If the events of the last few years make anything clear, it's that teachers need a strong union.
The School Reform Commission -- backed by the governor, the mayor, and self-appointed civic elites -- has launched a full-scale attack on the living standards and professional status of teachers. The union, supported by significant community allies as well as other unions, is waging a campaign of resistance.
A big target of the corporate reform agenda is the principle of seniority. I think that eliminating seniority would be the first step toward the reduction of teaching from a lifelong profession to a Peace Corps model favored by the likes of Michelle Rhee, founder of StudentsFirst, and Wendy Kopp, founder of Teach for America.
The Corbett rescue plan for Philadelphia's schools, forged by the likes of Comcast vice president David Cohen, Philadelphia School Partnership's Mark Gleason, and the Chamber of Commerce, sets the stage for a full-court press to wring concessions from the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers. The corporate education reformers will press their case for concessions and for implementing a business model of school management without the impediments of a union contract. The mantra will be: City Hall and Harrisburg stepped up; now it's time for the teachers' union to do its part.
The current crisis, in the minds of the corporate reformers, is an opportunity to advance their austerity and privatization agenda. Repeatedly, we are told that everybody must pitch in to make ends meet in these difficult times. The austerity argument begins with the plea for shared sacrifice.
One of the more stressful jobs I've had over my two decades of teaching middle school was running a lunch room with upwards of 300 rambunctious adolescents. They were determined to make the most of the one time during the school day that they were out of the classroom.
It was a challenge to keep peace and good order. I had to make sure students got their food, could visit the bathroom, and didn’t escape into the halls or the uninhabited regions of our old building. I depended on a group of noontime aides (who now call themselves student safety staff) to help police the perimeters, identify problems, and mediate conflicts.
The Philadelphia Coalition Advocating for Public Schools will hold a general assembly on Wednesday, April 17, to launch new campaigns around school funding, charter school accountability, and community schools.
The coalition, formed a year ago, has grown to include 15 labor and community-based organizations, embracing school staff, parents, students, and neighborhood activists.
Over the last year, PCAPS developed an alternative to the School Reform Commission's blueprint inspired by the Boston Consulting Group. Called “Excellent Schools for All Children,” the 40-page document drew on surveys of community stakeholders as well as research-based best practices. The plan rejected the SRC’s austerity-focused argument and called for a fight to base funding on a reordering of priorities, closing tax loopholes for corporations and using an equitable formula for allocating state revenue.
Education reform's dominant narrative, in both the nation and Philadelphia, assumes that the traditional protections that unions provide for teachers need to be sacrificed in the interest of improving children's education.
While the well-compensated CEOs and hedge fund managers who feed regularly at the public trough are portrayed as disinterested champions of poor children, unionized teachers are characterized as being motivated by narrow self-interest. It really rankles me.
Let me say at the outset, I don’t think unions have always acted to the benefit of children. There is room for debate about the wisdom of specific policies, particularly in an earlier period, when unions made little effort to build real partnerships with the community. But in the current environment, treating teachers with some degree of fairness and heeding their concerns over job security, compensation, and due process just isn't part of the conversation.