Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers, is about to lead the country’s largest teachers union into battle. Weingarten has called the Union to attention in anticipation the Trump Administration will declare war on public schools under the umbrella of “more choice”. Secretary of Education nominee, Betsy DeVos, is expected to push for more Charter Schools and more “vouchers” for parents to sent their children to the school of their choice. Does this sound American or what?
Before Weingarten begins to rant and rave about teachers contracts she would do well to re-educate Americans on the great success story Public Education has been. The public school system and education it brought to Americans from all walks of life has been envied around the world. American public schools are often credited with building a more productive work force (white and blue color) when compared to other systems around the world which attempt to maximize the education of the most gifted while losing sight of the average and less able students.
In the recent past American public school test scores have slipped when compared to other leading countries. In most major cities, public schools have become source of concern for students safety as well as education. In Philadelphia, however, Central High School still sends more graduates to Ivy League schools than any other high school in the country.
Across the country. many school districts face severe funding shortfalls as flight to the suburbs has decreased the tax base. Negotiation with Unions more often than not has been confrontational rather than collaborative. Tax payers object to paying higher taxes, cities object to meeting teachers’ unions wage and benefit demands, and teachers unions object to being targeted for failing schools when the resources (in their opinion) are denied.
Many believe Charter schools have served a useful wedge in this regard. Charters have promised a superior education compared to public schools and do not cost tax payers more. Since there are no free lunches and Charters are private, for profit, businesses, Charters must spend less for teachers pay and benefits. Charter supporters then point to the generous public school teachers remuneration and imply public school teachers are over paid. Hmmm.
Suddenly an important conversation is off the tracks. Attention is directed away from whether Charters are delivering superior educational results or simply allowing parents to choose a more desirable environment than public schools.
With the Republican majorities, and a demonstrated fondness for turning a phrase, “more choice” will easily mask the real results Charters bring. To date Charters have not clearly demonstrated a model which is superior to public schools. Simply skimming the best students and leaving the rest in public schools is not a prescription for raising education levels in the US.
To be sure there are Charters which have performed extremely well turning around previously failing schools. Most Charters, however, have not performed as well and on top of that, have selected a subgroup of students (read no difficult to educate or mentally challenged).
Randi Weingarten will do all Americans and her Union members a great service if she puts the emphasis on quality of education given equivalent circumstances (social, economic, challenged students) at the cost per student. And Ms Weingarten might as well call out the trojan horse Charter School advocates are readying. “More choice” is also code for “vouchers” which would allow parents to send their children to private schools instead of public charters. Religious groups, including the Catholic Church, have been lobbying for this for years.
Public schools educate all students regardless of background or capability. In addition to the 1st Amendment, Ms Weingarten might remind Americans that private schools could include Islamic “Madrassas” or ideological schools which teach communism for example.
As vouchers send more students to private schools. public schools will be left with what’s not wanted. Sound like a self fulfilling prophecy?
Lastly, Ms Weingarten would do well if she decided which was more important, teachers’ salary and benefits or work rules. Labor laws support unions negotiating for both but that has gotten matters to the current statement which encouraged Charters in the first place. If teacher unions continue to remain adamant, they may wake up one day with very few public schools.