And look what the California Teachers’ Association has wrought…

by cheri block

In the March 31st edition of The Economist magazine, Andreas Kluth wrote a piece that warmed my heart. Warmed it like a blow torch.

Although the subject of his article is education here in California,the problems the article addresses are endemic in many parts of the United States.

Here  are several paragraphs from the piece. (I would have linked it to The Economist website, but one has to be a subscriber to access print edition articles.)

Eli Broad, a Los Angeles philanthropist who is trying to reform education, blames a combination of California’s dysfunctional governance, with “elected school boards made up of wannabes and unions”, and the fact that the state’s teachers’ union is both more powerful and “more regressive” than elsewhere. The California Teachers Association (CTA) is the biggest lobby in the state, having spent some $210m in the past decade—more than any other group— to intervene in California’s politics.

The CTA has used its money to defeat almost any reform that might have turned the standards into reality. It helped to defeat ballot measures that, for example, would have given California a school-voucher system and changed the probation period for teachers. It ensured that the state has “laughably easy teacher tests”, as Mr Petrilli puts it. It is also the biggest donor to the state’s Democratic Party.

I spent 26 years teaching in California public education. I left in 1998, fed up with most aspects of the system, to open my own little gig beholden only to the marketplace.  I hung out a shingle which read Reading, Writing, and Grammar. We are still in business.

Yesterday, I received this e-mail from one of our clients, a recent immigrant from Beijing. I have taken out the proper nouns to protect his anonymity. His daughter is an 8th grader, enrolled in a grammar class I teach for students in grades 6-8.

By the way, the California State Standards mandate that teachers are to teach English grammar during the  5th-9th grades. In our district, grammar is taught by very few teachers. One reason for this is that in California universities, English majors do NOT have to take a Form and Usage of English course to graduate, so few English teachers really know their grammar.

Here is the e-mail. Keep in mind that this person’s first language is Mandarin.

Dear Mrs. Sabraw,

By the way, I received a call from XXXX’s  English teacher at XXXX. Somehow, she found out that XXXX is attending extra class for her English grammar. She said XXXX shouldn’t take grammar so early and should focus on reading and writing as well as vocabulary, and grammar should wait until 10th grade.

Personally, I don’t think there is a conflict since what she has been learning are all basic stuff, and grammar should help her other parts in learning English. What’s your opinion on this? What are the plans in general for English learning among public high schools in California?

I promised Andreas long ago that I would never again rant about the sad state of public education in California. This is a promise I have kept.

My client’s last question will never be answered in any coherent way here in the Golden State until the power of the union is restrained.

Pretty nice building in Sacramento, don’t you think?

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About Cheri

Writer, artist, cable television host, grandmother to four!
This entry was posted in Education, Writing and Teaching and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

19 Responses to And look what the California Teachers’ Association has wrought…

  1. Richard says:

    “A wise man breaks his promises sometimes.”
    [Confucius]
    🙂

    Over here in England, interference by the state and the influence of teachers’ unions on government has reduced the education system to a truly parlous condition. This has a broad detrimental effect on all aspects of life and upon social conditions.

    If party manifestos can be relied upon, power will be returned to teachers and parents on return of a Conservative government. Let’s hope it’s not too late.

    I was a governor of three local schools at one time ( 20 or so years ago) and even then one could see the beginnings of the undue politicisation of education and the frustration of teachers.

    • Cheri says:

      Tell me, what does a governor of local schools do? Is the job like the local school board president?

      I am not sure the solution is returning all power to the teachers themselves. If such authority must navigate in the marketplace, then yes.

      Did you read on N.P.R. website that the school sponsored by Stanford in East Palo Alto is about to lose its charter? Very interesting stuff.

      • In those days governors were a bunch of busybodies who kidded themselves they ran the school when it was really run by the headteacher.

        Collectively they were known as “Boards” in a false analogy to boards of directors.

        I agree there are some powers teachers simply would not wish to bother themselves with, but you would not like the minute attention to details of the curriculum, inane regular testing and pupils’ appeals against teachers’ discipline.

        I must read about the loss of that charter.

  2. Richard says:

    PS. Please correct my grammar.

    • Cheri says:

      I worried about posting a piece about grammar and am waiting for Peter to swoop in and correct something…

      • Peter G says:

        Grammer looks fine. In your previous post, though, I believe it should be tarpapered or tar-papered, not tar papered.

        If your shingle reads Reading, Writing, and Grammar, then how do people who can’t read know that they’ve come to the right place?

  3. In the early years of unionization, unions were beneficial and did improve working conditions for educators, nurses and other public servants.
    However, through the years they have introduced Taylorism to these sectors of activity. Now taylorism may, I distinctly wrote MAY, be right on production chain or for operating a doughnut machine but not in the classroom or in a hospital ward.
    One more thing: the unions have become a state within a state and are as oppressive for their membership as any authoritarian state has ever been. And don’t give me the democratic garbage, some strike votes at 80%+ are held with 10% attendance. The others are meek followers.

    • Cheri says:

      Paul, we agree here, point by point.

