“…there is seldom room for talent or honesty; everything is obtained through intrigue or luck, not to mention money, which seems to hold supreme sway over the world … inadequate men hold the highest [offices], discreet and learned men being left out in the cold whilst ignorant and worthless persons are exalted.” Poggio Bracciolini, in Stephen Greenblatt, The Swerve: How the World Became Modern, 2011.
No, Poggio Bracciolini was not talking about the Congress, or the state legislature or departments of education, he was talking about the papal curia in the early 14th century, the more things change…
Why does David Boies, a lifelong liberal, who led the legal team that overturned the California same-sex marriage ban, who represented Al Gore before the Supreme Court in Bush v. Gore, who prosecuted Microsoft, chair the Campbell Brown organization that is challenging tenure laws around the country? Boies, 73, the son of two school teachers, in a NY Times interview” …said he viewed the cause of tenure overhaul as ‘pro-teacher.’ “
“I think teaching is one of the most important professions that we have in this country,” he said. But, he added, “there can be a tension” between union efforts to protect workers and “what society needs to do, which is to make sure that the social function — in this case teaching — is being fulfilled.” Mr. Boies, who said he viewed education as a civil rights issue, is offering his services pro bono.”
From one of the most respected liberal lawyers in the nation to a long-time liberal comedienne, and co-host of the widely watched The View,
On the entertainment side, Whoopi Goldberg, the co-host of The View, with decidedly liberal views on politics, supported the attacks on tenure,
On Monday, the co-host insisted that bad teachers should lose their job, declaring, “You teachers in your unions, you need to say, ‘these bad teachers are making us look bad. We don’t want it!”…And it has nothing to do with being a liberal or a Democrat. It has to do with being an American.”
On Tuesday, the comedienne responded to attacks on Twitter and doubled down: “We were not talking about good teachers who do a great job. We were talking about getting rid of teachers who don’t do a good job.” She lectured, “My mother was a teacher. So, this is not about bashing teachers…
The New Republic, a magazine with a long liberal tradition is also on the dump tenure band wagon,
. One argument typically offered by tenure defenders is that teaching is a notoriously difficult profession in which to measure success. But this is true for lots of jobs—yet, in all other professions, efforts are still made, however imperfect, to evaluate whether an employee is succeeding and to remove those who are not. Why should teaching be different? In fact, given that teaching is arguably the most important job in our society, it would be difficult to name a profession, save maybe the military, for which these sorts of heightened job protections would be less logical. If a job is truly important to the nation’s future, then you want to make sure that the most able, talented people are doing it—and doing their best work at all times.
That goal is simply incompatible with tenure. Indeed, tenure is so illogical that it’s impossible to see why it shouldn’t be abolished.
I think back over the decades, the teacher union (UFT) in New York City was trashed over the lengthy acrimonious 1968 strike. Teachers participated in UFT-led freedom marches deep into the South, teachers spent their summers in freedom schools, Martin Luther King was honored by the UFT with its highest award, yet the very same supporters of Civil Rights, anti-war liberals, vilified the union over the strike.
The strike was over a core union principle, tenure. One of the experimental school districts fired a group of white teachers and John Lindsay, the mayor, refused to intervene, in fact, his deliberate inaction led to a forty-day strike. The unintended consequences: Lindsay, desperate to win back angry teachers and run for the presidency in 1972, negotiated a new pension system, Tier 1, a pension tier that allows the “lawless strikers” of 1968 to retire without fear of pauperdom, and, BTW, Lindsay was soundly defeated in the Florida Republican primary, partly by angry teachers, friends and parents of teachers. (See Tamar Jacoby, Someone Else’s House: America’s Unfinished Struggle for Integration, Free Press, 1998).
In my view some months down the road a court will rule that the tenure suit is not “ripe,” meaning, the teacher evaluation law is only two years old and it’s too early to draw judgments about the impact of the law – come back in a few years.
Additionally, let us remember Supreme Court justices, the lowest rung of the courts, are elected in New York State, usually without much of a race – why antagonize the deep-pocketed teachers union, a union with members in every nook and cranny of the state.
