Education blogger Dana Goldstein recently had breakfast at the Department of Education with Arne Duncan and a group of education writers. At the meeting, Duncan asserted that teachers’ unions have an important role in education reform and then criticized Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s attacks on teachers unions. “. . . collective bargaining will be a tool for improving student achievement,” he told the eduwonks. He particularly embraced the Wisconsin Education Association’s sellout plan embracing value-added evaluations and tenure reform. He also commended the direction the AFT was moving (albeit a little too slow for his liking) with Randi Weingarten’s proposal to weaken tenure protections.
Essentially, what Duncan was saying is that he prefers honey to vinegar as a way to enforce his will on teachers. Rather than attacking their unions and further alienating them, like most Democrats he would rather sleep with the unions and then get them to enforce his attacks on teachers in exchange for continued trysts down the road. While this approach has the distinct disadvantage of maintaining unions and their theoretical ability to negotiate higher wages, something the rich would love to end immediately, it has a huge payoff for Democratic politicians who rely on unions’ campaign contributions.
In the end, Duncan’s love of unions can only be seen as a cynical quid pro quo that has nothing to do with maintaining or improving the quality of education or the working and living conditions of teachers. Demos maintain a monopoly on union support at election time and union bosses maintain their positions of power and authority. Meanwhile, rank and file teachers continue to give up wage and benefits concessions, weakened tenure and seniority protections, and increasing class sizes and workloads, all with the complicity of their union bosses, while their students continue to get tested up the wazoo, while losing course offerings, nurses, librarians, counselors and their teachers’ sanity and patience.