Like many people, I'm sure,
Washington Post writer Matt
Miller is confused about, "where to come down on the question of who
should 'win''" in the struggle of public employees against attempts to
strip them of collective bargaining rights and otherwise weaken them.
I know which side I'm on
- the public employees and their
unions. But though highly
sympathetic to the public employees cause, Matt Miller is not against the
employees and their unions losing some of their powers and benefits – with one
major exception: Teachers.
Again, I make no exceptions.
I think we should rally around
the cause of all public employees. But though Miller doesn't necessarily agree,
he does make a strong argument for making special efforts in behalf of
teachers. For "the future of the country depends on the public-sector
workers known as teachers."
I guess I should make a full
disclosure here: I was formerly a member of the
AFL-CIO's American Federation of Teachers and my wife Gerry is a current
member. So I'm probably prejudiced. And should be.
Anyway, Miller makes a very
strong case for paying close
attention to the needs and demands of teachers. As he says, "We'll never
attract the kind of talented young people we need to the teaching profession
unless it pays more than it does today." With starting teachers pay averaging $39,000 a year nationally and rising
a maximum of merely $67,000, it's no
surprise to Miller that "we draw teachers from the bottom two-thirds of
the college class. For schools in poor neighborhoods, teachers come largely
from the bottom third."
Adds Miller: " We're the
only leading nation that
thinks it can stay a leading nation with a 'strategy' of recruiting mediocre
students and praying that they'll prove to be excellent teachers."
Miller may not be an outright
supporter of teacher unions,
but he does point out that the highest performing school systems in the world
all have strong teacher unions. He means the systems in countries such as
Finland, Singapore and South Korea, where school administrators work closely
with unions to continually improve their schools' performances.
Darling-Hammond, a leading expert on the subject, says the highest performing
countries have educational systems that are built around attracting, rigorously
training and retraining top talent for teaching. The stress is on supporting
good teachers - not on getting bad teachers out. That's partly because there
just aren't that many bad teachers in those countries.
agree with Matt Miller that
what's clearly needed is a national strategy to make teaching the career of
choice for talented young people. Wisconsin's math scores, for instance, put
its students not only behind Korea, Finland and Taiwan, but behind Slovenia,
Estonia and Lithuania. But, hey, they still outpace students in Latvia and
Miller notes, the only people
who can change that, the only ones who can provide decent educations to
Wisconsin's children, are public employees , teachers - teachers, furthermore, who must be given a strong voice, a
unionized voice in setting their pay, benefits and working conditions.
need the firm right to
collective bargaining no less than Wisconsin's other public employees, no less
than the public employees of every other state.