(Guest post by Greg Forster)
When former Pinellas County teacher-union head and “national NEA activist” Doug Tuthill became president of the Florida School Choice Fund, Jay announced that dogs and cats were living together. (By coincidence, in the same week The Onion ran this, one of their best ever.)
Not so fast, says America’s Last Education Labor Reporter. “Tuthill has always been something of a union maverick,” notes ALELR in his latest communique. “He was a new unionist well before NEA President Bob Chase took up the call and made it official policy. Tuthill’s essay in the February 1997 NEA Today, headlined ‘Time to Face the Hard Truth,’ could have been written today – which might explain why Tuthill has gone over to the Dark Side.”
ALELR quotes from Tuthill’s article: “The traditional role of education unions has been to protect members from the negative effects of dysfunctional school systems. That’s not enough anymore.” As recently as 2004, Tuthill was calling for new unionism to “rise from the ashes” and was pushing for NEA involvement in charter school management, membership services for private schools, and “supporting” home schoolers.
Well, I read “Time to Face the Hard Truth,” and frankly, other than that one line about how unions should do more than protect teachers from being fired, it all looks like standard NEA boilerplate. “Today’s education unions must take on the task of transforming these systems. Our primary goal must be to create learning systems in which all adults and children achieve at high levels.” Etc. Etc. Etc. These days the NEA just has computers write this stuff for them, switching the words around so we don’t notice (e.g. “Today’s education unions must take on the goal of transforming these learning systems for all adults and children. Our primary task must be to create systems in which all achieve at high levels”). That frees up more time for them to hang out in their member-funded stadium skyboxes and go on those all-important conference trips.
So ALELR is right that the essay “could have been written today,” but not by a reformer. This kind of fluff only passes as deep thought among the “wow, man, kids need so much” crowd.
In the article, Tuthill talks about a teacher who was being fired for incompetence: ” ‘I know I haven’t done a good job,’ she said crying, ‘but I’m doing the best I can. These kids have so many problems, I just don’t know where to begin. What am I going to do?’ “
What happens? The union saves her job, and Tuthill is glad that this incompetent teacher is returned to the classroom. He sees her as a “victim” of “dysfunctional systems.” His only regret is that more effort (read: money) isn’t being spent on teacher training to help ensure that future teachers won’t be incompetent:
I was pleased that our union had helped her, but the episode bothered me. This teacher had been the victim of a series of dysfunctional systems. She was poorly trained, improperly placed, and not adequately supported. Consistent with our traditional advocacy role, we helped her, but we did nothing to change the systems that caused her problems.
Even that line about unions doing more than just protecting teachers from being fired gets it wrong. What does he say the union is protecting teachers from? “The negative effects of dysfunctional school systems.” I guess any school system that wants to fire a teacher is by definition dysfunctional.
Tuthill gets a little maverick cred simply for mentioning the fact that unions do help prevent teachers from being fired, but is that all it takes to render Tuthill’s move to the school choice movement a yawner?
With all due respect to ALELR, if Tuthill has signed on to lead the charge for school choice, it’s clear that he’s made a lot of progress since 1997. Dogs and cats are indeed living together. Now it’s just a question of how many more politicians realize that they can save the educational lives of millions of registered voters.