Randi Weingarten and Friends Respond to My WSJ Piece

I’ve long argued that the teacher unions are hardly better at running their political interests than they are at running schools.  They compensate for lousy ideas and poorly made arguments with the brute force of mountains of cash and an army of angry teachers.

My view of the teacher unions was confirmed by their mangled reaction to my piece in the Wall Street Journal noting the trade-offs between the number of teachers we hire and their quality.  The boss of the American Federation of Teachers, Randi Weingarten, tweeted her response: “They don’t want to pay teachers comp salaries…”

Now, I should say that anyone who attempts to engage in a substantive debate on Twitter is an idiot and so I fully confess that I was an idiot for trying to do so.  I responded: “we could have increased teacher salaries by 50% instead of increasing their number by that amount.”  And then I reiterated the point: “you seem to prefer having 50% more teachers over 50% higher salaries. Why is that?”

Having raised the issue, Randi Weingarten obviously had not thought through where the argument might go.  She couldn’t offer the obvious answer: “Because the teacher union cares more about power than about teachers, so having 50% more of them gives us a larger army on election day while 50% more pay might create more satisfied professionals who are less dependent on the union.”

No, thinking things through is not exactly the union’s forte.  They are more accustomed to crushing opponents with ad hominem attacks or distracting the audience with emotional and irrelevant appeals.  So, that’s exactly what they did.  Teacher union flak, Caitlin McCarthy, chimed in with: “Jay Greene shld model how an XL class size would work w/ Randi sitting in back taking notes for us. LOL.”  Randi Weingarten agreed with Caitlin McCarthy, adding to the joke: “I wld have to be in front-so I cld see the board.”

I responded that it is obviously possible to have higher student-teacher ratios since we used to have them and without getting worse results: “student teacher ratios from 40 years ago were modeled 40 years ago. If impossible how did they?”

McCarthy replied with a “these go to 11” argument, repeating that I needed to model how it was possible to have higher student-teacher ratios, tweeting: “Jay, again I suggest u actually model this & not just write/imagine it. Practice what u preach.”  This was followed by a series of tweets from McCarthy all of which were based on the notion that only teachers have standing to hold opinions about education policy.  She wrote: ” I understand & respect teaching b/c I walk the walk. I’m not all talk. Model ur ideas, Jay” and “Jay, have you ever subbed in an urban area for a wk? Not being snarky. A legit question.” and “Never take advice from someone who hasn’t been there.”  Randi Weingarten again joined McCarthy in her argument, tweeting: “Good Q Jay-have u ever taught high school in an urban/rural setting.”

I was struck by the anti-intellectualism of their line of argument.  What kind of educator would believe that the only way to know something is by having done it?  If that were true, we should dispense with schools and just have apprenticeships.  I tweeted: “so the only way to know something is to have done it? Shows no faith in abstract learning” and “As an educator you believe in abstract learning, right? Or do we only learn by apprenticeship?”

Mentioning abstract learning to the teacher union’s army of angry teachers must be like waving a red cape in front of a bull.  Caitlin McCarthy charged with all of her bovine might: “I would expect this kind of comment from an ‘abstract thinker’ out of touch w/ reality. Go sub.”

McCarthy threw in some additional ad hominem just to complete her stereotype as a teacher union flak unable or uninterested in discussing the substance of arguments.  She tweeted: “Jay was born circa ’67. He never lived firsthand the schools of yore & has a pol agenda.”  Oh, the substance of my argument can be ignored because I have a political agenda while she and Weingarten have no agenda at all other than their love of children.  And when Texas Parents Union tweeted Randi Weingarten and Caitlin McCarthy “While we wait on @jaypgreene to respond, what is your specific concern with article? Just curious…” McCarthy replied ” Hmm…u link to StudentsFirst & Stand For Children on ur site, so it’s safe to assume u agree w/ Jay?”  Never mind the argument, let’s talk about who you link to and who’s side you’re on.

I would like to think that the anti-intellectual, non-substantive, and ad hominem nature of the teacher union response was simply a function of the stupidity of trying to have an argument on Twitter.  But unfortunately, this is the main way I have seen them argue for more than two decades.  Fortunately for those opposed to the union’s policy agenda, their bullying and mangled arguments only continue to erode their credibility in policy discussions.  As I’ve said before, the teacher unions are already starting to be treated like the Tobacco Institute, a well-financed and well-organized special interest that has no legitimacy in policy debates.




16 Responses to Randi Weingarten and Friends Respond to My WSJ Piece

  1. Gee, I get the same response when teachers seem to know all about what’s best for teaching my special ed kid, when they’ve never spent one second in my home.

  2. Matthew Ladner says:

    Oh they are already implementing it, and Randy’s zombies hate it:


  3. Greg Forster says:

    Jay, you should arrange to spend a day teaching in an urban charter school with large class sizes. They’d probably let you lead some classes teaching their kids about what charter schools are and why the teachers unions hate them.

    Then, for the rest of your career, whenever they ask if you’ve ever taught in an urban school with a large class you can reply: “Yes, I have. Have you ever conducted a scientific study?”

    • Teacher Joe in LA says:

      PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE take Greg up on this idea. Then maybe once and for all you would see the absence of reality in your scientific studies in the social sciences (vs. the sciences) and the hard reality of teaching.

      I offer you my classroom. If you take up my offer I will do all I can to get you in. But this has to be much more real than a one day substitute. One year is ideal, but if you take the bait I’ll compromise somewhere in between. Maybe lets do it like Tony Danza did it. FIlm it so there’s some money in the deal for you.

