Now that the Denver teachers who abandoned their classrooms for picket lines are back to work, parents here and across the country should remember how this and the Los Angeles teacher strikes revealed the true goals of teachers’ unions. They’re not striking to provide a better education for students — they’re striking to keep control over education in the hands of the powerful.
The leadership, the teachers they represent and the politicians they support must be thrilled with the outcome of the well-orchestrated strike. The teachers lucky enough to be included in this group will enjoy shorter work days, longer vacations, more pay, more pension money, better health care and reelection — all with no strings, like academic outcomes of students, attached.
In fact, even before this new deal, in L.A., a teacher who worked for 10 years and made $75,000 to 85,000 for each of three years could retire at age 63 and receive $1,945 a month in perpetuity. If they’re lucky to live 30 more years, they’ll have earned $700,000 during their retirement. That’s not something any other profession can boast.
The unions must think it was well worth the six-day shutdown in L.A. or the three-day shutdown in Denver. And let’s not mention the L.A. stealth play to demand a cap on charter schools, guaranteeing that benefits, pensions, and vacation days will continue without the future threat of competing schools.
But national followers of the teacher strikes would be remiss if we did not also express our sympathy to the losers of the fight: the families and students. In L.A., children have a 50 percent chance of graduating (without the bogus credit-recovery courses that makes the graduation rate look like it’s more than 80 percent). Only 22 percent of students in L.A. schools and 28 percent in Denver are proficient in math, according to the nation’s report card. In eighth grade, reading proficiency in both districts is also below 30 percent. If this is the blueprint for more strikes in cities across the country, our educators and families are in serious trouble.
Over and over again, parents across the nation are told that their children’s poor academic performance is their fault. But they know, and the record shows, that their children can succeed if given the chance. For many, the only chance they have is to win a spot in a public charter school. But because parents go to work every day, and would lose their jobs if they walked out of work to protest, they cannot mobilize to advocate for better educational choices for their children like the victors of the strike.
The wait lists for charters make it clear that families do not want the schools that the union has to offer. Elected officials at local, state, and federal levels have forsaken the families they represent in exchange for the power and money they receive from unions.
It’s time for the folks who are not benefiting from their educational system to steal the “draining resource” play from the union playbook. Districts that continue to fund failing schools actually drain resources from desirable charter schools desperately wanted by parents.
The problem is not money, but the way it is allocated, and controlled, by school boards, unions, and political actors who value a system over student needs and parent desires. Across the U.S., there are concerns about public education quality and attainment. Our most needy students are frequently trapped in schools that provide no meaningful academic programming.
The solution is no longer education reform. Public education must be redesigned. The model where school districts tell parents what school to which they should send their children must be replaced with parents having the ability to choose the best setting for their children from a selection of publicly funded schooling models.
That will require more participants to serve those children, new models, along with the many charter, private, and religious schools that have capacity or could expand. And it will require that we change the way things are currently done. Our friends at the teachers’ unions may not like it. But it will work. Of course, that’s the nature of a good solution. It replaces something that is not working with something that does.
One unanswered question to union members across the country, however, is after you finish your strikes, where will you send your kids?
Janine Yass is a philanthropist and a founding board member of the Philadelphia Schools Partnership. David Hardy is founder of Boys Latin Public Charter School. Both authors have served on the board of the Center for Education Reform.