Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The power-mad NEA: They say so themselves

We watched an interesting YouTube video the other day. It was brought to our attention by state Sen. James Meeks, the Chicago Democrat who is also pastor of Salem Baptist Church on the South Side. We think our readers should check out the video. It'll open your eyes. Meeks, who chairs the Illinois Senate Education Committee, has been in a war with the Chicago Teachers Union since he had some tough things to say about public education in a Tribune essay and in a speech at Rainbow Push.

The CTU responded with a vow not to give him another dime in campaign money until he apologized. Meeks promptly wrote a check for $4,000, giving back every dime the union had already given him. No apology. You have to love this guy. He's genuinely looking out for kids and doesn't back down to pressure.

Back to the video. It shows the top lawyer of the National Education Association, Bob Chanin, speaking at the NEA's annual meeting in July. Chanin was retiring. This was his swan song. Chanin makes unmistakably clear what the highest priority is for the union. Hint: It's not the education of your kids. Chanin closed his nearly 25-minute speech by explaining the influence of the NEA:
Despite what some among us would like to believe it is not because of our creative ideas. It is not because of the merit of our positions. It is not because we care about children and it is not because we have a vision of a great public school for every child. NEA and its affiliates are effective advocates because we have power.

And we have power because there are more than 3.2 million people who are willing to pay us hundreds of millions of dollars in dues each year, because they believe that we are the unions that can most effectively represent them, the unions that can protect their rights and advance their interests as education employees.

Oh, it gets more interesting.
This is not to say that the concern of NEA and its affiliates with closing achievement gaps, reducing dropout rates, improving teacher quality and the like are unimportant or inappropriate. To the contrary. These are the goals that guide the work we do. But they need not and must not be achieved at the expense of due process, employee rights and collective bargaining. That simply is too high a price to pay.

Too high a price to pay for educated children. Chanin got wild applause from thousands of NEA members at the San Diego Convention Centerfor his remarks.

We tried for several days to get NEA officials to explain those remarks. We wanted to ask if the rest of the union leadership believed that kids ranked behind collective bargaining on the teacher priority list. We're still waiting to hear from them. We know the answer the Chicago Teachers Union gave the Rev. Meeks: Cross us and we'll choke off your money.

Meeks plans to introduce a bill in January that would give the kids at Chicago's lowest-performing schools a choice. It would give kids at 15 high schools and 48 elementary schools a voucher to pay for another school. He plans to push to remove the cap on the number of charter schools in Illinois. The legislature raised the cap this year. But there should be no cap at all.

Meeks met on Thursday with Sen. Dan Cronin, the Republican leader on the Education Committee, to see if they can work out a bipartisan agenda. Good for both of them.

The teachers unions in Illinois get angry when we write about them. They argue that they're pushing a reform agenda, too. If that's the case, they shouldn't be asking Meeks for an apology. They should be asking for an apology from everyone who cheered Chanin. Too high a price, eh?


Oxbridge is clearly guilty of pursuing excellence

Oxbridge demands very high A-level passes and produces many students with good degrees, very few of whom drop out. Where is the problem, wonders Simon Heffer

Something called the Higher Education Policy Institute clearly has nothing to spend its money on. It has conducted elaborate research that concluded that Oxbridge demands very high A-level passes and produces many students with good degrees, very few of whom drop out.

Oddly enough, I thought that was the point of Oxbridge: they are the best universities in the country, and they do this by taking the best people, who are usually motivated to do well. This proof of such an apparently disgusting pursuit of excellence on behalf of our country has prompted yet more boring accusations of elitism – following recent observations by Lord Rumba of Rio that A-levels alone should not regulate admissions to universities.

The next step, no doubt, is for him to argue that intelligence should not regulate the class of degree. The point is that with state schools being run into the ground by the repulsive Ed Balls, Oxbridge has to rely on private sector products, and imports, to maintain its high standards. Whoever's fault that is, it is not Oxbridge's.


Australia: Teachers warned off online Facebook contact with students

This is a bit authoritarian but is probably prudent

TEACHERS would be banned from contacting students on social-networking websites like Facebook or Myspace under proposed changes to their code of ethics. The move comes after the WA College of Teaching disciplinary committee reprimanded about 10 teachers in the past year for inappropriate cyber interaction with students. The behaviour included teachers sharing private photos with students and in some cases engaging in online sexual innuendo.

WACOT's disciplinary committee chairwoman, Theresa Howe, said the code of ethics needed to be updated to specifically target inappropriate and over-friendly computer correspondence between students and teachers. ``We're seeing an increase in it and it has to be specifically addressed," she said. ``That should be in both the code of ethics and in professional development courses for teachers."

Under proposed changes, teachers would be banned from becoming friends with students on social-networking sites. Ms Howe said she would take the matter to the WACOT board. She revealed that online behaviour was central to half the investigations conducted by the committee in the past year.

WA Council of State School Organisations president Rob Fry last night agreed that any cyber contact between teachers and students was fraught with problems. ``I do know that there have been issues where teachers have gone down this track and it has caused some very distressing problems," Mr Fry said. ``The problem for a teacher can be that they form a close relationship of a platonic nature that unfortunately can get misinterpreted. ``Once the damage is done and the finger is pointed, the mud sticks. ``There has got to be a barrier between the relationship of a student and a teacher. ``That barrier cannot be crossed."

Catholic Education Office of WA director Ron Dullard said his schools already banned teachers from becoming friends with students on social-networking websites. ``It is covered by our internet protocols and relationships with students," he said. ``We would see that it would be inappropriate for it to occur. ``Teachers shouldn't accept students as a friend unless it is a relative." Mr Dullard said internet guidelines for teachers at Catholic schools were revised every two years to keep pace with the changing medium.

Some independent WA schools have started advising teachers against creating personal profiles on websites such as Facebook or MySpace. Association of Independent Schools of WA executive director Valerie Gould said teachers were told to remember that any information on public websites could be accessed by students and parents.

Education Department boss Sharyn O'Neill said teachers and staff must maintain appropriate boundaries in their relationships with pupils. ``The department expects teachers to exercise common sense and act on the side of caution when dealing with students," she said. The Education Department is reviewing its code of conduct for teachers.


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