This paragraph out of a 2010 Julia Steiny column has come to mind periodically ever since, but I somehow never got around to posting about it. It makes an important point that is too easily forgotten as the state argues over standardized testing, teacher evaluations, charter schools, school choice, and even property taxes:
When Marcia [Reback, President of the RI Federation of Teachers] had had enough, she outted the elephant in the room. The interests of the teachers and kids are not the same, but were sometimes in direct conflict with one another. And when their interests diverge, she said, “I represent the teachers.” And shrugged. Who could argue with that?
Think about that. Here we have a wealthy and powerful union organization, funded with money forcibly taken from taxpayers and frequently used to help elect politicians and modify laws in order to tilt negotiations and the entire educational landscape in its favor, whose mission is, at least in part, to advocate in opposition to the needs of school children.
Reback’s statement has come to mind for two reasons, this week. The first is that the school choice legislation on which I’ve been working is being heard by the RI Senate Education Committee, today. The second is that the 0.9% budget that I put in for Tiverton won, and the local school department has been threatening not to go forward with all-day kindergarten in the upcoming school year if it didn’t get its full budget request (even though doing so is a no-brainer).
In both cases, we’ll get some indication whose interests elected officials put first.
That’s a critical question at the local level. Sure, most cities and towns probably have it written down, somewhere, that school committees are supposed to put the children first, but the incentives undermine that mandate. Many school committees are stacked with teachers, whether retired or active in other communities, and many others were elected with the help of teachers unions and their activist allies. Even if they weren’t, the nature of their position creates incentive to balance the demands of the teachers with the needs of the students and their families, not to advocate for the latter.
It’s an imbalanced system that can’t do otherwise than harm children.