Tuesday, Sep 23, 2014
Columns

Republicans, not unions, to blame for state of education


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When Lorne Dewitt blamed the teachers unions for the problems in education it reminded me of a story I heard on NPR earlier about how officials in China were banning barbecues because they said they contributed to smog. I don’t know, however, which is crazier.

The Republicans have been completely in charge of both the executive and legislative branches in Florida during the entire rein of the FCAT. This whole era of so-called accountability (except for schools that take vouchers) has happened under their watch and shouldn’t that be the bottom line even if a union member here or a union leader there supported Common Core, liked the idea of charter schools or was enthusiastic about the FCAT?

Mr. Dewitt went on to give unions powers they don’t have. Over the past few years teachers have been stripped of work protections, had 3 percent of their pay taken to balance Florida’s books (thank a teacher for the state’s surplus) and continue to be some of the lowest paid professionals around. This is the group, he says, that even without the power to strike has run rough shod over the powers-that-be in Tallahassee. Dewitt would have you believe unions are the ones calling the shots.

I would like to clear up one assertion that Dewitt makes and that is about charter schools. The concept of charter schools was credited to Albert Shanker a union/teacher leader from New York. He thought charters should be teacher/parent driven laboratories, free of things like high-stakes testing that can be so stifling. His wife recently said he would roll over in his grave if he could see what they had become.

Lorne Dewitt obviously has what I would call a pathological dislike of teacher unions but for those of you a little more nuanced, I would like to point out that unions do not create curriculum, establish budgets, set policy nor do they hire or fire teachers. All they do and all they can do here in Florida is make sure the mutually agreed upon contract language is enforced and through their membership, lobby for things they feel are important. Sometimes they win, like with the parent trigger. But more often they lose, like with Senate Bill 736 that ties pay to how students do on standardized tests, something testing experts say is ridiculous.

Dewitt may choose to rewrite history and place blame on those he irrationally dislikes. But at the end of the day, the fact that Republicans have been in charge of education over the past 15 years is irrefutable. If you like where we are, keep voting for them. If you think we need a change or can do better, a sentiment echoed by most teachers whether they are in the union or not, then you know what you need to do.

Chris Guerrieri is a school teacher in Jacksonville and publisher of a blog called Education Matters. Visit his website at http://jaxkidsmatter.blogspot.com.

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