California Schools, Administrators, Boards Unions, and (lack of) Change
The San Diego Union-Tribune has two interesting pieces regarding education in San Diego and the state. Specifically, they deal with the interplay of school administrators, boards, and teachers unions.
The first is an interview with San Diego Superintendent Alan Bersin. After holding the position for seven years the teachers' union friendly school board is buying out his contract and Bersin has been appointed by the Governor to be California's secretary of education. The interview is interesting because it tells a lot about the direction Arnold may be planning with regards to state education (and also that we are going to see a lot more anti-Arnold ads from the teachers union). Several key quotes from Bersin:
- In many ways, the results that we have are perfectly designed for it. We do not have, for example, the best teachers in the classrooms that need them the most because we have labor relations that are more characterized by an industrial style approach to labor management that a global world will not long tolerate. We do not use in this sector the tools that are used in virtually every other sector in the global economy, not only the American economy, to improve productivity. We do not use incentives. We are not open to innovation. We do not embrace change.
- But your point is well taken that the consistent players in this over time are in fact the teachers union and the employee unions. But instead of that becoming the occasion for an attack on the union movement, let's look at the system we've created and then wonder why people are playing out the role and the advantage and the opportunity that the system provides them. That's why we've got to separate this whole issue from anti-unionism and look at it as governance.
- (On the fact that the school board members who supervise administrators are often beholden for contributions to the same teachers unions that are opposed to and working to thwart the administrators initiatives) I think that's why we're at one of these periods, the turning points in American institutional history where we need a turn. I think there needs to be at a minimum a large debate about it. The disconcerting fact is that there's so little light shed on the issue for our people to make this a debate.
The second piece was an op-ed by columnist Ruben Navarrette and it touches upon the same thing. He writes about how the interests of adults in education are continually put ahead of children in education. Key points:
- It's not just money, it's that this habit of putting adults first spills into everything. It helps explain why educators are quick to dig in and fight off any proposed reform, from testing to merit pay to fixing special education.
You name it, and the reason that it's creating friction or meeting resistance is because it pits the interests of adults against those of children. And in the public school system, the adults run the show.
- Here's the drill. The unions scratch the backs of school board members, who reciprocate by scratching the eyes out of reformers like the superintendent Â thus easing the pressure on teachers. That part of the education system isn't so complicated. In fact, it's as easy as ABC Â as in Absolutely Broken & Corrupted.
In general, I've always been annoyed by the halo hanging over school boards. School board members often seem to get a free pass from the scrutiny and questioning of motives associated with other political office. Many school board members serve because of a true desire to help schools and have no further political ambitions. But it is worth remembering that for many a school board membership is a valuable stepping stone towards further political office. Their motives and actions should receive the same scrutiny applied to others.