DC’s Rhee. Union buster or change agent? Shouldn’t our union leadership be able to tell the difference? (Update)

Ken Swanson has joined the world of blogging. Swanson is president of the Illinois Education Association. He promises to post twice a week. I look forward to it.

But his first attempt is a wash-out as far as I’m concerned.

A couple hundred words. Generalities about the present situation in national and state politics. And then this:

Finally, with all the attention on DC and the coming of a new administration, you may be hearing more about the Chancellor of the Washington, DC public school system. Michelle Rhee has been a change agent and has generated much interest and difference of opinion regarding her approach. Please use the link to read an interesting article in the Atlantic.

That’s it. Michelle Rhee, who has taken the lead in a national campaign to attack teacher unions, to shred a bargained agreement, to destroy tenure and seniority rights and to fire teachers and other employees without due process. Our state union president calls her a “change agent” who has “generated interest and difference of opinion?”

In Sunday’s Washington Post, they describe the latest attempts by Rhee and Mayor Fenty at smashing the DC teachers’ union:

Mayor Adrian M. Fenty and Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee are discussing a dramatic expansion of their effort to remove ineffective teachers by restoring the District’s power to create nonunionized charter schools and seeking federal legislation declaring the school system in a “state of emergency,” a move that would eliminate the need to bargain with the Washington Teachers’ Union.

It may be too much to ask that our state leadership actually express union solidarity with our colleagues in Washington. But I don’t think it is too much to ask them to refrain from lauding the union busters by calling them “change agents.”

Update: Apparently Ken wasn’t the only one who found the puff piece on Michelle Rhee in the Atlantic magazine a good read.

Andrew Sullivan, columnist for the Atlantic wrote:

“Tenure is the holy grail of teacher unions, but has no educational value for kids; it only benefits adults. If we can put veteran teachers who have tenure in a position where they don’t have it, that would help us to radically increase our teacher quality. And maybe other districts would try it, too,” – Michelle Rhee, chancellor of the Washington DC public schools.
The lengths to which Rhee must go just to apply basic standards of accountability in the teaching profession is mind-boggling. And reading the comments from the leaders of the teachers’ unions really does drive home the point. Until we really do bust the teachers unions, the next generation of kids in public schools is at risk. I’m one of those DC residents, whose taxes are poured into often useless schools with often dreadful teachers. I’d like to see a tiny bit more value for money.
The best profile of Rhee is, of course, in the Atlantic, ahead of the curve as usual. It’s by Clay Risen.

Nice company you found yourself in, Ken.


AFT President Randi Weingarten at the National Press Club as reported in the WaPo:

“Think of a teacher who is staying up past midnight to prepare her lesson plan . . . a teacher who is paying for equipment out of his own pocket so his students can conduct science experiments. . . . These are the people the AFT represents. Make no mistake about it — when you attack us, you attack them.”

Weingarten did not mention Rhee by name in her prepared comments. But during a brief interview after her speech, she criticized Rhee’s consideration of measures that would release the District from legal obligation to bargain with WTU. These include seeking revival of the city’s ability to open non-union charter schools, and legislation that would declare a post-Katrina-style “state of emergency” that would effectively allow Rhee and Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) to create a new, union-free school system.

The Washington Post reported Sunday that Fenty and Rhee are considering pursuit of the measures.

“I completely disagree,” Weingarten said.

When is comes to Rhee’s union busting, Weingarten doesn’t see her as a change agent.

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