Saturday, March 13, 2010

Union Bashing

I have always respected Crain's Cleveland Business, the weekly business publication for NorthEast Ohio, so much in fact, I even have a subscription to their daily email newsletter.
However, today I read a post on Crain's blog by editor Brian Tucker that really got me riled. At first I growled, then I reread it and cursed. After reading it yet again, I needed to respond, so I started writing... and writing... and writing.
When I finished writing I was still so annoyed that I published my comment before adding my signature. My efforts are published on their site anonymously, but I do not want to hide behind my computer screen, so I will repost the offending editorial and my response here:

Now that's the ticket
"Its good that the Cleveland school board didn't buy into a counterproposal by some teachers from the underperforming East High School that Superintendent Gene Sanders wants to close.

While it might be intriguing to have half the building be a charter school and the other a community center, that concept would never work with a unionized teaching staff.

There are plenty of examples of bad charter schools, and our community and state should close them as fast as possible. But the good ones, such as Cleveland's E-Prep, succeed in large part because the teachers aren't unionized.

The teachers are there because they're driven to succeed as educators. They don't balk at the longer school days and years. And if they don't do a good job, they are replaced — quickly — by empowered administrators.

Plenty has been written about how it is next to impossible to remove a teacher in a unionized setting. That's good for the union and especially good for the mediocre-to-average teachers; but it's horrible for students, parents and our community as a whole."

Mr. Tucker, I take issue with your pronouncement that unions are a primary impediment to a school’s success, as well as the implication that the elimination of the teacher’s union would improve education in the city of Cleveland.

When I was a student, I was taught two very important lessons. The first by my science teacher, Sr. Immaculata, ”Do your research”. The next from my geometry teacher, Sister Clarissa, “You need to apply logic if you want to find the best answer”.

I would like to start with a bit of logic.

If the presence of a teacher’s union in a school will inhibit a school’s success, than it would follow that most unionized schools would be failing schools. Yet, right here in Cuyahoga County we have some of the top ranked schools in the United States, staffed by union teachers, ie. Chagrin Falls, Solon, Bay Village, Cuyahoga Falls, and even the Cleveland School of the Arts (surprisingly, staffed by members of the CTU). Therefore, one can infer that teacher's unions don’t create failure.

Now, let’s take a look at some of the actual differences between successful schools and failing schools.

All but one of the schools mentioned above are suburban schools where a majority of students come from families with above average incomes. Studies have shown that a greater percentage of children who come from a higher socioeconomic background will achieve academic success at significantly higher levels than children living in poverty, which explains why Chagrin Falls, Solon, etc., have a much better success rate than CMSD’s East or South High Schools. Yet, The Cleveland School of the Arts, John Hay High School, and E-Prep have student bodies whose families represent the opposite end of the economic demographic. Having eliminated unions and family finance as the cause of school failure, what other differences are there?

This is where we have to do some research.

How are students admitted?
At E-prep, students AND parents must attend a mandatory open house, parent orientation, and student orientation. At CSA, students must participate in a 2-3 hour audition with a parent, and submit a letter of recommendation from a teacher in their selected discipline. At John Hay, students must have a 3.0 GPA to apply, and submit 4 evaluation forms from current teachers. At East High and South High students register by showing up, walking up to the counter at the main office with an adult, and filling out as much of the paper work as they can.

E-prep maintains a zero-tolerance policy regarding their student code of conduct. The consequence for non-compliance is dismissal. Students who cannot maintain good grades or have problems with behavior at CSA and John Hay will be transferred back to the student’s home school, which might be East or even South High School. What happens to students who misbehave at East, South, Lincoln West, or any other CMSD neighborhood school? Consequences range from detentions to 1-10 day suspensions for most conduct issues. Really serious incidents (meaning behavior that would be classified as criminal in the adult realm) are referred to a disciplinary board for an expulsion hearing. Expulsions are typically more than 10 days, not to exceed 80 days. Only a very few offenses are eligible for permanent expulsion: murder, attempted murder, drug trafficking, and rape.

Given these facts, one could reasonably conclude that the key to effective schools in low income neighborhoods would be mandated parental involvement, careful screening of prospective students, and strictly enforced codes of conduct, including low to zero tolerance for infractions.

Doomed to failure are the schools which, by law, must educate all children, including the sociopaths, addicts, gangbangers, those suffering from serious (and not so serious) mental illnesses, as well as the kids who have been raised by television, or whose parents are completely uncaring, absent, or mentally incompetent. These are the kids who can’t get into the specialized magnet schools or the outstanding charter schools. There is no ROI for the taxpayers to give kids like these the extra help they need. These are the children who, despite the federal mandate, have been left behind. For many of them, what lies ahead is a future in the justice system. While we close down schools, this country continues to build prisons, and those are funded without voting on a levy.

It is much more convenient (and politically advantageous) to point the finger of blame at inner-city teacher's unions than to create the kind of specialized schools that will meet the needs of the growing numbers of damaged children that come from our poorest neighborhoods.

I started this blog back in 2004 in response to those people who were quick to criticize Cleveland teachers. As the economy declined, those numbers have grown. Every article I read about the schools on lately is followed by hateful commentary blaming the teachers for all the problems of the district, and often blaming unions in general for the entire economic crisis.

"Get rid of the unions!"
"Fire the teachers!"
"Scrap the schools!"
"Bulldoze the neighborhoods!"

When did so many Clevelanders become so calloused, so bitter, so angry?
What is happening to my city?