March 1 2010
Vicki E. Alger
In a recent column, Joe Klein writes that New York's United Federation of Teachers (UFT), "a storied crew," is blocking efforts to win $700 million in federal Race to the Top education funds - " the issue is charter schools, with a substantial dollop of teacher accountability thrown in." Klein continues:
The UFT's slogan is "A Union of Professionals," but it is quite the opposite: an old-fashioned industrial union that has won for its members a set of work rules more appropriate to factory hands. There are strict seniority rules about pay, school assignment, length of the school day and year. In New York, it is near impossible to fire a teacher - even one accused of a crime, drug addiction or flagrant misbehavior. The miscreants are stashed in "rubber rooms" at full pay, for years, while the union pleads their cases. In New York, school authorities are forbidden, by state law, to evaluate teachers by using student test results... No, teachers' unions are not the only problem here. Troglodytic local school boards [link my own] and apathetic parents are just as bad. But the unions, and their minions in the Democratic Party, have been a reactionary force in education reform for too long.
Ironically, the idea of public charter schools was largely popularized by the late Albert Shanker, who launched New York teachers union in 1960. The idea was to create more innovative, teacher-run schools where educators would want to work, and where students could learn.