Left Wing Sense

Morty Rosenfeld of the Plainview-Old Bethpage Congress of Teachers is back with Part II of his essay “Telling What We Know.” A portion of Part I was EIA’s “Quote of the Week” on October 31.

This time Morty discusses teacher professionalism. And he amusedly notes that Part I of his essay has made him a darling of the political right. “Not bad for a dues paying member of the Democratic Socialists of America,” he writes.

I can’t speak for others, but I’m usually a fan of anyone who doesn’t have to consult NEA’s talking points for his or her opinion — even those who are much further to the left than Morty Rosenfeld (scroll down to “Labor and Unions”).

We don’t have to agree with each other to learn from each other.


The NEA Response

The National Education Association took a different tone than that of the AFT in its response to the The New Teacher Project report, “Unintended Consequences: The Case for Reforming the Staffing Rules in Urban Teachers Union Contracts.”

Calling the report a “diversion from real issues” like, oh, increased pay for teachers, NEA trots this out as an argument:

“Moreover, the report’s language of ‘union rules’ to describe a contract is wholly inaccurate. A contract is an agreement between parties, mutually agreed to, and includes the school district. To classify it as including ‘union rules’ implies that the union unilaterally makes these decisions.”

Let’s see: An NEA local demands seniority, transfer and bumping provisions in the contract. The district says no. The union holds informational picketing, work-to-rule, “no confidence” votes, and finally authorizes a strike. In order to return students to class, the district agrees to binding arbitration. The arbitrator rules that the provisions must be included in the contract. The district abides by the arbitrator’s decision. According to NEA, this means the district has now assumed at least half of the responsibility for the existence of those rules.

By the same reasoning, how can teacher pay be too low? The union agreed to the pay the teachers received. It was a mutual agreement to pay teachers that much. Isn’t the union at least half-responsible for low pay?

* The Fall River Educators Association in Massachusetts is grieving the implementation of a school breakfast program.


Contracting an Illness

The final AFT criticism of the “Unintended Consequences” report (see item below) is that it failed to provide specific examples. I don’t think AFT really wants to open that box.

While the The New Teacher Project report is pointedly critical of union contracts, it spends little time on seniority and layoff provisions. One of these is common to many teacher contracts, and it illustrates just how ridiculous these things can get.

EIA’s Contract Hits page contains several instances (including a new one today) of contracts that spell out the rules of seniority, with an elaborate series of tiebreakers that would do justice to the National Football League playoffs. The worst of these is what happens when two or more teachers are hired on the same day, have the same amount of time in service, and therefore have equal amounts of seniority.

It is a rare occasion to find “all other things being equal” in a layoff or reduction-in-force in a public school district. So it’s distressing to discover that contracts won’t allow the exercise of judgment and discretion even in such rare circumstances. Indeed, the union would prefer that those decisions are made through a random drawing — by lot — rather than have an administrator, committee, or even a joint labor-management team decide which teachers are to keep their jobs on the basis of their performance, however defined.

Any system that enshrines random chance as a method of choosing one teacher over another cannot be rationally defended.


The AFT Response

Here are the relevant words and phrases from the 276-word response by the American Federation of Teachers to the The New Teacher Project (TNTP) report, “Unintended Consequences: The Case for Reforming the Staffing Rules in Urban Teachers Union Contracts“:

1) “outrage”
2) “meritless attacks”
3) “completely misses the mark”
4) “uninformed conclusions”
5) “vague”
6) “possibly outdated”
7) “wrongly implicates”
8) “short on constructive answers”
9) “lacks merit”
10) “flawed research”
11) “hazy reporting”
12) “glaring deficiencies”
13) “failures to provide specific examples”

Who had 13 in the office pool? I think it was Rotherham!


Would You Buy a Used Car from This Union?

NEA is having a few problems picking corporate partners. First there was Atkins Nutritionals (see “Coincidence or Bad Karma?“), now there’s Volkswagen. Here’s the latest special offer to NEA members from the auto manufacturer.

But I’m thinking it might have been a bad week to roll this out. Maybe because of this story, but almost certainly because of this one (with further details here).