Tuesday, July 10, 2012

There's no fix without fight in Cleveland

Mayor Frank Jackson, center, and Cleveland Teacher's Union president David Quolke, right, listen as schools CEO Eric Gordon talks about the agreement that was reached on the mayor's school plan.
Yesterday's Wall Street Journal headline:
A School Fix Without a Fight
Cleveland Mayor Works With Governor and Teachers to Link Pay to Test Scores
By Stephanie Banchero

The Republican governor of Ohio, the Democratic mayor of Cleveland and the local teachers union have united to overhaul how teachers are hired, fired and paid, a rare example of cooperation in education that some critics warn could still face challenges in the implementation.

The overhaul, signed into law by Gov. John Kasich this month, will allow the district to link teachers' pay, in part, to student test scores, and to lay off teachers based on performance instead of seniority. It will also let the district fire teachers after two years of poor performance, based in part on test scores.
The headline is somewhat misleading. There has been a fight of sorts. Banchero notes that the union faced a “united front” of other powerful interests including local business groups, the governor and the mayor (who controls the Cleveland school board). She could have mentioned both the national Democratic and Republican Parties as well.

Despite that, some of the most draconian parts of the original plan were beaten back (see comments from "Ohio Reader" on my earlier post). Remember, this is a state that spends over $100 million/year on school voucher programs.The school district suffers from a $66 million budget deficit and announced layoffs of more than 500 teachers this spring. Those layoffs followed two years of cutbacks and $25 million in concessions from the union. Some classes are reported to have  more than 40 children.

It's also a battle-ground state in the November elections and plans like Cleveland's are favored by both parties -- especially by Obama/Duncan. The plan fits perfectly with Duncan's Race To The Top. To really stand up to it, the Cleveland Teachers Union would have to be ready to take on the weight of the entire system and buck Democratic Party and AFT leaders as the CTU is trying to do in Chicago.  AFT Pres. Randi Weingarten has been pushing hard on local unions to accept these type of deals. She and local union prez,  David Quolke hailed a similar plan in New Haven as "a model" for the rest of the county.

Kasich's attempt last year to totally crush the state's unions was defeated when the entire labor movement and national allies rallied and voters beat back his SB5 bill. This time around, he and the  corporate reformers were able to push through a plan, with help from Democrats and union leaders, that applied only to Cleveland and not the whole state. The tactic worked and is now being used in other states, especially in cities like Chicago where there's mayoral control of the schools.

The new plan shifts even more resources away from city schools, closes more of them and turns them and over to privately-managed charters. It makes it easier to fire veteran teachers without due process. Teacher pay and evaluation linked to student test scores is now embedded in the law. Union leaders, including Weingarten from the AFT signed off on this without any real Chicago-style mobilization of city teachers and community supporters. No line in the sand has been drawn -- yet.

Will public education and the union live to fight another day as a result of this agreement and the concessions made? Anti-union conservatives like Stanford's Terry Moe are worried about that. He predicted that, as details of the plan get negotiated, union leaders will “do whatever they can to water them down and make them as non-threatening as possible.”

Maybe. We shall see. But what's repulsive is the sight of union leaders hailing these plans as a national models of collaboration. It's one thing to lose a fight to a more powerful (at least for now) foe. It's quite another to call that defeat a victory. 

There can be no doubt that the city's teachers, it's 44,000 students and parents all take a big hit under the new Cleveland Plan for Transforming Schools and that corporate reformers based at the Greater Cleveland Partnership, the Cleveland and George Gund foundations, and Breakthrough Charter Schools and others. are jubilant over this "new era of cooperation." But the plan sets the stage for a new round of struggles around implementation and further contract negotiations. Does the union have the heart for such a struggle? Are current leaders up for it? If not, there's really bad times ahead for Cleveland schools.


  1. You write: "Does the union have the heart for such a struggle?" I think you get the heart of the question :) and I believe that teachers AS LEADERS can change the course we are headed for as a country when our passion and heart for education are our unwavering focus. Thank you passing that message along here!!!!!
    Che Guevara writes: At the risk of seeming ridiculous, let me say that the true revolutionary is guided by a great feeling of love. It is impossible to think of a genuine revolutionary lacking this quality... We must strive every day so that this love of living humanity will be transformed into actual deeds, into acts that serve as examples, as a moving force.

  2. Mike
    I share the frustration with our union leaders and also take seriously your points that we have to be careful about being viewed as attacking and undermining our own union. Piling on you have said. How do we walk that line? We in NYC have seen 15 years of caving in to the deformers on so many levels with Randi leading the pack. I used to try to walk that fine line but no longer seem able to.


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