With guest, Louder Than a Bomb poet Nate Marshall

Monday, September 21, 2009

Weekend quotables

Steve Barr--"We can't do it without the unions"

I think the message is that we can’t do it without them — it’s a 100 percent unionized industry. The way to look at unions and reform is to understand that union contracts and union philosophy is based on a reaction to really bad systems. An urban education steeped in bad centralization, decisions made farthest away form practitioners, a lot of turnover of ideas, and a lot of grownups working downtown that shouldn’t be there anymore. The reaction to that system is going to be horrific, so the union contracts are horrible in the sense that they are reactions to bad systems. So we need to change the systems, which I think is the way the secretary looks at it and the way I look at it. (National Journal) h/t Fred Klonsky

UTLA's Duffy takes some heat from within on charters
The losses incurred by our union as a result have been significant. We've lost the respect of thousands of parents in Los Angeles who want better public schools, charter or district, and can't fathom why UTLA wants only the latter. We've lost credibility with the thousands of teachers who've worked or work at charter schools and see only smoke and mirrors where you proclaim fire. We've lost allies in the labor movement. We've lost votes on the School Board. We've lost the Mayor, lost face, and lost time. (Jordan Henry, Santee Chapter Chair) h/t JoseDelBarrio

Probably not what they had in mind...

In an attempt to improve California's schools, the Obama administration is threatening to withhold federal stimulus money if the Golden State does not rescind a state law that prevents the state from tying test scores to teacher performance. None of this is exactly what teachers had in mind when they knocked on doors to help elect Obama.

"It takes more than the ability to fill in bubbles to be considered an educated person," Marty Hittelman, president of the California Federation of Teachers, said in a letter to Duncan. "We thought President Obama understood that." (McClatchy)


  1. Mike, Barr also said: "But you've got to say to those adults: If you think that all kids can learn, and go to college ready and work ready, and you believe in this mission, then please reapply and let's retrain you." As if those were not already the sentiments of 99% of the teachers he would offer to retrain. And retrain with what? Unproven charter methods? His making nice with unions and teachers I think is a crock. This guy wants one thing:power and control.

  2. Anon,

    Leaving Barr's personal motivation aside for a moment (I don't like anonymous posters making personal attacks on people and probably won't post any more), you make some good points, especially about "retraining." But I'd like to hear your strategy for improving high schools like Locke in L.A. given the various options & available resources. Why are so many union teachers and especially parents, signing up for Green Dot and other such alternatives? Also, is Barr really "making nice" with the unions? Ask Duffy at UTLA.

  3. Mike - I have been a union teacher at lausd for 22 years. I have a daughter who works for Green Dot. I am sorry, but there are some big problems with charter schools, not least of which is that they exploit their teachers.
    As a school librarian for 11 years (and an adult school teacher for ten) I am particularly concerned that Green Dot NEVER hires teacher librarians. Mr. Barr has been known to say that kids don't need libraries because they don't read anyway. I hope you will talk with more people in L.A. about the need for change. Neither the Charters nor the District and UTLA have been able to make significant improvements. But until the recent budget cuts, schools were seeing some changes. You may not know my name, but I have known yours from the past. I'll try to follow your blog as I'm interested in what others have to say. My job was cut recently so I retired. My union would not fight for my job and that saddened me. School libraries are on the chopping block and charters are one of the reasons. Thanks.

  4. I'm not anonymous (Caroline Grannan, parent volunteer public school advocate, San Francisco) and I'm not making personal attacks.

    But I continue to be baffled by how labor advocates can view Steve Barr's practices as admirable. He calls his schools unionized, but his contracts provide no job security. When he took over LAUSD's Locke High School, a majority of existing teachers signed up in favor of the takeover, and then he fired about 80 percent of them and replaced them with young beginners.

    I understand that what's best for the students takes priority over the interests of the adults. But if teachers must work with no job security, that makes teaching a less desirable career, driving good people out of the field. So that hurts the students in the long run.

    How is it that Mr. Barr wins the support of labor advocates?

  5. A contract achieved through collective bargaining between a union and management does not belong to one side or the other.
    Our administrators often refer to our collectively bargained agreement as "the union contract." We correct them.
    At Green Dot schools, the contracts are not Barr's. They were negotiated through a process of collective bargaining by union representation.
    Some contracts are not a strong as the union would like. They try to do better next time.
    We don't bargain a contract with the Board we like. We bargain a contract with the Board we have. The right to collectively bargain is not a stamp of approval of management. In fact, it is a recognition that there are fundamental differences that only a legal binding agreement can resolve.
    The right to a union and the resulting right to collective bargaining is what I and my colleagues have. All teachers deserve it.

  6. I agree that the contract is not Barr's alone. I've often made that same point when people complain about teachers' unions -- it's a mutually negotiated contract.

    On the other hand, an employer who engaged in such obvious exploitation of the workers -- firing 80% them off the bat would seem somewhat egregious, even if the contract allows it -- would normally not win approval from labor supporters, to put it mildly. So I'm still at a loss. Is the philosophy just that it's better than absolutely no contract, even if it gives the employees no meaningful rights at all?

    Disclosure that my family are layoff victims -- a longtime California Media Workers Guild (formerly known as Newspaper Guild) family, now newly a United Educators of San Francisco family. I was present at the Guild local meeting early this year at which San Francisco Chronicle employees, many weeping, voted to eliminate their own seniority protections. Since then, the paper has gone through rounds of layoffs, of course. I understood the rationale behind voting to eliminate seniority
    protections -- and weeping WAS the appropriate response. I am at a loss as to how labor advocates could be so calmly accepting, and even supportive, of a contract that starts out with no seniority protections.

    -- Caroline Grannan, San Francisco (not anonymous, no personal attacks)


Agree? Disagree? Let me hear from you.