Educating Ezra Klein

A mostly political Weblog.
Aug. 7 2007 2:14 AM

Educating Ezra Klein

A left whippersnapper tutored by his readers about teachers' unions.

Educating Ezra: Whippersnapper apparatchik Ezra Klein, after smugly dismissing the motives of neolibs who criticize teachers' unions, is corrected by his own more knowledgeable readers. Sample excerpts from the comments [E.A.]:

if you're going to say this about "endemic, root problems" you should probably explain what you think they are. I agree that blaming teacher's unions is a popular hobby horse of pundits, right and left, but knowing that doesn't make all the isses around the teacher's unions simply go away -solving issues in our education system does mean some sensible reforms of union practices ....

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I will give you that teacher unions aren't the "root problem," but they are the roadblock that prevents any meaningful reform to try and cure our education system. ...

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I am a former member of a professional trade union. I am also a former member of a school board. The community was an inner-ring suburb with a student-body profile that ran from poor to upper middle class with a racial mix that cut across class lines, but with blacks concentrated on the lower end. In many ways, we were ground-zero on the achievement gap. We also faced severe budget challenges, having to cut programs and services, including many jobs, year after year.

In this context, despite my generally well-to-the-left-of-center-leanings, I came to conclude, most reluctantly, that the teacher's union was part of the problem, not the solution. This is not to absolve the elected board of education or the administration of any responsibility, but the union steadfastly refused to work with either in addressing the educational and budgetary issues. In the mind of the leadership, cooperation was capitulation. Even between negotiations, it pursued an adversarial strategy designed to undermine the authority of management which, in practice, meant it wanted administrators to fail and, by implication, setting back educational progress for the kids. ...

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Ezra, what kind of logic is that. Teacher unions don't explain bad schools: I went to a good school with unionized teachers. The problem isn't that teacher unions hurt or destroy schools; the problem is that teacher unions block reform when schools face serious problems ....

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Are the unions the root cause? No, and most sensible folks don't say they are, even confirmed teacher's union haters on the right. Unions do relatively little damage in the areas where schools do well, areas which don't really need reform in any critical way ...[snip] ...The problem is that where more extreme measures might help, unions tend to oppose such measures fiercely.

I tend to think unions do more than simply block systemic reforms--or, rather, it is core union practices (especially protections against firings for bad performance) that need systemic reforming. But Klein's commenters seem to believe these practices aren't much of a problem in affluent school districts.. ...

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P.S.: When it comes to the non-affluent districts, Klein asserts that criticizing teachers' unions is worse than empty "gesturing" because

By repeatedly ascribing blame to the teacher's unions, these pundits deflect attention from the endemic, root problems, and refocus on more discrete, and demonizable, culprits. This gives conservatives an easy way out of conversations on education reform, even as they lack an actual solution.

I dunno. It seems to me the consensus "root cause," if there is one, is the culture of fatherlessness and fecklessness that characterizes "ghetto poverty." Changing that culture was what welfare reform was all about. You can argue that welfare reform wasn't the right solution (I'd disagree) but you can't say conservatives or neolib teachers' union bashers didn't propose a solution at all. ... And what's Klein's? ...

P.P.S.: Is Eric Alterman just "gesturing" too? Or does he just have a kid in public school? ... [via Edwize ] 10:27 P.M. link

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