An Old Topic Newly Noted in the ChicagoTribune.com
November 22, 2009
We watched an interesting YouTube video the other day. It was brought to our attention by state Sen. James Meeks, the Chicago Democrat who is also pastor of Salem Baptist Church on the South Side. We think our readers should check out the video. It'll open your eyes.
Meeks, who chairs the Illinois Senate Education Committee, has been in a war with the Chicago Teachers Union since he had some tough things to say about public education in a Tribune essay and in a speech at Rainbow Push.
The CTU responded with a vow not to give him another dime in campaign money until he apologized. Meeks promptly wrote a check for $4,000, giving back every dime the union had already given him.
You have to love this guy. He's genuinely looking out for kids and doesn't back down to pressure.
Back to the video. It shows the top lawyer of the National Education Association, Bob Chanin, speaking at the NEA's annual meeting in July. Chanin was retiring. This was his swan song.
Chanin makes unmistakably clear what the highest priority is for the union. Hint: It's not the education of your kids.
Chanin closed his nearly 25-minute speech by explaining the influence of the NEA:
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.
And we have power because there are more than 3.2 million people who are willing to pay us hundreds of millions of dollars in dues each year, because they believe that we are the unions that can most effectively represent them, the unions that can protect their rights and advance their interests as education employees.
Oh, it gets more interesting.
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.
Too high a price to pay for educated children. Chanin got wild applause from thousands of NEA members at the San Diego Convention Centerfor his remarks.
We tried for several days to get NEA officials to explain those remarks. We wanted to ask if the rest of the union leadership believed that kids ranked behind collective bargaining on the teacher priority list. We're still waiting to hear from them.
We know the answer the Chicago Teachers Union gave the Rev. Meeks: Cross us and we'll choke off your money.
Meeks plans to introduce a bill in January that would give the kids at Chicago's lowest-performing schools a choice. It would give kids at 15 high schools and 48 elementary schools a voucher to pay for another school.
He plans to push to remove the cap on the number of charter schools in Illinois. The legislature raised the cap this year. But there should be no cap at all.
Meeks met on Thursday with Sen. Dan Cronin, the Republican leader on the Education Committee, to see if they can work out a bipartisan agenda.
Good for both of them.
The teachers unions in Illinois get angry when we write about them. They argue that they're pushing a reform agenda, too.
If that's the case, they shouldn't be asking Meeks for an apology. They should be asking for an apology from everyone who cheered Chanin.
Too high a price, eh?