It is no secret that the biggest teachers unions in the country are adamantly opposed to the nomination of Betsy DeVos to Secretary of Education. The idea that the opportunity to leave the public school system could become available to even more students drives them up a wall.
However, what you may not have known is just how deeply the unions seek the status quo – so much that they fought the Obama Administration tooth-and-nail, and even liberal politicians are concerned with the increasingly “regressive” rhetoric the unions employ.
The unions disliked former Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, and really really hated his replacement, John King. Duncan, for all his faults (using federal funding as a means of getting states to implement Common Core, etc.), was also someone who wanted to see change in schools. King was a major player in getting New York to adopt Common Core, stricter evaluations, and other reforms introduce into the state.
The unions fought them like their lives depended on it… and likely because they do. There are far more teachers on the payroll in many districts than there are teachers who affect meaningful, educational change in their students. In some places, using the term “jobs program” to describe public education isn’t too far off.
Here’s a comment Duncan made about some of the loudest voices against him, back in 2010: “Some state and local unions are very thoughtful and progressive and are embracing innovation… Others are more entrenched in the status quo.”
Liberal politicians have also had their run-ins with unions, and have felt the sting of their words.
But the unions are growing increasingly obstinate in their opposition of the sorts of accountability and pressure that Obama has helped bring upon them. Last week, the National Education Association held a convention where it elected a new president, Lily Eskelsen García, and also officially called for the resignation of Obama’s secretary of education, Arne Duncan. The delicate balancing act within the Democratic coalition is beginning to fray.
Former Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa lamented how far the unions are going in opposing Democrats in favor of reform.
As a former union leader and a lifelong Democrat who supports collective bargaining, I am deeply troubled by the rhetoric and strategy we heard at both national [teachers’ union] conventions. They attacked an administration in Washington that helped protect 400,000 teaching jobs during the recession, has actively promoted labor-management collaboration and has empowered classroom teachers to help shape policy.
It’s a fact of life in every field. Countless teachers and many union leaders agree with these common-sense measures, yet at their conventions, the most regressive voices are amplified while the reasonable, fair-minded voices aren’t heard.
Meanwhile, parents are voting with their feet. Today, nearly 10 million students have opted out of the traditional public-school system, attending private schools or public charter schools, or they are home-schooled. Another million parents are on charter-school waiting lists and surveys show overwhelming support for vouchers among minorities. Parents will not tolerate resistance to common-sense changes that are necessary for preparing our children for the future.
The American public wants some type of reform to the education system, because that’s what is best for their children. But, the status quo is what’s best for the unions, who need teachers to remain employed and remain members in order to get rich off their union dues.
The status quo is not what’s best for America. DeVos represents a chance to help end the status quo. The unions are threatened, and are going to lash out harder than they ever have before.