August 20, 2008

Lobbyists, Unions, and Government Bureaucrats

America's favorite groups fight for power.

The blogs are abuzz as teachers across DC officially went back to work yesterday. The contract is still up in the air.

The Washington Teacher wrote an entry yesterday reminding me of a story that Bill Turuque broke earlier this month. Apparently, outside groups like Strong Schools DC were stepping up lobbying efforts, paying DC teachers to advocate Rhee's contract to their friends and peers to the tune of $1,000 a week. When I first read the story, I have to admit that it fell out of my head as unimportant. This is DC. We kind of perfected the art of cash for votes. Big deal if an organization is using our signature lobbying tactic on DC soil. I haven't shaken that initial reaction, but considering how few of the names of those lobbying have been disclosed, it does make me look at the media quotes in favor of the contract a little more critically.

DC Teacher Chic also had an entry about the contract yesterday, and I think it gets to an important point. Teacher Chic, trying to debunk the argument that Rhee's proposal eliminates tenure, writes:

[The proposal] does nothing of the sort. Were [Jerome Brocks] a reader of this blog, or a reader of the contract proposal itself, he would know that teachers can VOLUNTARILY give up tenure for just ONE year, but no one is forced to do so.

I don't think that's true. While current teachers can stay on the red track and maintain tenure, all new hires will not have the option of a red track. So at least someone is forced to involuntarily, in the long run, give up tenure. If the proposal were simply setting up a system of two tracks that teachers could choose from, I don't think there would be a debate. Every person appreciates increased autonomy, especially when it comes to their personal finances. But forcing new hires onto the green track means they can be fired very easily, with less ability for the union to intervene. Whether busting the union is a good or bad for DC's kids is a matter of significant debate, but let's not pretend the proposal is less than what it is.

That's not to say the pro-union side hasn't had it's share of strange witticisms. Mr. Brocks, in the article DC Teacher Chic is responding to, tells Marc Fisher that, "it is degrading and insulting for teachers to have to interview with a principal before accepting a position in that school" if the teacher has the seniority to move. He's not making any friends with that statement. I think most people would say that not giving a principal the authority to interview potential staff is negligence, and that the ability for administrators to pick an effective staff trumps any sort of perceived degradation on the part of the teachers.

The longer the negotiations go on, the more pressure there is going to be to distill arguments into tiny, palatable catch phrases. I hope the issues don't get lost between the lines, though no group should be more qualified to critically dissect a document than a swarm of teachers.

1 comment:

Valentine said...

I am confused by Mr. Brocks' statement that "it is degrading and insulting for teachers to have to interview with a principal before accepting a position in that school." In what field are you able to get a new job without interviewing for it? Aside from perhaps the military--who also have little to no power to turn down a new job--interviews are pretty much par for the course in job changes. Perhaps I'm missing some larger context? This sounds like a poor argument to me.