"Raise the threat level to
a code red," they cry out.
From Baghdad to D.C., a growing
chorus of a-tonal anti-union executives around the world (the only choir
that may be left after all the public school budget cuts) are asserting
that the teacher union menace must be neutralized.
In Iraq, Paul Bremer (as former
head of the Coalition Provisional Authority) threw out most of Saddam's
legal code but kept the 1987 Decree No. 150 that made it illegal for
employees in the public sector to have a union or negotiate over the
terms of their labor. This opened the door for the Iraqi government's
inharmonious announcement at the end of March, 2009 that it intended
to dissolve the Iraqi Teachers' Union (ITU)-a move sure to make
Washington, D.C. public school chancellor Michelle Rhee's cheeks flush
Rhee's discordant bluster
was on display in a March
2nd interview with
the Huffington Post: "We are going to impose the new evaluation
tools regardless" of the outcome of talks with the union. "We
are going to be moving people out who are not performing."
New York Times columnist Nicolas
Kristof stated in his out-of-pitch March
10 column, "Education
reform is going to mean challenging the unions, and Obama signaled that
that's what he plans to do."
None of these recent union-busting
voices have been as off key as George W. Bush's Education Secretary,
Rod Paige, when he called the largest teachers' union in the
US, the National Education Association (NEA), a "terrorist organization."
However, the similarity of the current tune from corporate education
deformers is unmistakable: because teachers have some measure of job
security, schools in America are dysfunctional.
If only we could treat our
teachers like Wal-Mart employees, test scores would rise and students
wouldn't be left behind. As a Time
recently contended, "The most glaring example of the backward logic
of schools is the way most teachers receive lifetime job security after
one or two years of work."
But as the NEA explains, "Tenure does not mean a 'job
for life,' as many people believe. It means 'just cause' for discipline
and termination, be the reason incompetence or extreme misconduct. And
it means 'due process,' the right to a fair hearing to contest charges."
Moreover, these Pinkerton style
attacks on teachers' rights to collectively bargain suffer from the
common problem middle schoolers face when attempting a first research
paper: a scarcity of factual information to back up claims.
Those who argue that unions
prevent improved student achievement are at a loss to explain the high
unionization rates of schools internationally that they lament are outperforming
American youngsters. Or why Southern "right to work" states
that have managed to avoid unions in public schools score lower on the
standardized tests that antiunion zealots overemphasize as the only
real measure of student success. As Arizona State University's
Education Policy Research Unit reported, "Several studies found math, economics
and SAT scores in unionized schools improved more than in non-unionized
schools. Increases in state unionization led to increases in state SAT,
ACT, and NAEP scores and improved graduation rates. One analysis attributed
lower SAT and ACT scores in the South to weaker unionization there."
In addition, a Department of Education
study found that
public school students' test scores in reading and math are as good
as or better than the scores of comparable students in charter schools-the
vast majority of which are nonunion.
The gospel truth is, teachers
unions the world over are raising the volume in the struggle to improve
public education. Time and again these unions have used their
power to collectively bargain-and collectively strike-in defense
of the schools:
- In 2005 the British
Columbia Teachers Federation in Canada led the 46,000-strong union in
a successful strike in protest of budget cuts to education, large class
sizes, and government attempts to take away collective bargaining rights.
- In May 2006, 70,000
teachers in the Mexican state of Oaxaca went on strike to prevent the
privatization of education and demand more funding for student services.
- On February 21,
2008 the Teachers Federation of Puerto Rico led a strike that was successful
in stopping government's privatized charter scheme.
- In Bellevue, Washington
the teachers' union proved it was the most important voice for public
education in the region when it led a successful two week strike at
the beginning of this current school year to protest the implementation
of what the school district called the "curriculum web"-a system
that would ensnare students in mandated, daily, scripted lessons that
would deny them access to the teachers' individualized knowledge,
skills, and passion for the subjects they were teaching.
On March 28 of this year, over
500 protesters joined the Iraqi Teachers' Union in a demonstration
against the attempted undemocratic government takeover of their union.
Champions of public education and union supporters are encouraged to sign their petition that demands that the union remain
independent and that the union organizers not be imprisoned for their
If coming teacher struggles
are successful at keeping funding for our music programs, students across
the world should be taught in every language the great Woody Guthrie
anthem "The Union Maid," with a refrain as relevant today as when
America's great troubadour wrote it in 1941:
"Oh, you can't scare me,
I'm sticking to the union,
I'm sticking to the union 'til
the day I die."