The Story Behind the Story:
Anger over the political power of teacher unions
* David Boies, Whoopi Goldberg, the New Republic and the other liberals who have jumped on the dump tenure band wagon are just like the “liberals” of the late 60s that trashed the teachers union. The new union, which only gained collective bargaining in 1961, was rapidly growing in power and influence, Lindsay saw the Oceanhill-Brownsville dispute as an opportunity to weaken or destroy the union and the “liberal left” jumped on board. Forty plus years later the American Federation of Teachers is also growing in power and influence; building coalitions with immigrant organizations, with civil rights organizations, the LGBT community, the women’s right agenda, from teacher issues to health care issues the AFT seems to be everywhere. Just as the liberal left was wrong in 1968 they are wrong in 2014 – just as they were used by Lindsay the left is, ironically, being used by the Republican strategists.
The UFT came out of the 1968 strike bruised and determined – the union rapidly grew in strength, and, a year later the paraprofessionals, almost all women of color, chose to be represented by the UFT over DC 37, a heavily minority union. The current assaults on tenure will simply strength the resolve of teacher unions.
* Forcing the liberal left to confront their own racism – what happened to integration and childhood poverty and income inequality?
The liberal left is liberal as long as the “liberalism” doesn’t conflict with their own values – our schools are more segregated than ever before, and, Brownstone Brooklyn and the Upper West Side defend white school enclaves. David Boise could be using his legal skills to defend voter suppression throughout Republican controlled states, and Whoopi Goldberg could start a campaign to end childhood poverty – among the thirty-five OECD nations we are “better than Turkey and Mexico,” income inequality is the highest since 1928, incarceration rates are strikingly higher for people of color, “African Americans comprise 14 percent of regular drug users but are 37 percent of those arrested for drug offenses. From 1980 to 2007 about one in three of the 25.4 million adults arrested for drugs was African American,” and, let’s not forget we lead the world in the percent of our citizens who are incarcerated.
Why do Boise and Goldberg choose to use their skills to end teacher tenure? It is a “safe” way to express their liberalism, it is popular, after all, everyone can remember some teacher they didn’t like, and, lest we forget, not so deep beneath the surface is an abiding racism that pervades our society.
* Communities of color support teachers and unions
You may not have noticed that the major civil rights organizations, the NAACP, the Urban League, the A Philip Randolph Institute have not jumped on the dump tenure train, in fact, they work closely with teacher unions. You may ask, yes, the leadership of these organizations support the union, how about parents and members of communities? Sol Stern, reporting in City Journal writes,
“… according to a poll of city voters commissioned by the Manhattan Institute and conducted earlier this year by Zogby Analytics … New Yorkers now trust the oft-maligned teachers more than they trust the mayor’s office: almost half of all respondents said that teachers should “play the largest role in determining New York City’s education policy,” compared with 28 percent who thought that the [Bloomberg] schools chancellor should.”
* Tenure rules may need tweaking
In 2009 the UFT and the City negotiated changes to streamline the tenure process and the City unilaterally toughened up the tenure-granting process. In New York City teachers serve a three year probationary period, the principal can extend for a fourth year. A series of administrative changes speeds up the process – the average case in New York City, from beginning to end takes four months. The rules for terminating a tenured teacher for incompetence, aka “ineffectiveness” is now governed by the new state law, and, this year we will probably see the first group of charges preferred.
One of the reasons why cases dragged out in the past was a dispute between the State Education Department and the arbitrators over rates of pay.
Teaching is probably the only profession in which half of new employees leave voluntarily within five years. Are principals selecting the wrong candidates? Are schools of education not preparing their students? Or, maybe it’s just a difficult job in a climate of constant belittling of teachers.
And, of course, teachers will fight back; perhaps writing to sponsors urging them to replace Whoopi Goldberg, all is fair in love and war.
Once upon a time teachers were fearful and easy targets – now – with leaders like Diane Ravitch, Karen Lewis and Randi Weingarten, rather than hiding in the shadows they stand up to bullies, and skilled in social media they tweet, “bring it on …” and fight back.