Detroit can’t afford to protect bad teachers

Richard Berman

When it comes to improving schools in Detroit, teachers unions are all tricks and no treats.

Detroit schools are falling for the self-interested political scam of Randi Weingarten and her labor union, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT).

While she hides her labor union militancy in the costume of an education advocate, her union pushes for the worst kinds of changes to education systems, locking bad teachers in and good teachers out of classrooms while sucking more and more taxpayer dollars into her treasury and the failed system.

The results have been nothing short of disastrous.

Recent international comparisons have shown that American students lag behind kids in Poland, Vietnam and Slovenia in mathematics, to say nothing of our global rivals in China and even Russia.

Weingarten’s response? Spend millions of dollars — she has vowed $20 million in 2014 — to hike taxes, funnel more money into the same systems, and wait for the magic of “respect” to make everything better. But when real reforms and real accountability, like performance bonuses for teachers, reforms to the job-for-life “tenure” system that keeps incompetent “lemon” teachers in classrooms, or offering parents the option to use charter schools rather than the failed public schools are on the table, Weingarten leads the resistance. One New York City principal once remarked, “[Randi Weingarten] would protect a dead body in the classroom. That’s her job.”

The reason is simple: Weingarten represents her voting members, not children or public school parents. It’s no surprise therefore that a plurality of Americans in recent polling found teachers unions have a negative effect on public schools.

In private sector bargaining, unions, for all their faults, must balance their members’ interests against the survivability of the company.

Management doesn’t answer to the union.

AFT is attacking education reforms through its political patrons across the country.

The AFT’s Pittsburgh local threatened $40 million in grant funding to the school district by vowing to back out of a teacher performance evaluation program. In Illinois, Waukegan teachers demanding raises far higher than private-sector workers can reasonably expect in that state walked out for over two weeks.

The pushback to these attacks show how to break the union monopoly on education policy.

By standing up for proven and promising reforms in Detroit, parents can ensure their kids get a treat this Halloween instead of a trick.

Richard Berman is executive director at the Center for Union Facts.