Public Schools Lack a Competitive Spirit

35 Year Michigan Teacher Ken Feneley:

Brendan Miniter’s description of “how school choice was defeated in South Carolina” (“Cross Country: A Day Late,” op-ed, March 31) perfectly describes the power created by a combination of teacher unions and politicians they help elect to office. What gets lost is what’s best for the kids. In this case, it seems, the paranoid worries about the impact of losing students to schools of choice has outweighed possible benefits that might, just might, happen for 200,000 kids in South Carolina.
There is no apparent competitive spirit among the public school establishment types that is leading them to say what I would have: “Go ahead with school choice and I’ll prove you wrong. Just tell me what I need to do and watch what happens. I’ll change, if needed, and soon you will wish you had had left your kids in my school.”
I would not worry about some lean times while my public school made adjustments. I’d tighten my belt, suck up my pride, take two deep breaths and get to work. I, while teaching for 35 years, fully recognized that the union, the Michigan Education Association, could not have cared less about whether I was a good teacher or not. Its only concern was that I not have more than one prep period per day, did not exceed more than the contracted student numbers per class, that I did not do anything the contract prohibited, that I was paid the same as the teacher down the hall regardless of merit, that teaching and other positions were guaranteed regardless, that as many grievances be filed as possible, and, oh boy, that dues were such that the upper level union employees could be paid better than any contracted teacher in a local school.
Instead, we have this perpetual paranoid promotion of the idea that public schools will decline because of competition. And unionists and unions really do have something to fear, I guess, because if that paranoia dissipates, the teachers union loses its reason for existence: the endless promotion of teacher jobs at union pay rates that support the South Carolina Education Association and the National Education Association infrastructure through union dues. They can’t get along without them.
Notice that student education concerns through my subject matter delivery skills was not mentioned once. Unions don’t care. Obviously, neither do South Carolina politicians.

One thought on “Public Schools Lack a Competitive Spirit”

  1. The criticism of their teachers’ union is misplaced, and misunderstands the legal rights and responsibilities of unions, Boards of Education, and school administrations.
    By statute, here in Wisconsin Wis Stat 111.70, a union’s legal and limited responsibility is to bargain in the areas of wages, benefits and working conditions. Unions are not allowed to bargain over the issues of currriculum, discipline, and any of the other critical issues that the public, BoE, or Administration is supposed to care about.
    In fact, the issues such as curriculum, discipline, etc are solely within the purview of management rights. Teachers, themselves, have no legal say in these matters, and only can influence such matters at the discretion of management (BoE, Administration).
    “Unions don’t care”, as teacher Ken Feneley says, but they’re not supposed or allowed to. And, legally, it’s none of their business; and this is true by statute.
    Yes, sometimes union officials will talk the talk. John Matthews certainly does, but he is just saying the lines while arguing for increased wages, and benefits for those the union represents.
    Matthews will make any argument he feels necessary to gain whatever benefits he can for union members, and he will back any BoE candidate he feels will vote in the Union’s favor on wages, benefits, and conditions of employment. Those are his only criteria.
    And, importantly, it is his sole fiduciary responsibility. For him to take any position contrary to this fiduciary responsibilty would be to openly violate his Union office.
    To think otherwise is to be fooled.
    I’m not emphasizing the points above to be sarcastic, or ironic; this is the defined legal nature of a Union. A union is not a professional organization — it is a UNION.
    Likewise, the defined nature of a corporation is to make money, profits for their owners (stockholders) — nothing more. That is their sole fiduciary responsibility.
    And, it doesn’t matter if the corporation is Wal-Mart, Walgreens, Pizza Hut, McDonald’s, or the corporations’ products are textbooks, high stakes tests, or educational “research”, etc. They all have the same fiduciary responsibility — to make as large a profit as they can.
    There is no higher purpose or public interest that these organizations aspire to.
    Sure, most if not all organizations will talk the talk of public interest; they do so because the public may take their shopping elsewhere — sometimes the public does care about these things.
    Organizations will serve the public interest only if the public creates a payoff matrix for the organizations that makes it more profitable to do right than to do wrong.
    Government, Boards of Education, School Administrations are, however, supposed to act solely in the public interest. That’s what’s supposed to separate them from these other organizations. It is solely within their purview to ensure adequate funding, curricula, discipline, sufficient and qualified employees.
    That they don’t is a matter for further discussion.

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