Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Reagan Busted The Air Traffic Controllers Union, And Now Obama Seeks to Bust The Teachers' Unions.

Most unions (not pro-company, or management unions) work to increase the wages and benefits, and improve the working conditions of their members. Indirectly, the unions also increase the wages and benefits, and improve the working conditions of other workers in the area, those who are not a part of the union. If A is in a union making $20/hour, and B works across the street in a non-union job making $10/hour, B's employer may be forced to raise B's wages to $20/hour to keep B from leaving. This is the concept of "prevailing wages" in an area. Even non-union workers benefit by increased wages in areas where there are strong unions.

In recent decades in the U.S., businesses, the right-wing, and many politicians have been dedicated to destroying the unions. There are entire law firms that have built reputations around their development and use of oppressive and litigious tactics to run up enormous legal fees for unions, fighting their workers every step of the way. One such firm is nicknamed Hitler, Mussolini and Fascists.

The best way to destroy a union is to arrest, deport, or kill the leaders, something our country has done in the past during times of union struggle. The Palmer Raids around the turn of the last century symbolize that tactic.

Another good way to bust unions is to import workers from other countries who are willing to work for a lot less money, which has the effect of increasing unemployment among the locals, and decreasing wages and benefits. That has been a favorite tactic in the last 10 years, from the manufacturing, rug-making, meat-slaughtering businesses which hire only truckloads of illegal workers, to the more sophisticated mis-use of the HB1 process by large computer software companies which throw Americans out and replace them with workers from India who are paid significantly less money. Of course the reverse of importing foreign workers is simply moving the jobs to third world countries, something which has been supported by our politicians passing laws to give special tax breaks to businesses that take American jobs out of this country. Hard to believe these politicians, working against the people of this country. But they receive kick-backs and bribes from the businesses.

Another tactic sometimes used to destroy unions and force millions into lower-paid work is to simply use the government to bust the union. Reagan did it in 1981 when he fired all the Patco (air traffic controllers) union workers. Reagan used to be a union man himself, but switched teams and became a rabid right-wing anti-union goon. So who else, what other president would stoop so low as to use the office of the White House to bust unions? How about Barack Obama?

Barack Obama has just issued a bounty offer to school districts around the country, encouraging them to fire all their teachers and turn their districts over to the for-profit Wal-Mart style private schools commonly called Charter Schools. The Charter School movement is an unfortunate outgrowth of the Christian right's demand that they be allowed to send their children to religious schools, but force the taxpayers of this country to fund those schools. The Charter Schools are private, for-profit businesses. They aim to eliminate public education entirely, and send our kids to Wal-Mart centers where they will watch videotapes, memorize test questions and answers, and learn to be sedantary non-thinking obedient little soldiers. Soldiers in the army of Wal-mart, or perhaps Blackwater will get into the education business.

Charter Schools don't hire union teachers. When a public school is closed, the contract with the teacher's union is terminated or breached. The students are sent to Charter Schools which hire non-union teachers, often pay them radically lower wages with poor benefits. This is an effort to eliminate teaching as a field in which people in this country have been able to make a decent living. It is also an effort to eliminate education as a goal, and substitute warehousing and control mechanisms for learning.

When Bush took office, one of his first acts was to get a law passed which he named No Child Left Behind. It was named after the series of books called the "Left Behind" books written by Tim LaHaye, an extreme right-wing fanatic. The "Left Behind" books describe the apocolypse, when the good Christians will ascend to heaven and the rest of us will be Left Behind here on earth for years of suffering. By calling the education law No Child Left Behind, and by its contents, Bush was satisfying a promise he made to Jerry Falwell, who wanted public education ended, and all children sent to religious schools. Under the No Child Left Behind law, if schools did not test to a certain level, parents could take their kids out and put them into religious schools, with the costs being borne by the taxpayers. Withdraw funding, the public schools deteriorate even more, more parents pull their kids out, and voila! That slob Falwell gets what he wants: a fatwah on the public school system. Even from the grave that man has an evil influence.

