yearly_kos.jpgThis week, help me welcome guest labor blogger, John See. John is associate director of public affairs at AFT, which represents 1.4 million union members, including teachers and other school employees. He’s taking part in a workshop at Yearly Kos: “Spinning Unions: Mainstream Media Has it Wrong About Teachers’ Unions.” The workshop is among several we in the labor movement are spearheading. (Check out two others I wrote about here in the space last week).

Former Washington Post reporter Linda Perlstein, who has just published Tested: One American School Struggles to Make the Grade—and whose other claim to fame includes being the sister of Rick Perlstein—will join AFT and the 3.2 million-member National Education Association (NEA) at this workshop. Hope to see you there!

  • Spinning Unions: Mainstream Media Has It Wrong About Teachers’ Unions
    Friday, Aug. 3., 4 p.m.

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The vast right-wing conspiracy is real, at least when it comes to attacking labor unions and denigrating public education. And that means double trouble for the nation’s two largest teacher unions, the American Federation of Teachers (where I work) and the National Education Association. 

The Walton Family Foundation and a host of other right-wing groups have spent millions bashing public schools. Their motivations vary. For some, it is the desire for more money. One provision of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act, supplemental educational services, has the potential to steer billions of tax dollars annually to the private sector. For others, it’s about power. Weakening public schools weakens unions, and, if unions are weaker, corporate power is unchecked. For still others, who sneer at “government schools,” it’s an all-out ideological war. 

Whatever their motivation, their efforts have paid off. Consider the results of the most recent Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup Poll of the “Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools.”

Support for the public schools grows in direct proportion to the closeness of respondents to those schools. In this poll, 24% assign an A or a B to the nation’s schools; 48 percent award an A or a B to schools in the community. This figure rises to 57 percent when public school parents grade the schools in the community and to 69 percent when parents grade the school their oldest child attends.

Seven out of 10 parents give their kid’s school an A or a B. But take a look at what happens when the surveyed group shifts from parents to all people, and when the school shifts the concrete (your oldest child’s school) to the abstract (our nation’s schools). The numbers flip, with nearly seven out of 10 giving a grade of C, D or F. So, if your view of schools is shaped solely by experience, you’re likely to think the kids are basically all right. But if your view is shaped by right-wing propaganda filtered through the media, you think kids are drooling idiots, our schools stink and the nation is at risk. 

There is powerful objective evidence to support parents’ positive opinion of public schools. On the AFT’s NCLBlog, a colleague analyzed results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) long-term trend test, considered the “gold standard” for measuring student achievement over time. (A rule of thumb for NAEP scores is that 10 points equals approximately one year of learning.)

Age 9

  • Math (1973 to 2004): AfricanAmericans are up 34 points, Latinos are up 28 points and whites are up 22 points.

  • Reading (1971 to 2004): African Americans are up 30 points, Latinos* are up 22 points and whites are up 12 points.

Age 13

  • Math (1973 to 2004): African Americans are up 34 points, Latinos are up 26 points and whites are up 14 points.
  • Reading (1971 to 2004): African Americans are up 22 points, Latinos are up 10 points and whites are up 5 points.

Age  17

  • Math (1973 to 2004): African Americans are up 15 points, Latinos are up 12 points and whites are up 3 points.
  • Reading (1971 to 2004): African Americans are up 25 points, Latinos are up 12 points and whites are up 2 points.

As my colleague concluded:

Real and substantial progress has been made by all subgroups, particularly in math (a subject that is more easily influenced by in-school factors than reading) and in the earlier grades (when kids are more likely to take the tests seriously).

But you won’t hear that from the ultra-right or the mainstream media. When it comes to schools, bad news sells. The worst part about the distortions about public education is that they make it more difficult to garner citizens’ support for what really needs to be done in our schools (and there is plenty of work to do). Unions have rolled up our sleeves and, in many cases, taken the lead in school improvement efforts. Our locals have moved away from the salary schedule toward more creative ways to improve teacher pay. We have fought for small classes and backed legislation to offer high-quality early childhood programs for needy children. We have established peer-review programs for evaluating new teachers that better—and tougher—than principals and district human resources departments.

At Yearly Kos, representatives from the NEA and AFT will discuss the attacks on teachers, unions and schools, corruption and cronyism in the Bush administration’s education policies and the prospects for congressional reauthorization of No Child Left Behind. We’ll also have author Linda Perlstein, who offers an intimate view of students, teachers and administrators at Tyler Heights Elementary School in Annapolis, Maryland.

As Kossack TeacherKen has written:

Tyler Heights would be considered a success by proponents of the high stakes testing approach of No Child Left Behind….What Perlstein is able to do is provide the reader with the reality of the cost of those scores.

Please join our discussion and find out how you can help expose ultra-conservative anti-worker, anti-public school Astroturf campaigns, fight the corporatization of public education and support federal education policies that put children first.