severely weaken the labor movement by showing how corrupt our leadership can be, giving ammunition to the right-wing anti-union crowd.)

George Parker was so far inside Rhee’s corner, for quite a long time, and had drunk so much of her Kool-Aid, that he actually thought that teachers would buy the Red-Green plan, until he found out, probably much to his surprise, that the vast majority of them wanted no part of it. At which point he had to change his tune and his ostensible direction by almost 180 degrees. But don’t depend on him to actually DO anything about it. Notice that Parker has apparently had no executive board meetings or membership meetings for several months – and this at a time when teachers (and the public) should be very actively organizing to oppose the plans of Rhee, of the WaPo editorial board, and all of the billionaires who want to eliminate comprehensive, universal, free, rational public education.

The skills needed to research and analyze that material, to comb the public record for lies by the educational privatization crowd, and to write coherent articles about that, are quite different from the skills needed to actually organize large numbers of people into a cohesive, well-organized, progressive, social movement that achieves positive gains. Having both types of skills is useful, but they are rare in the same person.

(Don’t look at me. I like to think I write OK,  I have experience doing research, and I know a little math, but I know from bitter experience that I suck at organizing, am pessimistic by nature, can’t plan a successful course of public action, am not a good public speaker, and can’t think on my feet.)

Plus, time spent in library stacks or on-line looking up data is time that is NOT spent telephoning or meeting with people to make plans for demonstrations or whatever other type of effective public action is needed. There are only so many hours in a day; and there are very few hours available for any of that stuff if you happen to be employed. And if you are a teacher in the DCPS, why, then, virtually every single one of your waking hours needs to be devoted to the mostly useless rigamarole and BS that is required of you under IMPACT, if you hope to keep your job. (I only have time to do this column because I retired last June!)

We really need to be an active organization in FAVOR of improving public education that has the potential to organize masses of peple. I wish there was one, but I am not aware of any. The Democratic Party, nationally and locally, seems to spout the same line as the privatizers (look at Adrian Fenty and Arne Duncan, for example). Barack Obama has got to be a severe disappointment to anybody who actually believed he was going to make a difference. The various microscopic left-wing splinter groups haven’t amounted to anything for about three decades.

The saying: “The people, united, will never be defeated” is still true. But the “united” part is very hard to attain. If anybody has solid suggestions or plans, or knows of an effective, real-life organization that has potential, I am all ears. We need to find a way out of this crisis.
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