Labor Pains: Because Being in a Union can be Painful

Responding to Ravitch: “Patently Absurd.”

When it comes to “converts,” you either love them or hate them. In the case of Diane Ravitch, who started her career as an Assistant Secretary of Education in George H.W. Bush’s administration and is finishing it up as a dyed-in-the-wool teachers union shill, the American Federation of Teachers and Ravitch have an unsurprising love affair.

Despite her attempt to portray herself as a rogue thinker in the field of public education, Diane Ravitch’s ties to the American Federation of Teachers run deep, as does her defense of her “personal friend” Randi Weingarten. Over the years, the two “have shared many important life events, including birthdays, weddings, and funerals.” Their relationship isn’t relegated to just their personal lives, either; until recently, Ravitch sat on the board of the AFT’s Albert Shanker Institute. In 2005, the United Federation of Teachers, Weingarten’s old stomping ground, gave Ravitch the John Dewey Education Award. Most recently, the two co-authored a letter to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan urging him to intervene in an ugly union dispute with Philadelphia.

Ravitch completed her transition from conservative education reformer to a vocal apologist for teachers unions last year when she spoke at the AFT’s convention in Detroit.

So don’t color us surprised to see Ravitch come out swinging against our hard hitting ad in last week’s New York Times. What did surprise us, though, was the lack of substance behind Ravitch’s screed.

Ravitch’s attacks are, to quote her, “patently absurd.”

Ravitch’s first argument out of the gate is that “our scores on PISA are not declining.” Here she’s not quibbling with us, but rather with  basic math, which is amusing given the subject. The Wall Street Journal’s headline read “U.S. High School Students Slip in Global Rankings.” The Journal reported:

The results from the 2012 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), which are being released on Tuesday, show that teenagers in the U.S. slipped from 25th to 31st in math since 2009; from 20th to 24th in science; and from 11th to 21st in reading, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, which gathers and analyzes the data in the U.S.

The same is true in absolute terms, too. From 2003 to 2012, Education By The Numbers reports that our scores in math fell as well.

From there, Ravitch defends the AFT’s reform efforts for offering “some form of merit pay in contracts in Baltimore and New Haven.”

Two cities does not make a trend, let alone an effort toward reform. In both, the AFT-affiliated union had its back to the wall. Compromise was not negotiable. In New Haven, the union wasn’t leading the charge for reform, but rather was backed into a corner and forced into reform. New Haven union leader David Cicarella explained:

“We’ve got to be willing to do something about test scores and to deal with ineffective teachers who have tenure and are hiding behind the union. It’s coming to a head where the public is saying, “We’ve had it now.”

In Baltimore, the union doesn’t really  support “merit pay,” but rather that “everyone is getting money“:

“With merit pay, there is a certain amount of money that goes to certain people. And when it’s gone, it’s gone,” said Jessica Aldon, public relations specialist for the Baltimore Teachers Union. “With this, everyone is getting money,” she said.

But these distortions are just a side show to Ravitch’s real whopper.

Ravitch recalls a brief exchange she had with Center for Union Facts (CUF) Executive Director Rick Berman at an event hosted by the Philanthropy Roundtable. Ravitch recalls:

[Berman] showed pictures of the billboards he had erected across major highways in New Jersey, blaming the unions for high costs and bad test scores. Needless to say, he was very proud of the work he had done. The audience seemed to love his presentation. When it came my turn to question him, I asked him these questions: can you explain why the states that are unionized have the highest scores on the federal tests? Did you know that New Jersey is one of the nation’s highest performing states? Can you name a high-performing state that is not unionized?

The only thing Ravitch got right was that CUF’s executive director made a presentation about our campaign in Newark, New Jersey to disassociate the city’s teachers union from it’s hard-working teachers. The audience loved the presentation precisely because we demonstrated with evidence (pre- and post-polling) that anti-reform union leaders could no longer hide behind teachers and continue to protect incompetence.

Beyond that, Ravitch is a fabulist. Maybe she wanted to ask those questions, but she didn’t. In fact, her creative memory on tough questioning seems to be about New Jersey test scores while the campaign was solely focused on the city of Newark.  In fact, beyond her newly discovered outrage over a 3 minute presentation from 7 years ago, the only things she did at the time were politely disagree and make her own speech. From her description, it appears that she doesn’t even remember what the campaign sought to prove.

Then again, given her close ties to Randi Weingarten and the AFT, it appears that we should come to expect no less from Ravitch, whose legacy will likely be as labor’s Propagandist-in-Chief.

Categories: AFTTeachers Unions