By Jon E. Easter
Everybody’s favorite puppet, State School Superintendent Tony Bennett, is still firing shots at the state’s teachers’ unions, but the public is firing back.
On May 14, this letter was published in the Indianapolis Star from Linda Robb.
Thank you, Tony Bennett, for helping me understand how the teachers union in Indiana has ruined education. First, those big teacher strikes and hard-nosed collective bargaining talks have really held down education. Wait. Are those even allowed in Indiana? Well, those unions are still responsible for how poorly children do on standardized test scores.
In fact, some of my students have been failing to do their reading assignments and major compositions. I was going to call their parents. I guess I'll call the Indiana State Teachers Association instead.
Then, again, there are disciplinary issues such as poor attendance and disrespectful students. I am definitely calling ISTA on those, even though I did want to discuss the way attendance is measured by the Indiana Department of Educationrules.
Of course, there's downsizing caused by lack of funding and rules that prevent moving money from capital projects to operating expenses. I had planned to send an e-mail to my legislators. Good thing I heard you. I am definitely writing a letter complaining to ISTA about those issues.
On Thursday, Bennett responded in a “My View” letter.
I am writing in response to a May 14 letter, " 'Blame union' philosophy sure makes things easier." Sadly, the author failed to mention the ways collective-bargaining units affect the quality of classroom instruction.
To begin, it is important to recognize the distinct difference between hardworking professionals in the classroom who are preparing students for future success as opposed to the state-level teachers union leaders who seem to care more about protecting their union's fiscal solvency than educating Indiana students. There are many telling examples of local teachers associations working with local school leaders to make sound decisions for students. Unfortunately, at the state level, Indiana's teachers unions have impeded significant education reform and continue to resist all efforts to create meaningful evaluations to determine teacher and administrator effectiveness or to consider factors other than seniority in tenure decisions.
Indeed, the tough fiscal situation facing Indiana's schools exemplifies the negative impact teachers unions can have on classroom instruction. As Indiana's schools have been asked to cut back due to revenue shortfalls, many school corporations have found valuable solutions to save jobs. Regrettably, other school corporations came up short. Layoffs were announced, and the message from the union was clear: last hired, first fired. Regardless of their performance, teachers are being cut due to collective-bargaining agreements that make seniority top priority. Put simply, if we are to ensure equal educational opportunities for all of Indiana's children, this is not the way it should be.
Let me be clear on one point: I do not stand against veteran teachers, nor do I stand for new teachers. I am, however, absolutely committed to supporting effective teachers who are moving the achievement needle for Indiana's students.
I believe students should be the primary focus for all adults involved in education in our state. For the numerous adults who share that focus, we work for students on a daily basis, developing and supporting new strategies for their success, fighting for educational equality and working to improve student achievement. As superintendent, I consider myself the representative for students, and I plan to do everything in my power to make sure Indiana's best teachers remain in classrooms and are rewarded for their efforts and successes. I think everyone can agree our students are too important to play second fiddle to adults' interests.
Then, just yesterday, two letter writers sent Bennett more love letters. From Carmel's Ed Russell:
Tony Bennett's June 3 My View, "Union interests collide with student success," collides with reality.
It misplaces blame for a situation created and maintained by the Daniels administration. Bennett refers in passing to "the tough fiscal situation facing Indiana's schools" without admitting that the "fiscal situation" is a creation of the Daniels administration.
Gov. Mitch Daniels' stated goals are to incur no debt and no new taxes in Indiana. He is choosing to limit our children's future rather than alter his political position. The wealthiest of Hoosiers could easily afford a tax to ease the schools' financial situation, but Daniels will have none of it.
Instead, his man Bennett once again tiresomely brings out the whipping boy -- the teachers unions. Once again the interests of political ambition trump the needs of our children. I wonder how much longer voters are going to put up with this.
And from Indianapolis' W.R. Jones:
Once again Tony Bennett bashed teachers and their unions in his June 3 My View, "Union interests collide with student success." The same tired talking points are as predictable as thunder after lightning. Unions "affect the quality of . . . instruction," "prepare students for future success," "impeded significant educational reform" and "have "negative impact . . . on classroom instruction." There's not one example of how these things might be true. The unions' failure to address "meaningful evaluations" is blamed for the laying off of new, enthusiastic, hardworking teachers.
Mr. Bennett, new teachers are let go because the state of Indiana can't pay its bills (even the ones required by the state constitution) and because the current administration refuses to raise any tax to contribute to bothersome and expensive things like quality education for Indiana children.
Indiana school districts have spent millions of dollars to find ways to increase student achievement. Those millions have not been well spent.
Unless the current administration sees fit to involve all groups that impact education, Indiana will continue to limp along with underfunded schools and under-achieving students. It's easy for those who are not involved to criticize others' work.
Complaining won't solve the problem, and neither will blaming groups that are dedicated to quality work, fair wages and reasonable workloads.
Now that's what I call a give and take!
Let’s face it; the most irresponsible party in all of this is not the teachers unions. I will say that teachers unions at times even frustrate this teacher. But, like any labor union, their job is to look out for their members. Inherently, there is nothing wrong with what they are doing. Teachers, like police and firefighters, are public servants with very important jobs. Police and firefighters have their own unions, and sometimes those unions have to go to bat for their members…and get kind of nasty doing it.
The most irresponsible party in all of this is Tony Bennett and, by extension, his puppet master Governor Mitch Daniels.
Bennett/Daniels would have you believe that some districts are having trouble with cash flow because of mismanagement and misappropriation. While that may be true in some ways, the real truth is that if it were just that simple than you would just have “SOME” districts having problems when the reality now is that almost ALL districts are having problems.
You all see the headlines daily. Just read them. Thousands of teachers are out of work statewide. Custodians, secretaries, and administrators are also feeling the pinch. The cuts have hit the classroom. Despite this, Indiana schools, by many measures, are performing better than some of the models that Bennett and Daniels want to use for education reform.
That’s why the “evil” teachers’ unions are asking these tough questions. Bennett and Daniels refuse to answer them. There’s clear evidence that Bennett/Daniels do not want the input of teachers at all. Like so many other things coming down from the throne of the Daniels Administration, they want to dictate.
The irresponsible position is to choke out schools while refusing to replace money lost by the reformulation of the property tax system. That’s really what caused all of this mess, and this mess extends all the way down to local governments, too. Homeowners are finding that the parachutes like the one percent property tax circuit breaker are not opening correctly and all you get is forks, spoons, and knives coming out of your pack.
There are no easy answers. Bennett/Daniels have to realize that locking themselves in the State House and barking at the unions may be an easy thing to do politically but is just as bad for students in our schools as they say unions are. Sometimes negotiation and not dictation is the way to get things done. Until that happens, you’ll still see the battle lines drawn on both sides. Bennett doesn’t respect teachers and their rights, so why should they respect him?