Sunday, June 15, 2008

Is it Enough for What?

I've been looking all weekend for a way to mention the recent bit of bad news for the teacher unions in the Wall Street Journal. The Weekend Edition's editorial page highlighted a program called Teach for America, the 1990 brainchild of Princeton undergrad Wendy Kopp who thought inner-city public school students deserved a chance to learn from the best and brightest, rather than from the shift-working teacher-mill grads.

Well, I've found my angle. In the Charles County Cafe blog post wondering whether a 3.5 percent raise is "enough." To regular readers of my blog, the answer to this rhetorical question is clear. No, it is never enough. No matter how high the increase, the teacher unions will always find a way to demand more. It's what a union does.

Well, now it seems that for nearly 20 years many thousands of young, idealistic graduates of America's top colleges have been flocking to Teach for America and I am just hearing about it now. It seems to be the new Peace Corps. They, like their counterparts of decades past, see a way to make a real difference by bringing their newly minted expertise in a variety of fields of learning to disadvantaged public school kids. Like the Peace Corps, they spend a few years usually two or three, then move on to careers in their various professions carrying with them special knowledge and experience gained from such service.

What I couldn't figure out, after scanning about seven pages of Google hits on the subject, is whether they are forced to join the union. From what I could tell, they perform their service at BELOW cost; that is, they are an attractive option for school districts because they do not earn union scale. And recent studies show they are doing a damn good job. It's something about wanting to teach and to reform the education system, without being forced into some featureless, vat of homogeneous Union glop and extruded into the standard public school teacher mold.

The difference is that these people are professionals who happen to want to teach. Their counterparts meanwhile are simply trained union members. Even those who really want to teach are ill-prepared to do so; their training being in the interpretation of arcane school curricula, laws, regulations and yes, politics. Teach for America candidates are giving a few weeks of training and are turned loose to teach.

Well the stories I've been missing have do mention the challenge TFA poses to union power however, no one can seem to get the NEA or the American Federation of Teachers to go on the record. You know NEA's motto: If you can't say something bad about an obvious threat to your existence, don't say anything at all.

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