Why does Obama support the Charter Schools? Because he's a corporatist? There are legitimate complaints about inner-city schools, legitimate concerns of parents that their kids are assigned to deteriorating facilities, with no public money available to rebuild the infrastructure, with inadequate supervision and sometimes dangerous conditions. Many kids in poor neighborhoods are denied real educational opportunity. But turning these kids over to a for-profit educational warehousing system is not the answer. Perhaps Obama is misguided. Perhaps the Charter School corporations gave him lots of money.

Obama's now offering $900 Million of taxpayer money to be given to any school district that fires their teachers and/or shuts down their nonperforming schools, and sends their kids over to a Wal-mart-style for-profit educational warehousing system otherwise known as a Charter School. Recent studies show that 17% of the students sent to Charter schools do better than they did in public school, which means that for 83% of the kids, it's either the same or worse. Somebody's making money off of this, but it is not helping the kids.

The problem with Obama's offering a reward to school districts to fire all the teachers and shut down the public school, forcing the kids to go to a for-profit Charter School, is muti-faceted. In the one Rhode Island school discussed below, 40% of the students are in homes where English is not spoken. These children are part of the waves of tens of millions of usually very poor illegal immigrants who have been brought into this country by Clinton and Bush's "free" trade policies. Many of the parents are not literate in any language. Yet the teachers are expected to somehow work miracles.

If the federal government wants to educate the non-english-speaking extremely poor children of illegal immigrants, maybe they should set up and fund a separate system to provide the specialized assistance needed. But to simply dump tens of millions of non-English-speaking children into a district, then blame the teachers when those kids don't test at grade level, is absurd.

Or, alternatively, kids from very poor homes often don't even have basic nutrition. If the government really wants to help them, how about providing meals. How about exercise programs? How about helping instead of just blaming the teachers? Teachers are being fired and schools are being closed because the federal government worked with the businesses of this country to bring tens of millions of illegal immigrants into this country, without any provision for how those people would be expected to integrate into communities. Maybe the teachers should be given raises to compensate for how tough their job is, and the politicians should be fired.

With so many of our states and cities bankrupt, it is likely the Charter School movement will succeed, and public schools will be shut down across the country, teachers fired and their unions busted. Los Angeles is collapsing in near-bankruptcy right now, and one of the things being discussed is turning more of the schools over to private for-profit corporations to be run. It will result in the elimination of one more field in which people in this country were allowed to earn a decent living. Give it some time, and teachers will be like all other Wal-mart workers: poorly paid, temporary, and hopeless. What a shame.

Here are excerpts from a couple of recent articles on this subject, with links to the original source.

(From the New York Times):

Obama Backs Rewarding Districts That Police Failing Schools

WASHINGTON — President Obama said Monday that he favored federal rewards for local school districts that fire underperforming teachers and close failing schools, saying educators needed to be held accountable when they failed to fix chronically troubled classrooms and curb the student dropout rate.

The president outlined his proposal to offer $900 million in federal grants, which would be made available to states and school districts willing to take aggressive steps to turn around struggling institutions or close them.

The president’s proposal, which was included in his 2011 budget request to Congress, is his latest criticism of America’s failing public schools. In a speech at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Mr. Obama said federal aid would be available for the districts that are home to the 2,000 schools that produce more than half of the nation’s dropouts.

He spoke alongside former Secretary of State Colin Powell and his wife, Alma, who lead America’s Promise Alliance, an advocacy group dedicated to combating the school dropout rate.

“We know that the success of every American will be tied more closely than ever before to the level of education that they achieve,” Mr. Obama said. “The jobs will go to the people with the knowledge and the skills to do them. It’s that simple.”

He singled out Central Falls High School in Rhode Island, where last week the school board voted to dismiss the entire faculty as part of a turnaround plan for the school, which has a 48 percent graduation rate.

