Teachers unions need a hug. They're having a really bad year.
So bad that their members are lashing out — blasting Education Secretary Arne Duncan after he questioned the effectiveness of teachers colleges, criticizing President Barack Obama for his approach to education reform, etc.
Teachers are getting so flustered that they're contradicting themselves. It's acceptable for teachers to distinguish good students from bad students. But it's outrageous for administrators to do the same with teachers. In contract negotiations, teachers like being part of a collective. But when an underperforming Rhode Island school district fired more than 70 educators at once, teachers complained about being judged collectively. When a student succeeds, teachers claim credit for a job well done. When a student fails, it's the parents' fault.
One thing that rattled the unions was being marginalized by Obama after having supported his election with contributions and volunteers.
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They must have assumed that they were backing a defender of the status quo because during the campaign Obama had criticized No Child Left Behind. But once in office, Obama launched education reforms in the same spirit as NCLB. The unions must feel duped.
Welcome to the club. Civil libertarians, organized labor, immigration reform groups, supporters of gay marriage and other liberal constituencies are disappointed over Obama's clumsy attempts to triangulate between right and left.
Lastly, most of what teachers unions complained about with Bush, Obama has either kept or expanded upon.
For instance, teachers unions bristled during the Bush years over an expanded federal role in public education, an overreliance on standardized tests to measure student performance, and an accountability system that threatened to close failing schools.
Obama continued the first two items. With regard to the third, he reconfigured the notion of accountability to focus on individual teachers. He wants to pay good teachers more than mediocre ones, and determine which is which by how students perform.
It's about time. Throughout our long education reform debate, individual teachers have largely escaped public scrutiny even when their students go on to perform at a subpar level.
Meanwhile, some liberals — perhaps emboldened by Obama's reforms — are starting to scrutinize teachers unions. They include longtime journalist Carl Bernstein, who, in a cable television exchange that went viral on the Internet, verbally pummeled American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten. The confrontation took place after New York flunked out of the Obama administration's Race to the Top competition for hundreds of millions of federal education dollars because teachers unions refused to sign on to the state's action plan.
"The perception is that you all, over the years, have put job security in front of the welfare of kids," Bernstein told Weingarten. "There is something to that perception."
Yes, there is. Teachers unions need to understand they're overplaying their hand.
At a time when many Americans are out of work or taking furlough days or accepting pay cuts, there is little sympathy for groups that keep demanding more public money and less accountability without giving an inch.
For their part, teachers could do themselves a lot of good at the moment by being less defensive in the face of criticism and not simply falling back on the convenient old saw that anyone who hasn't taught in a classroom isn't entitled to an opinion.
Sorry, no sale. The public schools operate on our dime. The students are our kids, and whether they succeed will help determine our country's future. This makes us major stakeholders who deserve to have a voice in how this enterprise goes forward.
If hearing it makes teachers and their unions angry, then so be it.
Navarrette's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
THE SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE