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Vending Machines In The Teachers Lounge

070205snspot01 It was not a good week for DC teachers union leader George Packer, who on PBS came awfully close to admitting that teachers unions had neglected achievement issues and then on Friday's Nightline (not yet online) was filmed conducting a negotiating session with Michelle Rhee that focused on teachers' rights to have vending machines in the teachers lounge.  Perhaps the excerpt was unfair, but it was hard not to agree with Rhee when she said that the issue was at the absolute bottom of her priorities.

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Of course Nightline focused on vending machines instead of negotiating sessions on things like class size. Not to say that if things like basic conditions for teachers weren't negotiated, Rhee would have them using outhouses for bathrooms.

Also note who funds Nightline and JohnMerrow: Broad and Gates and all the othe players on the Rhee/Joel Klein team.

Norm,

Rhee is another Ronald Reagan putting an attractive face of the educational equivalent of Supply Side Economics, and her success at PR drives me crazy. As with VooDoo Economics, the flacks actually BELIEVE that they have replaced reality as a paradigm, but the only real result is defeating working and middle class people, and the institutions that defend them.

But, we also must face facts. We need to rework work rules that existed for the convenience of adults and reorganize our institutions to serve children, while protecting the essence of collective bargaining (including big principles like seniority and "little" ones like protecting the dignity of staff.) The union, as opposed to the Gates/Broad/BloomKlein/Rhee machine, is just the sum of our members. It is more difficult for us to reorganize in order to produce constructive policies than it is for them to just beat us down.

Its unfair to challenge the integrity of Nightline, and certainly not Merrow.

IN THE SHORT RUN, Rhee has had a good publicity cycle. Her proposals are fundamentally a bluff, however, As we think through the chess game, the worse thing that could happen to her would to be get her way. I hope we in the blogoshere play out the details of the predictable results. The best thing we can do right now in DC is to "win ugly" (and by win I mean avoid making things worse) But we can all admit that DC is as mess, and any improvements would be ugly also.

Look at the big picture. If you were committed to NCLB-type victory, would you feel successful? If we focus on evidence, they are getting clobbered. And with the economic downturn, they are in a completely untenable position. The voters, like teachers, have been speaking loudly.

We need to be unafraid as we change the subject back to reality. I'd love to drive a stake in the heart of NCLB-type accountabity, but we'll still come out in a good spot. A President Obama, I bet, will endorse both the Broader Bolder Challenge and the EEP. Its up to us to get the balance right. We have had six years of faith-based reforms, and those of us who actually are in schools are completely fed up with us. Under Obama, we will get a fair hearing.

And we will need to reform ourselves as we stand up to "the haters," as our kids called them. We need to have confidence in our case. How much poision do we want Rhee and Klein to be dumping in our schools. After all, the feces runs downhill. How much more of it will parents allow to be dumped in their kids schools?

thanks for the comment , but perhaps you didn't see that i noted the potential unfairness of the nightline edits in my post::

"Perhaps the excerpt was unfair, but it was hard not to agree with Rhee when she said that the issue was at the absolute bottom of her priorities."

John,
The particular segment chosen - vending machines - a minor element in any contract negotiations - in NYC Bloomberg mandated Snapple machines - did not come out of thin air. Using that piece as opposed to more substantial issues serves to make a political point by the open and closet supporters of the Klein/Rhee concepts. Merrow has consistently fallen into that camp by the way he covers these stories. Charie Rose too. Isn't it important to note when the Broad & Gates Foundations are funders?

On this:
"We need to rework work rules that existed for the convenience of adults and reorganize our institutions to serve children, while protecting the essence of collective bargaining (including big principles like seniority and "little" ones like protecting the dignity of staff.)"

The schools I worked in did not operate for the convenience of teachers or children. Maybe the convenience of supervisors, bureaucrats, etc. So I would look beyond work rules.

Many of these rules have been formally and informally reworked in NYC and not to the benefit of children or teachers. I hear the line that schools should be about kids and not the convenience of adults from Klein and Rhee all the time. In fact what they have done is so much more about the convenience of pushing their political ideology that has nothing to do with the kids.

Most schools, even where there are no unions or work rules, do not exist for the convenience of children. Urban or suburban, school systems are designed to meet the needs of adults. The focus on work rules as somehow being the major issue that is antithetical to serving children is part of the misdirection the Kleins and Rhees use.

Offhand, I can think of one work rule in NYC that serves children very well - class size limits. If not for those, Klein would pack em in like cattle. The DOE makes sure to push high school class sizes to the contractual maximum and beyond if they can get away with it. Except in the small schools where they have a vested political interest.

If we were to really serve children I can think of a very different type of schooling.

