As Republicans are painfully reminded, progressives thrive on deception. Throw public sector unions into the mix and the worst aspects of Chicago-style cronyism and pay-to-play politics inevitably surface. Add national teachers’ unions, and the potential for a previously unimaginable pay-to-play scam — a scam conservatives might blindly and reflexively support — becomes all too real.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the 2011 union membership rate for the public sector was 37.0%. For private sector workers, the rate was 6.9%. Education, training, and library occupations were 36.8% unionized. Particularly in the private sector, union membership is at historic lows, an issue unions have hoped to reverse with the assistance of President Obama.
They have had little success. Card Check, which would eliminate secret ballots in union certification votes, has thus far failed. Mr. Obama has hoped to address this and other labor issues by stacking the National Labor Relations Board with recess appointments of questionable constitutionality, but that maneuver is being fought in the courts and the outcome remains uncertain.
As with gun control, the Obama administration is ever busy at under-the-radar scheming. The most recent attempt to swell education union rolls involves cleverly co-opting some of the rhetoric and philosophy of conservatives — most notably the concept of “accountability.” Fox News reported on a maneuver that could, at least on the surface, have come directly from the conservative playbook:
A powerful teachers union on Monday proposed a so-called “bar exam” that intends to raise standards for incoming teachers — a move that comes amid calls for broad-scale education union reform.
The proposal by the American Federation of Teachers calls for a nationwide standardized test that would be administered by state-level unions, similar to the way states host bar exams for lawyers.
Union President Randi Weingarten said the proposed competency test is largely in response to young public-school teachers expressing concerns about being unprepared to enter a classroom.”
With George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind law still in place, so-called “accountability” is still holding sway in the nation’s schools despite rapidly declining revenues available for obscenely expensive high-stakes tests, such as the nearly half-billion dollars Texas is spending for five years worth. All that’s missing from the new proposal is a plea for “fairness”. Ahem:
“It’s not fair to students, and it’s not fair to teachers if they are not prepared on Day One,” [Weingarten] said.
A mandatory standardized test, and federal government mandates to improve “accountability”: what’s not for conservatives to like?
Teachers unions have recently faced increased criticism, particularly from Republican governors, allegedly for demanding high teacher salaries without providing their states with affordable and quality educations.
Though poor-performing tenured teachers are among the biggest concerns, because they are difficult if not impossible to fire, the union proposal does not address that issue.
A union task force came up with the test, which its board of directors still must approve before asking states to adopt the concept.
The task force also calls for teachers and educators to set and enforce the standards and said the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards has agreed to get all parties together to design the standards.
It will surprise no one familiar with the Obama administration and progressive tactics to learn:
Education Secretary Arne Duncan is commending the proposal. He says the U.S. shouldn’t tolerate having unprepared teachers.
Their solution to a supposed nationwide crisis of unprepared teachers is a mandatory national exam — like the bar exam — administered by education unions. The fact that bar exams do not weed out incompetent – or even criminal — lawyers aside, this is a solution to a nonexistent problem, and one of the more clever political scams ever hatched.
NCLB already mandates that every teacher be “Highly Qualified”. The definition, according to the Department of Education:
Highly Qualified Teachers: To be deemed highly qualified, teachers must have: 1) a bachelor’s degree, 2) full state certification or licensure, and 3) prove that they know each subject they teach.
Each state requires these minimum standards, and virtually all also require standardized testing encompassing tests for each discipline a teacher will teach, plus separate tests of general professional standards and skills. All of this is required before a teacher is certified to teach. With the issuance of a teaching certificate, in virtually every state a set of continuing education mandates apply, mandates that must be met in order to continue to teach. Any additional testing layered on these already substantial requirements would simply add much greater costs for no benefit.
No test can achieve what Weingarten wants: perfectly prepared new teachers.
Her test is a red herring. In teaching, as in every other field of human endeavor, only skill and preparation combined with experience — which must be won through actually doing the job over time — can produce competent teachers. Some people will enter the profession with the best intentions, but discover it’s really not for them. Some will have the endowment to be excellent teachers and will shine virtually from their first day in the classroom; others will have varying degrees of lesser success. But no test, particularly no test forced on schools throughout the nation and administered by unions and the federal government, can change human nature and the very nature of how human beings learn and perform any job.
Education unions are the greatest impediment ever devised to true professionalism in teaching. One of the hallmarks of education unionism is ensuring that the worst teachers — even teachers who have committed crimes — cannot be disciplined or fired. As the Fox News article noted, Weingarten’s proposal does not mention or address this indisputable fact. Of what value is an enormously expensive testing program if unfit teachers — whose primary competency is obviously taking tests rather than teaching — can never be fired?
To whatever degree new teachers are unprepared can be addressed — and is addressed by virtually every American school district — by mentoring programs that pair experienced teachers with new teachers. It’s not universally known that no prospective teacher graduates from college without at least a full semester — half a school year — of teaching under the direct supervision of a teacher experienced in teaching new teachers. No test will improve on that experience.
There is no question some new teachers — all of whom are severely limited by being hired from the human race — will not be as ready to teach competently on their first day in the classroom as others. This is true of new plumbers, electricians, scientists, doctors, lawyers, and any other profession. Because human beings are individuals, this will never change, but solid mentoring programs can — and already do — exist. No test ever conceived can accomplish this, or ensure that no poorly qualified people will ever enter the profession. Unions, however, will do their best to ensure they’ll never leave.
This initiative isn’t about teacher quality; it’s about money and power. It’s about federal control and the destruction of federalism. It’s about making education unions the unchallenged gatekeepers of the teaching profession. And above all, it’s an invitation to the kind of corrupt pay-to-play scamming that has long been the foundation of Chicago politics, but writ on a national scale. It’s the ultimate expression of giving the fox the keys to the chicken coop.
Giving unions the ability to determine who is allowed to teach is a necessary — and likely irreversible — first step to universal unionism in American education. Once established, teachers will owe their first allegiance not to their communities, their schools and their students, but to the unions that determine whether they ever enter a classroom and the circumstances under which they remain. Mandatory national curriculums — another initiative currently being pursued by the Obama administration — would be much easier to implement under this scheme. And the best part is the billions upon billions of taxpayer dollars that will be transferred to union coffers to administer this boondoggle, dollars that will in turn be funneled into the campaign funds of progressive politicians with whom the unions will bargain, and the great federal money wheel inexorably grinds on to ensure no democrat will be left behind.
The devious deception and genius of this scam is its usurpation of conservative phraseology. What conservative wouldn’t want teachers to be accountable? Who would argue against well-prepared teachers? Who would argue that it is fair for kids to be taught by poor teachers? Conservatives listening only to the rhetoric of Ms. Weingarten might well be willing to enthusiastically support this scheme.
Stealth unionism, irreversible lifetime employment for incompetent teachers, absolute federal control of local education administered by union bosses: all of this and more may soon be coming to a school near you, courtesy of education union bosses and the Obama administration.
For them, it’s never about the kids.