Randi being, of course, American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten. Yeah, I'm finding that so super funny, especially after waiting two hours in line for a can of gas...
What’s more powerful than Hurricane Sandy? Hurricane Randi!
The post goes on to take a gratuitous swipe at Diane Ravitch for daring to point out that there is no correlation between union strength and student achievement. Petrilli's post is based on a new report from Fordham, funded by the reformy folks at Democrats For Education Reform, that "ranks" union strength around the country.
After a cursory look, I can confidently report that this study is rather silly. The love these people have for ordinal numbers is, frankly, bizarre: when they're not ranking states and countries, or cheering the ranking of teachers, they rank unions. It never seems to occur to them that ranking implies a precision that doesn't exist when looking at qualitative assessments; that saying, "You're #23 and you're #24," is unwarranted in judgments where there are no precise metrics available.
But the ability to live with uncertainty is not part of the wonk's character. And so this paper dresses up a host of subjective judgments in quantitative data and pretends it gained insight into the precise relative strength of state-wide unions. For example, the methodology assigns a weight of 6.7% to the "percentage of public school teachers in the state [that] are union members," and a weight of 6.7% to the "percentage of the state’s delegates to the Democratic and Republican conventions [that] were members of teacher unions." Of course, the notion that anyone could state with such exactitude that these two factors are absolutely equivalent is absurd... but such petty concerns don't bother the wonk very much.
So when Petrilli says:
But according to our metric, these state unions are not as powerful as some have presumed, at least relative to other state unions. They ranked nineteenth (Delaware), twenty-first (Massachusetts), and twenty-third (Maryland) in the nation, respectively, for union strength.know that these rankings are rather arbitrary.
And, in any case, Ravitch is right. She makes her case in her response to Petrilli's post:
This echoes what Matt DiCarlo wrote about unions and student achievement last year:
So, overall, it is remarkably difficult to isolate union effects or how they might arise. The evidence is mixed and inconclusive, especially for student achievement, and any strong, blanket statements – whether for or against unions – should be taken with a grain of salt. They make for good talking points, but their evidentiary basis is, in most cases, shaky.
What is clear is that unions do accomplish other goals – giving teachers (and other workers) a voice in their profession, their compensation, and their working conditions. On this score, as the Wisconsin protests demonstrate, the evidence is rather compelling. [emphasis mine]Look at the sentences of Ravitch's and DiCarlo's that I emphasized. Then look at the methodology for the study. Notice what's missing from the Fordham report? Any accounting of how well each state pays its teachers.
We now live in a time where every education policy decision is made with one, and only one, consideration in mind: how will it affect student
What I'm going to say now will undoubtedly be willfully misinterpreted by the reformy among us, but it's about time we stopped cowing to the mindset that "adult interests" and "student interests" are always opposite each other. It's time for teachers to stop apologizing for wanting better pay and better working conditions; not just because it's good for students, but because it's good for teachers.
There is nothing wrong with teachers insisting on better pay, working conditions, and benefits for themselves simply because they deserve it. Unless and until someone can demonstrate that a particular policy is bad for students - not that Michelle Rhee and Joel Klein think it's bad, but that there is real evidence that it is - it's perfectly fine for teachers to insist on implementing policies that benefit them and them alone.
I understand some will disagree with me on this for political reasons. After all, we're in a recession, and times are tough all over; asking for more while people are hurting is tone deaf at best. I agree to a point: I wouldn't say that going on strike for big raises right now is a smart strategy.
But we've been playing defense for so long that we've reached the point where we can't even advocate for ourselves anymore. We can't even say that unions exist to serve teachers without being derided for "not putting the students first." We are acquiescing to a reformy mindset that views union protections not in terms of what they do for teachers, but how they affect politics and policies.
Teachers shouldn't apologize for demanding good wages and working conditions; they have every right to do so. And the strength of unions is, at least in part, properly measured by how well unions help teachers get better compensation.
Yes, happy teachers means happy students. But happy teachers also means happy teachers. What's wrong with that?