At Central Falls High, he said, just 7 percent of 11th graders passed state math tests. Mr. Obama said he supported the school board’s decision to dismiss the faculty and staff members. “Our kids get only one chance at an education and we need to get it right,” he said.

The president’s comments incensed the leadership of the American Federation of Teachers, which criticized Mr. Obama for “condoning the mass firing” of teachers at the Rhode Island school.

To qualify for the federal money, known as School Turnaround Grants, he said, the school districts must agree to take at least one of the steps: firing the principal and at least half the staff of a troubled school; reopening it as a charter school; or closing the school altogether and transferring students to better schools in the district. Island and school&st=cse&scp=1&pagewanted=print

Here's a question for the politicians: since they have been failing the American public, will they agree to step down, fire every single person in the federal government and start over again? After all, the devastation facing us today has been the direct result of government colluding with businesses to rob our country blind and throw our people out of work. Sauce for the goose?

(From the New York Times)
February 23, 2010
A Vote to Fire All Teachers at a Failing High School

CENTRAL FALLS, R.I. — A plan to dismiss the entire faculty and staff of the only public high school in this small city just west of the Massachusetts border was approved Tuesday night at an emotional public meeting of the school board.

The board voted 5 to 2 to accept a plan proposed by Schools Superintendent Frances Gallo to fire the approximately 100 faculty and staff members at the chronically underperforming Central Falls High School on the last day of this school year in June.

Dr. Gallo said she had been instructed by the state commissioner of education, Deborah A. Gist, to choose one of the four state reform plans, which were modeled on federal recommendations and included the school’s closing. Central Falls High is one of six of the state’s lowest-achieving — the only one not in Providence — and has a four-year graduation rate of 48 percent. It has 800 students.

On Tuesday night, several hundred teachers and students, many wearing Central Falls High’s colors of red and blue, packed into the meeting, shouting at Dr. Gallo and school board members. As a board member read the names of people slated for termination, many people were crying.

Joe Travers, 44, a longtime physical education teacher, said after the vote: “They sat up there, looked us in the eye, told us we were not good enough. That’s an embarrassment.”

(From NPR)
In 2005, former Assistant Secretary of Education Diane Ravitch wrote, "We should thank President George W. Bush and Congress for passing the No Child Left Behind Act ... All this attention and focus is paying off for younger students, who are reading and solving mathematics problems better than their parents' generation."

Four years later, Ravitch has changed her mind.

"I was known as a conservative advocate of many of these policies," Ravitch says. "But I've looked at the evidence and I've concluded they're wrong. They've put us on the wrong track. I feel passionately about the improvement of public education and I don't think any of this is going to improve public education."

The Death and Life of the Great American School System
By Diane Ravitch

Ravitch has written a book about what she sees as the failure of No Child Left Behind called The Death and Life of the Great American School System.

"The basic strategy is measuring and punishing," Ravitch says of No Child Left Behind. "And it turns out as a result of putting so much emphasis on the test scores, there's a lot of cheating going on, there's a lot of gaming the system. Instead of raising standards it's actually lowered standards because many states have 'dumbed down' their tests or changed the scoring of their tests to say that more kids are passing than actually are."

Choice was not working....

Thus, while advocates of choice were certain that most families wanted only the chance to escape their neighborhood school, the first five years of NCLB demonstrated the opposite.

I recalled a scandal in New York City when investigators discovered that a tutoring company, created specifically to take advantage of NCLB largesse, was recruiting students by giving money to their principals and gifts to the children; several of the firm's employees had criminal records.

Adult interests were well served by NCLB. The law generated huge revenues for tutoring and testing services, which became a sizable industry. Companies that offered tutoring, tests, and test prep materials were raking in billions of dollars annually from federal, state, and local governments, but the advantages to the nation's students were not obvious.

Neither Congress nor the U.S. Department of Education knows how to fix low-performing schools.

