I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Philly Burns; The Inquirer Fiddles

Perhaps they haven't yet heard about this in the editorial offices of the Philadelphia Inquirer, but the city's schools are about to implode, thanks to Tea Partyin', constitution-shreddin', public-education-destroyin' wingnut Governor Tom Corbett and his fellow travelers in Harrisburg.

While ignorant ideologues like Andy Smarick pretend that Philadelphia is somehow proof that rampant privatization is necessary for urban districts (don't worry, suburbs - Andy's coming for you next!), people who know what they are talking about make clear that the issue for Philadelphia's schools remains inequitable, inadequate funding.

You'd think the Inquirer's editorial board would take the time to point this out. Apparently, they have much bigger concerns:
New Jersey public school teachers may face the biggest test of their careers this year. A new law that takes effect next month changes an antiquated tenure system that has hampered education reform and made it nearly impossible to fire bad teachers. 
Gov. Christie has made tenure reform part of his sweeping education agenda with mixed results. After battling with the state's powerful teachers' union, the New Jersey Education Association, to little avail, he reached a bipartisan compromise on the tough issue of tenure a year ago. 
The resulting law, sponsored by State Sen. Teresa Ruiz (D., Essex), is not perfect, but it marks the most significant change to the state's tenure rules in a century. The law increases the time it takes to earn tenure while making it easier to dismiss poor teachers. President Obama has called for similar reforms, as well as more training for teachers who need help. 
Overall, though, the law is bound to make New Jersey's schools better. Allowing poor teachers to remain in the classroom hurts good teachers as well as students. Those who fail to measure up should be let go. [emphasis mine]
Uh, guys? The law's already in effect. You know, the law whose provisions on tenure the NJEA pretty much wrote? And has already cut down on the time and hassle to fire a bad teacher?

Why in the world is the Inquirer bringing this up now, of all times? Why, when their own city's schools are being devastated, are they writing about an old law on the opposite side of the Delaware? Why would they waste a drop of ink bleating about a law that is already in effect while Philly's schools face an existential crisis?

Could it be that, once again, they have to make sure to do everything they can to make the case that the problems with our schools are equally about allegedly "bad" teachers and obviously inadequate funding? If you don't think so, take a look at this editorial from just two days later:
Also unresolved is $45 million in one-time state funding, the proceeds of a forgiven debt to the federal government. Gov. Corbett has refused to release the money until the district makes some reforms and obtains concessions from its labor unions. But the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers has not publicly shown any willingness to cooperate, which is disappointing. This dire situation calls for compromise and flexibility on all sides. 
That doesn't mean, however, that Corbett and state lawmakers are off the hook. They have shown a callous indifference to the schools' plight and the state's obligation to adequately fund public education. This unfinished business of funding the schools should have been handled weeks or months ago. Everyone involved was well aware of the district's needs. The stalemate has made it difficult for the district to prepare for the coming school year and left thousands of parents, students, and employees in the lurch. [emphasis mine]
So Corbett is starving Philadelphia's schools. And he uses the crisis to cynically attack the teachers unions - a secret plan that got leaked to City Paper reporter Daniel Denvir two months ago. But, according to the Inky, if the union doesn't give in to this despicable form of blackmail, they are the ones who aren't showing "compromise and flexibility"?

Give me a break. That plan, by the way, was hatched by the Pennsylvania arm of 50CAN, which, naturally, is funded by the Gates Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation. Maybe someone ought to bring that up the next time the Gates folks want to make nice with teachers and their unions.

I live in the circulation area of the Star-Ledger, Jersey's largest paper, so I know the following unwritten rule quite well: any time there is a problem with public education, editorialists MUST lay at least some of the blame on teachers and their unions. In the case of the Philadelphia Inquirer, this happened yesterday, and on August 12 [all emphases mine]:
Hite was also counting on the district's unions to make concessions, but to no apparent avail so far. 
The disappointing responses from the unions and Harrisburg leave it up to the city for now. With the schools on the brink of being unable to operate, the city cannot remain idle.
And July 15:
The district has also asked employee unions for $133 million in concessions, but signs suggest that won't happen.
And July 3:
Corbett's plan also counts on the district's unions to make concessions worth $133 million, and there is no sign that they will. The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers has said its members will not accept a pay cut.
You see? Sure, Corbett is to blame... but don't forget those greedy, greedy teachers and their unions! Somehow, someway, editorial boards must always make the case that they are just as culpable as anyone else!

Lost in this finger pointing is any mention of the fact that Philadelphia's teachers already make less than teachers in the 'burbs:
So it might be useful to consider the facts. Most important is that the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania took control of the District in 2001. The PFT contract now in effect and the two that preceded it were all approved by the state’s agent, the School Reform Commission. To blame the PFT for contract costs and provisions is to overlook the inconvenient fact that the state created the circumstances it now wants to reverse.
In terms of salaries, Philadelphia teachers, on average, earn 15 to 20 percent less than teachers in surrounding counties. (Although starting salaries are comparable, salaries for experienced teachers top out at a much lower level.) If the salary reductions being proposed are put into effect, then Philadelphia teachers' pay will be even less competitive with their suburban counterparts.
Then consider that working conditions in Philadelphia schools are more difficult than those in the suburbs. Class size is larger; there are fewer books, materials, and supplies; computer access is scarcer; instructional, social, and health supports are insufficient. And these working conditions will be significantly worse if other proposed reductions go into effect, including the elimination of counselors, nurses, assistant principals, and sports programs. [emphasis mine]
Which is why, if you truly believe good teachers are important, you have to give them competitive salaries as a compensation for teaching children who are at-risk. That requires money, but obviously not money in teacher givebacks - that would defeat the entire purpose! 

The Inky apparently thinks getting good teachers is important: why else would they cheer for the New Jersey tenure law? But they want those good teachers on the cheap. They live in a fantasy world where oodles of great teachers are lined up, ready to spring into Philadelphia and work for lower wages in a much more demanding job.

So, to convince themselves and their readers that this is reality, they bring up New Jersey's tenure law - already in effect and yesterday's news - as a way to cast equal blame on teachers unions and the Republican maniacs in Harrisburg for the crisis in Philadelphia. Any time an editorial board can remind readers that the Tenure Bogeyman is right around the corner, they can divert blame away from the folks who are really responsible for the decimation of public education.

Fellas, let this one go, OK? The problems in Philly have nothing to do with the teachers unions, and everything to do with an out-of-control conservative movement that has shown its indifference to the suffering of the commonwealth's children.

Philly is burning while the Inquirer fiddles a sad old tune about tenure. It would be laughable if the consequences weren't so dire.

For their next selection, the Inquirer's Editorial Board plays "Ode to the Merit Pay Fairy."


giuseppe said...

The NJEA is so horrible, so evil, teacher tenure is so horrific and criminal and yet NJ schools are always highly rated and are always in the top tier of schools in the US. Oh wait, that doesn't fit the script. NJ schools, overall and on average, are always near the top or are number one in many categories and yet it has a unionized teacher corps and that's with tenure, seniority and LIFO. Is school reform (a la Gates, the Waltons, Broad and the Koch brothers) about improving the schools or is it really about union busting and destroying tenure?

Duke said...

You cracked the code, G!