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.

Troubling Signs at the WTU

I saw a serious sign of what I think ails the Washington Teachers’ Union when I walked briefly over to the Franciscan Center at 14th and Quincy Streets, NE, not far from my house, where a combined general WTU membership meeting/reception/comedian entertainment/holiday party was taking place this evening.

I think that this sign explains, in part, why the percentage of teachers voting during both rounds of the recent WTU leadership was so low.

The problem?

I saw almost no young white or Asian or Hispanic teachers. And, to be frank, I didn’t even see very many young African-American teachers. Nor much in the way of older white, Asian, or Hispanic teachers, either.

After a not-very-careful look at the heads and faces, I got the feeling that if I had actually stuck around and sat down, the number of white teachers in attendance would have gone up by somewhere between 20% and 100%. (Do a little bit of mental math: if one person comes in, and that makes the number of people in group W increase by 100%, then how many people were in group W before that person arrived?)

I fear that this means that those in attendance at this meeting were not very representative of the rank-and-file teacher corps in DC Public Schools. Younger teachers, be they white, black, Hispanic, or Asian, don’t seem to be stepping up to take leadership roles in the WTU, at least not in Saunders’ slate, which I guess was probably more represented at this meeting (though I don’t know that for a certainty). Perhaps they don’t have the tradition of activism and militancy that a lot of future teachers acquired who grew up and attended college in the 1960’s and 1970s, during the Vietnam and Civil Rights eras? Do they feel that the WTU leadership is out of touch with what they need?

At a lot of DC public and charter schools that I visit, there aren’t very many older black teachers left at all. They have generally retired, and have been replaced by young teachers (and a good fraction of those are TFAers, many of whom have no intention at all of staying in education, and 89% of whom are gone after 3 years). They find, of course, that almost all of the vaunted ‘reforms’ and ‘accountability’ that Michelle Rhee and her acolytes have imposed, simply mean lots of additional demands to perform the impossible, with less and less support. And, once they fail to achieve the impossible, they are then blamed, and are labeled in the media as being part of the problem, just like the veteran teachers that they are replacing. So they burn out… but could really use a union that advocated sanity and didn’t sell out and beg for more whippings in exchange for possibly imaginary pay increases.

It’s clear to me that if the WTU is actually going to be able to represent teachers in a positive and forceful way, so that it can help lead public education away from the clutches of the billionaires who want to take it over, then it needs to start working on its own composition.

Unions in the past that have failed to do this, have generally lost.

Dividing and conquering is a useful tool for a tiny ruling class: look what the British Empire was able to do for a couple of centuries. But it doesn’t work if you are the working mass of the population. United we stand, divided we fall.

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