The Unapologetic Teachers Unions

The cover of the November 3rd edition of Time Magazine set off a firestorm among union leaders and many their acolytes. The offending picture is of a judge’s gavel about to smash an apple, while the accompanying text reads, “It’s nearly impossible to fire a bad teacher; some tech millionaires may have found a way to change that.”Time magazine cover teachers

The story behind the photo, “The War on Teacher Tenure,” is mostly about the Vergara decision – in which a judge found that the tenure, seniority and dismissal statutes in the California education code are unconstitutional. The article focuses on Vergara’s benefactor – David Welch, a tech titan who has found a second career as an education reformer. It’s an even-handed piece, and one certainly worthy of discussion.

But instead of addressing the merits of the article, teacher union leaders and supporters went ballistic over the mildly provocative cover. American Federation of Teachers leader Randi Weingarten said she “felt sick” when she saw it. She promptly organized a protest and circulated a petition demanding an apology from Time Magazine. The AFT claimed the cover “casts teachers as ‘rotten apples’ needing to be smashed by Silicon Valley millionaires with no experience in education.”

To its credit, Time refused to cave in to the protesters, inviting aggrieved parties to respond online instead. The teachers union claque complied, many expressing outrage at the magazine and at education “outsiders” as well. The president of the behemoth National Education Association, Lily Eskelsen Garcia, attacked the “wolves of Wall Street.” Some members of the Badass Teachers Association – a group that claims to represent 53,000 teachers – solemnly intoned, “The gavel as a symbol of corporate education, smashing the apple – the universal symbol of education – reinforces a text applauding yet another requested deathblow to teacher tenure.”

But the regnant themes of outrage and apology demands are a bit much. In fact, maybe it’s the teachers unions that need to do some mea culpas. For example:

  • Maybe AFT’s Weingarten should apologize to Marshall Tuck, who ran unsuccessfully for California School Superintendent. Her union financed a slanderous TV ad showing a businessman stealing a child’s lunch, and because some rich businessmen donated to his campaign, ridiculously asserted that Tuck would allow corporate fat cats to take over our schools. (Because there has been an influx of money from businessmen who are concerned about failing schools, the unions have concluded that school privatization is nigh. It’s a silly argument, but one that the unions try to use to rally teachers.)
  • Maybe the California Teachers Association should apologize for spending teachers’ dues money on union bosses’ personal political choices. CTA ended up spending over $10 million to defeat Tuck. But as teacher union watchdog Mike Antonucci pointed out, with the millions CTA invested in the race, only 31 percent of union households supported Tom Torlakson, while 23 percent backed Tuck and 46 percent were undecided. But the union didn’t seem to care. As Antonucci said, “The answer is that CTA practices representative democracy in reverse. Decisions are made by the small handful of officers and shop stewards who participate in union activities. Then they justify, promote and sell these decisions to the membership-at-large – using the members’ own money to do so.”
  • Maybe Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers, should apologize to critics of the Common Core State Standards, which include many teachers. Doing his best thug impersonation at a recent AFT convention, he threatened, “If someone takes something from me (control of the standards), I’m going to grab it right back out of their cold, twisted, sick hands and say it is mine! You do not take what is mine! And I’m going to punch you in the face and push you in the dirt because this is the teachers’!”
  • Maybe CTA should also apologize to the children of California for appealing the Vergara decision that rendered the seniority, tenure and dismissal statutes in the state’s education code unconstitutional. In California, due to the union-inflicted tenure and dismissal statutes, on average just of two “permanent” teachers a year lose their job due to incompetence. That’s two bad apples out of about 300,000. In my almost 30 years in the classroom, there were always at least two teachers (out of 50 or so) at my school alone who shouldn’t have been in the classroom. This is not an anomaly; if you were to go into any school and ask who the incompetents are, you would hear about the same few teachers from faculty, students, their parents, the principal, the assistant principal, guidance counselors, janitors, bus drivers, school secretaries and lunch ladies.

But don’t count on teachers unions to apologize for anything. And don’t expect them to ever willingly surrender any of the onerous work rules that they have foisted on our public schools. Instead, they try to divert attention by whining about a mildly controversial magazine cover, while the rest of us – including parents, serious teachers, community members, Democrats, Republicans and yes, corporate types and tech gurus – must revert to the courts to force reforms on our failing system. American children can’t wait a minute longer for the unions to mend their ways, let alone apologize for them.

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.