New York City principals and parents have resourcefully devised a way to better equip their children’s local public schools to meet their needs. For years, some public schools in Manhattan have raised money from parents to hire additional teaching assistants to aid lead teachers in the classroom. The aides, who are independently hired, serve as lunch monitors, art instructors, and after-school teachers, and cost the schools a little more than half that of a unionized assistant. But after receiving complaints from the teachers union, the Bloomberg administration has nixed the hiring of independent teachers’ aides. According to the New York Times:
The system was so successful, according to parents, that it evolved into a training ground for future teachers: At least half of last year’s assistants had graduate degrees in education and New York State teaching licenses.
Parents in participating schools are so supportive that they pony up as much as $700 annually to pay for the extra hands. Yet any assistants hired in the coming school year must now be employed by the Department of Education, due to union representatives’ opposition to the popular practice. Ron Davis of the United Federation of Teachers said in the Times article:
It’s hurting our union members, and to some extent it could be hurting kids because we don’t know how qualified they are.
But Mr. Davis is just following union leaders in elevating the interests of union members above that of New York school children. In a speech at the National Education Association (NEA) convention earlier this month, retiring general counsel Bob Chanin explained bluntly why “NEA and its affiliates are such effective advocates”:
Despite what some among us would like to believe, it is not because of our creative ideas. It is not because of the merit of our positions. It is not because we care about children. And it is not because we have a vision of a great public school for every child. NEA and its affiliates are effective advocates because we have power.
This is not to say that the concern of NEA and its affiliates with closing achievement gaps, reducing dropout rates, improving teacher quality, and the like are unimportant or inappropriate. To the contrary, these are the goals that guide the work we do. But they need not and must not be achieved at the expense of due process, employee rights, and collective bargaining. That simply is too high a price to pay.
Union leaders in New York are in lockstep with those ideas. They have managed to crush an independent, parent-driven practice that is successfully meeting the needs of their local public schools.