United Teachers Los Angeles: If this is social justice, social justice is garbage

As I noted a couple of weeks ago in describing how a “social justice” exercise in Oakland was devastating the middle class, groups on the left like to use their claim to stand for social justice to justify outrageous or self-serving power plays. The worst offenders of all are the teacher unions. So with Los Angeles Unified desperate for concessions on compensation, what did United Teachers Los Angeles set as a precondition? Killing the most promising education reform projects in all of LAUSD:

As schools across California bemoan increasing class sizes, the Alliance Technology and Math Science High School has boosted class size — on purpose — to an astonishing 48. The students work at computers most of the school day.

Next door in an identical building containing a different school, digital imaging — in the form of animation, short films and graphics — is used for class projects in English, math and science.

At a third school on the same Glassell Park campus, long known as Taylor Yards, high-schoolers get hands-on experience with a working solar panel.

These schools and two others coexist at the Sotomayor Learning Academies, which opened this fall under a Los Angeles school district policy called Public School Choice. The 2009 initiative, the first of its kind in the nation, has allowed groups from inside and outside the Los Angeles Unified School District to compete for the right to run dozens of new or low-performing schools.

For two years, the school board has selected the winners after painstaking reviews and intense politicking. The process has led to acrimony, litigation and layoffs, but at Sotomayor, there’s been an almost startling degree of cooperation.

The competition for schools could end immediately, however, if teachers approve a tentative three-year pact with L.A. Unified this week. The district would no longer hand over campuses to outside nonprofits, including charter schools.

That would be a step backward, said former school board member Yolie Flores, who wrote the Public School Choice policy two years ago.

“What we created, by way of a competition, helped people behave differently,” said Flores, who now heads an education advocacy group. The policy created “a sense of urgency” that compelled schools to change for the better, she said.

This is a classic tale of California public schools, as laid out in Sunday’s L.A. Times. The 30,000-pound T Rex in the room is the teacher unions, and their goal of making all K-12 policy built around one central goal: protecting the pay, tenure and transfer rights of veteran teachers.

If you think this is “social justice,” well, then, you must be a teacher, or someone related to a teacher. Because it has nothing to do with “social justice.”

The very smart Mother Jones writer Kevin Drum, however, says we should tolerate union flaws because unions, for all their flaws, are the only checks on corporate power in America.

Of course unions have pathologies. Every big human institution does. And anyone who thinks they’re on the wrong side of an issue should fight it out with them. But unions are also the only large-scale movement left in America that persistently acts as a countervailing power against corporate power. They’re the only large-scale movement left that persistently acts in the economic interests of the middle class.

So sure: go ahead and fight the teachers unions on charter schools. Go ahead and insist that public sector unions in Wisconsin need to take pay and benefit cuts if that’s what you believe. Go ahead and rail against Davis-Bacon. It’s a free country.

But the decline of unions over the past few decades has left corporations and the rich with essentially no powerful opposition. No matter what doubts you might have about unions and their role in the economy, never forget that destroying them destroys the only real organized check on the power of the business community in America. If the last 30 years haven’t made that clear, I don’t know what will.

But when I read that essay in February, my very first reaction was that I bet Kevin doesn’t have any kids in public schools. Because if you’re a parent, and you’re told that your kids have to deal with schools in which the interests of adult employees are priority no.1, you’re not likely to think this crazy status quo is OK because the group throwing its weight around to the detriment of kids is a bulwark against corporate power. You’re likely to think that kids should be priority no. 1 of K-12, whatever else teacher unions do.

So I looked it up. BIngo.

The inventor of Friday catblogging, Kevin was a blogosphere pioneer when, after a stint in marketing, he went online as Calpundit in 2003. Prior to joining MoJo, he blogged at the Washington Monthly’s Political Animal. He lives with his wife and two cats in Irvine.

I will reach out to Kevin to see if he wants to respond. Pretty funny how Irvine — Irvine! — is home/hometown to some very prominent lefties.




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