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Sunday, March 04, 2007

A Teacher's View of Mayor Fenty's Takeover Plan

One of the reasons why the American Federation ofTeachers insisted on revising our Constitution was to avoid another disaster like the one that led to our administratorship. The representative assembly amendment was added to give voting power to delegates who represented the voice of teachers in each of the 140 plus DC public schools. The fact that no vote was taken after delegates engaged in a lengthy exchange with Board president Robert Bobb and a previous meeting with Mayor Fenty is cause to be concerned .

When WTU members reflect on a former executive Board that either didn't attend meetings, didn't know waht was going on with the budget and spending or rubber stamped what Bullock and company wanted, they become nervous about one that votes on such a critical issues without a vote from the voting delegates! So much so, in fact, that Nathan Saunders, our current general vice president, cited them in his lawsuit against Bullock et al. I am leary of executive board members who want the power to make such a critical decision fo 4,200 plus teachers based on such a flawed and biased survey. It reminds me of the tactics used by Bullock over the years that cultivated a culture of silence,complacency and passivity among our members.

If executive board members read the Fenty proposal, theywould readily see that it is void of any substance that would improve accountability or academic achievement in our schools. It was quite evident that the individuals who 'briefly' constructed the comparisons of the two plans for the WTU newsletter either did not read the Mayor's proposal or did not comprehend it. How many surveys were collected? In a robo call to members, George Parker indicated that 60% of our members voted for the Mayor's proposal. Did any of the Executive Board members read Colbert King's article about the Mayor's plans after the takover, or the Council of Great City Schools' report on the two proposals? Both could be found at www.washingtonpost. com under Colby King's past editorials.

The fact is that the Mayor's proposal would;

- get rid of an elected school board,
- increase privatization of our public schools
- grow more charter schools to drain DCPS resources,
- change home rule charter,
- add more layers of bureaucracy that would make iteven harder for parents, teachers and students to haveany influence over decisions that affect them,
- dismantle new reforms outlined in the MEP and MFP
- challenge our collective bargaining agreement inways that we can't imagine!
- open the flood gates for aspiring school 'takeover' advocates who are politicians, real estate developers and members of the Federal City Council (which has pushed for gentrification and displacement of DC residents for years.

When we connect the dots in each of the above items,we could conclude that there would be little or no need for a teachers' union or any labor union for that matter. If this is what we want, then by all means, we should support the Mayor's plan. I didn't take the survey. But if I did, I would not have voted for either proposal. None of the teachers I've talked to at my school and others voted in favor of either proposal. Many of them are still asking, "What survey?" delegate at Turner ES informed me that none of theteachers at her school received the survey. Guy rightfully assessed the survey as "flawed". Iwould like to add that the process used to garner theopinion of the 4,200 members on the two proposals was also flawed. I would hope that the WTU executive board would be more interested in fully engaging WTU membersin critical decisions such as this one and less interested in promoting their self-serving, individual opinions. Unfortunately, gone are not the days of leadership without vision beyond the four walls of the executive board room. In closing, the question asked by several members, "Why did we have to support either proposal?", was never answered.

If the WTU leadership believe that the New DC Order is interested in saving the teachers union or any labor union, it had better wake up and smell the stench of a gentrified city and a privatized school system and realize that there is no place in such a system for a teachers' union.

Elizabeth Davis is WTU member and middle school teacher in Washington, DC.


At 11:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is amazing how we as parents and teachers hlod claim to being responsible educators when we as an organized group(s) (PTA, WTU ) can't even demonstrate, to our children and students, how to use the very political processes that we are telling them to learn. Maybe its just me!! myster d

At 6:15 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Myster D,

Teaching students how to use the political process is one thing. But when the rules in the political process are abitrarily changed by elected politicians to suit their greedy needs, then we need to teach students the other three 'Rs'...resistance,rising-up and revolution! The three can be taught in a variety of venues.

At 8:21 AM, Blogger RedeemedSpirit said...

Your prediction has come true. Here I sit...3 years later (after you've written this post) and watch the DC School System crumble and implode as Mayor Fenty and his broom toting side-kick Michelle Rhee jump on their racist agenda of firing every Black teacher in DCPS, pushing aside every black student in DCPS by merging schools and push for Charter Schools and Privitization.


At 5:22 PM, Blogger JesseAlred said...

I am veteran teacher from Houston seeking a dialogue with current and past Teach for America teachers regarding what appears to be a pattern of TFA leaders and alumni in school district leadership positions espousing conservative ideas and profiting from close relationships with reactionary corporations, while self-righteously proclaiming they are the new civil rights movement. I first became aware of this when a former local TFA Director, now a school board member, recently proposed to fire teachers based on test scores and opposed allowing us to vote to have a single union.

The conservative-TFA nexus began at the beginning, when Union Carbide sponsored Wendy Kopp's initial efforts to create Teach for America. A few years before, Union Carbide's negligence had caused the worst industrial accident in history, in Bhopal, India. The number of casualties was as large as 100,000, and Union Carbide did everything possible to minimize taking responsibility for the event. Not only did Union Carbide provide financial support for Ms. Kopp, it provided her with other corporate contacts and office space for her and her staff.

A few years later, when TFA faced severe financial difficulties, Ms. Kopp wrote in her book she nearly went to work for the Edison Project, and was all but saved by their managerial assistance. The Edison Project, founded by a Tennessee entrepreneur, was an effort to replace public schools run by elected school boards with for-profit, corporate-run schools.

In 2000, two brilliant TFA alumni, the founders of KIPP Academy, then joined the Bush's at the Republican National Convention in 2000. This was vital to Bush, since as Governor he did not really have any genuine education achievements, and he was trying to prove he was a different kind of Republican. And everyone knows about Michelle Rhee's prescription for improving education, close schools rather than improving them, and fire teachers rather than inspiring them.

Wendy Kopp's idea for Teach for America was a good one. TFA teachers do great work. But its leaders often seem to blame teachers, public schools and teachers' organizations for the achievement gap. By blaming teachers for some deep-seated social problems this nation has, they are not only providing an inaccurate critique, they feed conservatives more ammunition to use in their twenty-eight year war against using government as a problem solver.

Our achievement gap mirrors our country's level of economic inequality, the greatest among affluent nations. Better schools are only part of the solution. Stable families are more able to be ambitious for their children than insecure, overworked and struggling ones. Our society has failed our schools by permitting the middle class to shrink.(It's not the other way around.) As more people are starting to recognize, we need national health care, a stronger union movement, long-term unemployment benefits, generous college funding, trade policy and reductions in military spending to bolster the middle class.

Ms. Kopp claims to be in the tradition of the civil rights movement, but Martin Luther King would take principled positions—against the Vietnam War and for the Poor Peoples March—even when it pissed off powerful people. His final speech, the night of his assassination, was on behalf of striking Memphis sanitation workers. In his last book, he argued for modifying American capitalism to include some measure of wealth distribution. I would like a dialogue about what I have written here. My e-mail is JesseAlred@yahoo.com. You as an individual TFA teacher has a responsibility here because your work alone gives TFA leaders credibility (its not the other way around.)

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