Norm,

The last time I checked, the Nightline wasn't online so I haven't seen it. But Rhee et.al. have been getting great PR on middlebrow media, Newsweek, TV, Washington Post etc. I chalk that up to the skill and the infrastruture build by Gates and the rest. We have to face it. They have some great sound bites and they're still an outstanding political machine. They don't have the evidence, but neither did Bush in 2000 and 2004, in my opinion. Merrow, it seems to me, plays it straight up. To paraphrase LBJ when Walter Cronkite came out aginst Vietnam, if we lose Merrow we've lost a lot. My attitude, though, is that if Merrow reaches a different conclusion, I need to rethink mine. He visits a lot of schools and he impresses me. At minimum, if Merrow (or Paul Tough to mention another) reaches a different conclusion, then I at least need to rethink my political stance.

We don't disagree on "adults" which is the way I put it, or supervisiors and bureaucrats. When we give them new power, how often does the administration have the capacity to use it productively? I am struck by studies that describe the need for flexiblity and criticize unions for not bending more, then they acknowledge that districts which don't face those obstacles do not benefit from the flexibility because of the shortage of effective teachers or other capacity problems. Then, they tend to go back to criticizing unions.

Comparability seems to be the issue where the union is on weakest ground politically. And I certainly understand why it is so important to get effective teachers to inner city schools. I would even give up some major senority rights if I saw the potential for helping poor kids. But the advocates of comparability, it seems to me, show a fundamental misunderstanding of the craft of teaching. They want to move teachers around like commodities. A great IB or AP teacher in a magnet school ought to be a great inner city teacher, and we should not resent being moved around like chess pieces. Because I do great things for a low poverty school with a great principal that believes in respect and collaboration, I should be able to replicate my best practices in a dysfunctional school with a tyrant for a principal.

All I was saying is that we need to give some grudging credit for the excellent PR machine that gave them what they wanted in recent pieces by Matt Miller, Johnaton Alter, the WP editorial page, and I guess Nightline. We've got better evidence, and mostly the pendulum has been swinging our way.

John
Let's deal with a few important points you raise:

"And I certainly understand why it is so important to get effective teachers to inner city schools. I would even give up some major senority rights if I saw the potential for helping poor kids. But the advocates of comparability, it seems to me, show a fundamental misunderstanding of the craft of teaching."

and

"Because I do great things for a low poverty school with a great principal that believes in respect and collaboration, I should be able to replicate my best practices in a dysfunctional school with a tyrant for a principal."

The ability of teachers to be effective (and again, this can be fuzzy in that Kleinites would base effectiveness on a test score) is not absolute but variable as affected by the working conditions. The way a school is organized and the leadership as you know has a major impact. So could you replicate what you do in a dysfunctional school with a tyrant? I would say no over the long term, which is not to say that you would still not be a great teacher but would find roadblocks. You would either leave or murder the tyrant.

Let me give you one example. A bunch of teachers i know worked in at PS 9 in Prospect Heights in Brooklyn back in the early 70's. They had great principal and about 8 of them set up an open classroom that was similar to what Debbie Meier was doing. The program and they flourished. But then the principal left. (I think he ended up at the public school at Hunter College and a few of the teachers followed him there eventually.)

The guy who took over was a tyrant and also jealous of the successes. It took him about 10 minutes to destroy years of work and all the teachers left.

This has happened time and again. Unfortunately, in 35 years in the system, I never worked in any situation that was conducive to supporting doing great things and teachers who did them worked in isolation. At my school there was a guy like that who left the June before I got there. He was a 10 year vet and a legend. But he burned out by 1971 and became a bartender. He was killed in a car accident just a few years later. Something tells me if he found a place like yours things might have been different.

Norm,

Ten to 12 years ago, our school had the district's best attendance rate for the teachers. It was because we had a middle aged faculty, with many having stuck it out since desegregation.

We went for years without a retirement party. Nobody would admit that they were tired. Then the last week of school, they would announce they weren't coming back. Or often they died. Too many times we couldn't get teachers to go to the hospital or follow doctors orders. They had to get back to work.

We've lost a teacher a year for several years, often as young as 56 (one of this year's) Teachers of all ages buy into this Hollywood hero image of "whatever it takes." I'd like to get my hands on whoever started this Whatever It Takes theme. It sbad for students as well as teachers. Anything that helps kids must be sustainable. Anything that is sustainable requires respect for people.

We get one or two great young teachers every year, but we're not nearly able to replace the teachers we lose. Like the kids say, its the old timers, with a few exceptions, that can control their clases. So we can't retain the 20 somethings so every hall has a teacher out for extended time with cancer, heart disease, other serious conditions, or caring for parents.

And we also have a lot of teachers who have foster kids. Yet the Rhees and the Kleins feel free to kick us in the teeth, nonstop, as if we're resisting civil rights.

wow... i really didn't think such a huge commotion could start up over vending machines. Dang....

Amer.

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