Teachers’ unions resist all-out assault

Some $682 billion in public funds was spent in the United States in 2012-13 on pre-K through Grade 12 education. This vast amount of public money provides a vast market for businesses to exploit, and, where possible, to privatize. (usgovernmentspending.com)

The so-called charter schools offer a mechanism for private capital — even if the schools are formally non-profit — to tap into this vast stream of public money. Charter school defenders justify these institutions by claiming they give students and their parents a choice. This explicitly abandons the ideal of quality public education available to all, supported by public funds.

Since charter schools are private institutions, their teachers and other workers are not automatically included in the unions representing public school teachers, and are kept overworked and underpaid. When charter schools need funds, say to pay high salaries to their administrators, and public resources — like space and facilities in public schools — their management presents them as institutions working for the public good, deserving public support.

Consider one example: Eva Moskowitz, head of the Success Academy Charter Schools in Harlem, reported earning $475,244 in 2012, more than four times the median salary for New York City principals.

Few charter schools are unionized. Nonunion charters and the layoffs of teachers in school systems where class size has significantly increased have led to a decline in the number of pre-K through grade 12 teachers who are American Federation of Teachers members.

Despite the high cost of education in the U.S., the Programme for International Student Assessment (2012), ranks the U.S. as average in science and reading and below average in mathematics among developed countries.

Anti-union gunslinger hired

Most bourgeois politicians and ­media blame teachers and their unions for the weaknesses of U.S. education. They suggest that the U.S. “fire its way to Finland,” that is, fire teachers. Finland generally comes in first or second in the PISA rankings.

Ignoring the deep social issues that affect schools in the U.S. — poverty, racism, homelessness, police violence — these politicians emphasize the need to test students every year to expose the alleged incompetence of their teachers, spending billions on the tests.

Since many parents know their child’s teacher is doing a good job, these anti-teacher forces hired Rick Berman, a right-wing, anti-union gunslinger, to run the attack on the AFT. Berman even had a five-story billboard put up in New York’s Times Square with a picture of AFT President Randi Weingarten and a caption attacking her union.

Berman writes op-eds slandering the union for protecting senior teachers. He argues for rewarding “individual effort” to separate supposedly “good” teachers from the others instead of training all teachers and giving them the support and security necessary to improve their skills.

The AFT has had some successes in defending tenure, that is, job security. Notably, last week in Baton Rouge, La., a court held that “7,000 teachers and school employees … were wrongfully terminated in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.” They were deprived of the “constitutionally protected property right” to be recalled. (utno.la.aft.org)

Thousands of teachers and other school employees will get back pay. It took nine years, but the Louisiana Federation of Teachers won its case. Of course Louisiana may appeal.

New York State United Teachers is a statewide federation of AFT and National Education Association locals with 600,000 active members. On Jan. 25, NYSUT called for the dismissal of John King as commissioner of the State Education Department for his failed introduction of the Common Core Curriculum and the high-stakes testing based on it. That’s another teacher victory.

More struggles are developing in U.S. education as teachers push back against attacks on them and their unions, which are more and more being seen as attacks on their students as well.

Dunkel has been an elected delegate from his local to the American Federation of Teachers national convention.