I realized that incentives and sanctions were not the right levers to improve education; incentives and sanctions may be right for business organizations, where the bottom line — profit — is the highest priority, but they are not right for schools.

I came to realize that the sanctions embedded in NCLB were, in fact, not only ineffective but certain to contribute to the privatization of large chunks of public education.


  1. Teachers should be paid-incentivized, to a great extent, based on their performance as measured by their student's achievements. If we don't test kids, e.g. measure their knowledge, how will we know what they are achieving? Schools are for students. Their function is to educate, not provide jobs for teachers. I am all for good jobs and unions, espcially unions in private enterprise profit based environments. But first and foremost I want my kids to have great teachers.

  2. It seems incredible to me that a nation might deliberately destroy education.
    The mythology of progress, how we are striving for a better future for humanity, how we aim at ending the ravages of disease, war, hunger, all the painful things which we wrestle through the ages, this myth dies hard for me.
    No matter how evil the present situation is, I hoped that somewhere there was enough awareness to eventually overthrow the fascist New World Order.
    This one is the straw on the camel for me.
    I am reminded of Huxley's "Brave New World", where the population, through the use of drugs and slogans, avoid any psychological discomfort which might arise from thoughtful analysis.
    "Gee, I'm glad I'm a Delta!"
    The idea of a society controlled by drugs and psychological conditioning seemed a bit far fetched to me when I read the book.
    Now, it seems, I live in that very same nightmare order.
    Your thorough coverage of this topic moved me to post it at Malloy's site.
    Keep up the good work, I regard this site as a refuge of sanity, no matter how bitter the news may be.
    Don Smith

  3. I don't object to testing kids. I do object to firing all the teachers and thinking that will solve the problem. Or shutting public schools and replacing them with Warl-mart institutions to warehouse kids. If Obama or anyone else wants to develop better ways to teach, or to help children, then let's do it. But to assume the fault lies with the teachers without any investigation of the underlying conditions is mad.

    For example, when you have 40% of the kids with no English in the home, that is a different situation than you find in upper middle class neighborhoods, so the two schools cannot fairly be compared to each other. When one parent is in jail and the other one's dead, and the kid is sleeping on some relative's sofa, that's another problem.

    The teachers today are expected to take on way too many roles, from police officer, parole monitor, family counselor, drug addiction counselor, specialist in abuse, nutrition, family dysfunction -- and to be bilingual at the same time. We have terrible and unique problems in our schools because many of our families are facing terrible and unique problems.

    In particular, the recent immigrants face significant hurdles to education. The infestation of neighborhoods with drugs and drug-dealers and the criminal culture is another problem. Paying teachers more is not the answer. Neither is firing them.

    If we really wanted to help the children, then we would end these terrible wars and spend our money investing in education and in family support. It's absurd to cut education to the bone as we have under the Bush regime, with tax cuts for billionaires and more money for war, then blame the teachers when the problems show up. It's just like when Bush started the war against Iraq and sent Americans over there without proper armor. Would it have been the right thing to blame the young kids who got blown up? Come to think of it, that's what Rumsfeld did.

    The people running this country are destroying our public education system. They have instituted testing standards that are not appropriate for all schools without any additional funding to help schools raise their students up. It's a program that is designed to end public education. That was my point. This is all going according to plan.

  4. Hey Don: thanks for reading, and thanks for posting it at Mike Malloy's site. I often do post there, but sometimes get distracted.

    I went to public schools in working class neighborhoods, and got a wonderful education, had terrific teachers. I feel bad that today's schools and teachers are treated so poorly. I have lots of teachers in my family, and I know how hard they work, how dedicated they are.

    There is no question there are some bad teachers -- lazy, stupid, mean -- and I agree there should be a way to get rid of them. But for anybody to come into a school or any other work environment and fire every single person makes me sick to my stomach. They had teachers who had been there for 28 years. Where do they go?

    I see this as mostly a union-busting, public-school-ending tactic. To hear Obama cheer them on makes me sick.