      A good example here in Northern California is the failure of the partnership between Toyota and General Motors at our local Nummi plant which will close at the end of this month leaving over 3000 people without jobs.

      Interesting that the union folk will be there for 18 months wrapping things up. Also of interest is that in the severance packages of the line workers, the union will take 3% of each package.

      The UAW is, front and center, one of the main factors for the plant’s closure.

      When I was a young and impressionable (now I am just impressionable) during my 2nd year of teaching, I experienced a teacher strike. After that experience, I never joined the union although I was forced to pay agency fee all of my career. What I observed during the three teacher strikes in my district was that those on the lines and the most obnoxious were the worst teachers.

      Now, don’t get me wrong. I want to be clear that I have the same beliefs about the administration. I sound like a good ol Libertarian!

      And Richard, Confucius’ quotation is correct…

  4. zeusiswatching says:

    Get out the red pen. I’m here to type.

    My Grandfather was a union organizer in the steel mills. I see no real relationship between the unions of the 1930’s, not the their mission nor their accomplishments, and the teacher’s unions of today.

    One made it possible to not be mistreated and discarded by immoral thieves and their underlings. The teacher’s unions are simply political associations raising money, and producing votes almost entirely for a single political party. Incidentally, I wonder how much of the money contributed to union coffers by the laid-off teachers in Los Angeles was returned by the union to help these unemployed people get through the tough times? Just asking.

    As far as the administration is concerned? These guys have their own glorified guild turned fund raising and lobbying machine too. The problem is privilege. These are groups of people who have carved out privileges of a sort, and defending those privileges, even to the point of letting lousy teachers, or lousy administrators wreck the system, is more important than doing the job. It has all happened before.

    The system grinds to a halt, students suffer, and in the long run, employers might have a large pool of half-formed employees to exploit and use, but we also end up with a crumbling nation. Yes, it does sound familiar.

    I appreciate the heroic effort you make to give kids a better education. A strong foundation is hard to build once the rest of the building has been erected.

    • Cheri says:

      No red pen necessary Zeus. I only wish you had been my friend during those three strikes. Your clear language, however, would have been silenced by the shrill sound of the line.

      In our early history after the Industrial Revolution and into the early 20th Century, we can all agree that unions were necessary to curb owner greed and protect people. Still some groups seem to need the security of a union. For example, the farm workers here in California needed to be unionized for protection against terrible working conditions and short hoes. ( No comment necessary here, Peter or Mr. Crotchety). I agreed with Caesar Chavez at the time.

      The bleak work environment here in California that Steinbeck describes in The Grapes of Wrath would merit a union organizer.

      • zeusiswatching says:

        Radicalized politics require radicalized behavior. The cowards will buckle, the others will simply walk away and be “the enemy.” Critical thinking is anathema, trash talking and defamation are the rules of the game. Walking away and starting your own school made sense.

        Again, the problem is privilege in the old fashioned, old world sense of the word. Nobles have it, guilds have them, the bourgeoisie have certain numbers of them and always crave more. That leads to entrenched interests that block meaningful progress.

        Obviously, some degree of privilege is needed. Judge Blah is accorded some in order to run a court room. As a teacher, you are accorded some too, if informally. These types of privileges come with responsibility and are intended to help the responsible one fulfill needs.

        From whom the privileges are conferred upon the privilege holders is another question for another day. When those privileges become seen as some sort of rights and entitlements, when they can be used to bad ends (abuse of privilege) then we have bunch of problems. The response to the abuse of privileges is often no solution at all — think 1789.

  5. What the public sector unions are doing when they strike is just helping to balance budgets for the employer state and fill their own budget with augmented contributions if the guys get a salary adjustment. Most strikers will never make up for the revenue lost during the strike.

  6. andreaskluth says:

    Well, first of all, sorry for “warming your heart like a blow torch” — otherwise known as “scalding”.

    Personally, I think this — ie, education — should be one of your regular threads here. After all, who WILL tell it as it is, if not people like you?

    BTW, I visited a charter school in Arizona recently, where they gave me a DVD of a documentary in four parts that compares kids in America’s school system with kids in China and India. I gave it to friends of mine. They’re now moving (seriously).

  7. Cheri says:

    So, were YOU the one who wrote that article last year in The Economist about that couple in Scottsdale and their charter school?

    OK, perhaps my figurative language was a bit over the top. Let me try again.

    Warmed it like Peppermint Schnaps?

  8. andreaskluth says:

    Yup, that was me, cleaning up after a trip to Phoenix with another little story to follow the ones I really went there for (Sheriff Arpaio). Buy 2, get one free, sort of.

    BTW, did you notice that I said “who WILL tell it as it is…”, not “who WILL tell it like it is…”?

    That’s because I’m commenting on a grammar teacher’s blog!

    Also, could you click on this link to the story and see if it takes you through? They tell me that incoming links should work, no matter whether you subscribe or not.

    • Cheri says:

      I’m online so I clicked through (don’t want you to think I have no life on a Friday night…) and YES, it went through.

      And yes, I noticed you used “as” instead of “like”

      You are a grammar master, master.

      I will change the hyperlink on this post, so readers can read the entire article.

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