Labor Pains: Because Being in a Union can be Painful

Nothing to Cheer About

A recent re-read of “From Contracts to Classrooms: Covering Teachers Unions,” a primer for education journalists published by the Hechinger Institute on Education and the Media, unearthed an eye-opening story. As an education reporter for The Philadelphia Inquirer in 1996, Dale Mezzacappa had a hard time keeping her cool with a union lawyer after a rally where the union celebrated the demise of teacher accountability measures:

Only once in my 35-year reporting career was I goaded into responding in kind to someone who yelled at me. The yeller was an attorney for the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, reacting to my story about the contract settlement between the union and the school district after months of contentious talks…

Uncharacteristically, I yelled back. The night before, I had found it unsettling, to say the least, to watch as thousands of teachers cheered wildly at the news that they didn’t have to worry about whether their students learned anything. They’d still get automatic raises even if none of their kids met achievement goals; they’d still get their pick of jobs based on seniority; they’d still have the right to refuse extra training even if their teaching skills were woefully out of date.

“If teachers don’t improve kids’ learning, what are they there for?” I asked. “What should they be judged on? What are they getting paid to do?”

To which I got the remarkable rejoinder: “Teacher performance and student achievement have nothing to do with each other.” [emphasis added]

Categories: Teachers Unions