      Come on. Shut us all up once and for all – or are you chicken?

      I’m sorry Matthew , Jay, Greg, what DO you do for a living?

      • allen says:

        So, according to you, Teacher Joe, before I can express dissatisfaction with the quality of the work you’re doing I’ve got to demonstrate that I can do the job better?

        Dang. A good thing the surgery business doesn’t work like that.

        Or the commercial pilot business either.

        Or pretty much any line of work other then teacher. And not just any teacher but public school teachers because as near as I can tell we don’t get the same self-pitying whining from private school teachers.

      • Hi Joe — In addition to being a researcher and writer I am a teacher in higher education. I know that teaching in higher ed is different, but there are some similarities and it should help answer the question about what I do for a living. I should also emphasize that I have spent quite a lot of time in K-12 schools and so have that direct experience as well. Lastly, I would reiterate my argument that doing is not the only way to know. It may not even be the best way.

      • Matthew Ladner says:


        Others have ably made the point that this is nothing more than unsophisticated rhetoric, and it is worth noting that when Randi challenged John Stoessel to do this a few years ago, a bunch of bureaucratic red tape prevented him from doing so. You know, the sort of red-tape that Randi’s group put in place and continues to support.

        Take this down another level- let’s assume that Jay did spend a week teaching a class and found the system to be dysfunctional, the support indifferent to poor and the job very challenging. How then would it follow that Jay would desire to keep this lousy system as it is, with the exception of putting more money in to it?

  4. Great suggestion, Greg. I did note that I’ve spent the equivalent of several weeks in public, charter, and private schools during my career. I’ve seen plenty first-hand.

    • Teacher Joe in LA says:

      Have you EVER been responsible for the whole job? Seeing things first hand cannot compare to having responsibility for it all.

  5. Ed Jones says:

    Jay, I’ve never flown an airplane. According to the logic above, I couldn’t possibly redesign the entire avionics architecture for one. Only a tenured pilot would have the experience to do this.

    Except I did. The aircraft flies today, further, on less fuel, and with greater maneuverability than it would have. This is called engineering, and we do it every day for professionals of all kinds.

    Of course Diane Ravitch is the main evangelist for setting back logical argument 200 years. Remember the Inquisition?

    My favorite ad hominem attack is when we write “this argument is pure ad hominem and personal attack. Where are the facts and observations?”

    And they then respond, “It’s so mean of you to post a personal attack here.”

    • Teacher Joe in LA says:

      Ed that’s nice except you are a trained avionics engineer. What are these guys? There is a science to avionics. There is not one in education. I do believe a good management engineer could fix a lot in education. But you have to know what’s not working in the system. I’ve been reading these guys for a year or two and they have no idea how the thing flies. We need good reform. But the money is hardly wasted in the classroom. The real waste is in administration and at the Department of Education level. If the DOEs were closed tomorrow classrooms would get better as teachers wouldn’t have to waste time on DOE directives. Begin thinking of the DOE’s as education’s equivalent of OSHA and you’ll start walking toward reality.

      I’m a Republican teacher who’s worked 10 years in the private sector and 20 in the classroom. My gut says these guys here are sucking on the private teat of corporate foundation money intended to solve real problems. If my guess is right they whore the system as much as the Ph.ds and Master Ed. pushing papers as mid-level district administrators and DOE employees.

      • Ed Jones says:

        Joe, thanks. Actually, I was not a trained avionics engineer. I had a very solid science education, but I learned enough in 18 months on the job to see clearly the critical touch point in the system.

        The advantage I did have was that my assignments let me look at the entire system for an extended period. Most of my fellow engineers there did not have that luxury.

        And neither do most teachers. (Or union presidents!)

        Take my good friend Deb Meier: Hugely important experience in changing one school. But not in seeing the educational needs of an entire nation, one that lives at the forefront of change in all sectors.

        Researchers like Jay, however, have that luxury. That doensn’t make them immune from large errors. But the expereince of teaching full time for years is more likely to bias him toward the issues of a certain school, rather than a view of the entire nation.

  6. Alsadius says:

    The funniest part is that if you were born in ’67, you’d have started school in ’72…which is exactly 40 years ago. I’d say you actually did live through the schools of 40 years ago. I hope McCarthy isn’t a math teacher.

  7. William says:

    Randi Weingarten has used what will remain a common rhetorical tactic: She dismisses any criticism of the education system as it exists today by insisting that the person pointing out there’s room for improvement hasn’t actually taught in a class.

    Why are they so quick to marginalize anyone who doubts the status quo rather than actually explain why they think it is worth preserving? Fortunately people are starting to wake up and realize that there is more to the picture.

    • allen says:

      Why are they so quick to marginalize anyone who doubts the status quo? Because the tactic works.

      Or at least it did.

      Lately the tactic’s been met with indifference because the credibility of experts is bedded in their ability to produce the required results.

      It doesn’t matter if I know how to repair a faucet if it leaks after I’ve paid to have it repaired and it doesn’t matter if I know how to teach a classroom of kids if they don’t learn anything after the teacher’s cashed their paycheck. Getting the job done is the role of the professional, not making up excuses for why they didn’t get the job done and I don’t have to be better at their job then they are to criticize their shortcomings.

  8. Lisa Jones says:

    Hi, I’m a math teacher who assumed that all of those tweets were a result of people who hadn’t actually READ the article… Unfortunately, I was wrong…

    Anyway, Jay, thanks for analysis.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: