Friday, May 15, 2009
posted by Q6 at 6:01 PM
If I were a California State Legislator, I would be laughing my ass off.

This week the Los Angeles Unified School District's teachers' union, after failing to stage a one-day walk out (the contract says they can't), decided to stage a number of protests today. Over 700 more teachers than normal called in sick, and several of them were arrested for sitting in the street outside district headquarters and stopping traffic. The court-denied one-day strike, and today's unorganized sick-out removed almost three thousand teachers from the classrooms--teachers who were protesting . . . . wait for it . . . . the removal of teachers from the classrooms.

Now, look: I was once a member of UTLA, so it's not like I'm playing armchair quarterback here. Anyone who knows me (as a former teacher and current assistant principal) knows that I am all for the teacher, that I believe that teachers should have as much as possible, that there should be as many of them as possible, and that they should be paid better. (I even raise the hackles of the district leadership, I'm THAT MUCH for the teacher.) I think the whole thing served both camps: the teachers showed us what it would be like with fewer teachers in schools, and the politicians saw that they were perfectly OK with the results. The pols have been saying that all along. They don't think they have any choice.

The reason I don't think this was the brightest move has less to do with the walk-out and the protests, but because this comes on the heels of some very powerful criticism two weeks back from the L.A. Times. They ran a few stories about teachers who should be fired/released from contract/let go and haven't been. One feature chronicled the daily routines of a few teachers who are "housed": they're on contract, being paid, and either doing crossword puzzles at their desks or doing them from home. They can't be in the classroom; complaints against them are still under review. Of those who wrote in about the articles, many were outraged about the protections that teachers enjoy; only a few successfully identified those protections as having been put in place and enforced by the union.

And here's where I have my problem: if teachers are allowed to unionize (and I believe they should) and guarantee certain protections for its members, then they should do a decent job of policing their own. The contract should not only include such protections, but should also state--blatantly or implicitly--that the union will do everything possible to deliver a quality workforce. And if teachers' unions are defending the jobs of teachers known to violate laws (of society or of nature), we have a problem.

To be clear: I don't have a problem with unions. I have a problem with unions who protect themselves without regard for or at the expense of the students and schools. Perhaps if everyone were on the same page about who should and shouldn't be a teacher, needed funds wouldn't be wasted on lawsuits and housing. Maybe if the teacher workforce were policed from within as well, then all the spending would be meaningful, produce results, and convince others not to cut budgets. Hell, even if it appeared that the union was helping to save money, that might mean something.

I once worked at a school where a teacher was drinking on the job. All day. Every day. Teachers noticed. Students noticed. That teacher's job performance was visibly affected. And that teacher still works there, two years later, despite the efforts of site and district administration to remove that person, thanks to union protection.

If I were a California State Legislator, I probably wouldn't be listening, either.


At 9:52 AM, Blogger Maestro

I've heard this particular complaint about unions before, and I don't disagree with the statement that union protection is a double-edged sword.

The funny thing is that my own experiences with the union recently have lead me to believe that there is only so much they can do. While I felt some comfort having union reps in my dealings with the principal this year, I felt that their powers ended at taking down notes and confirming or denying things that the principal may or may not have said. I greatly appreciated the moral support, but in the end they weren't much to lean on; I ended up finding my own solutions.

I know, that was for the best anyway. And I also realize that my issues weren't huge: there were no lawyers involved... no allegations that really could (or should) have gotten me fired. There was no risk of bad publicity over a controversy, nor public outcry... just a disagreement between a teacher and his principal over the direction of his program.

Some battles are too small to fight, I suppose.