Education International
Education International

Historian of education defends teachers’ right to organise

published 24 February 2011 updated 24 February 2011

Eminent academic Diane Ravitch has delivered a stinging rebuke of Wisconsin's Governor, Scott Walker, and his efforts to reduce pay of teachers and public sector workers, while restricting their collective bargaining and union rights.

In a article entitled ‘Why America's teachers are enraged’, Prof. Ravitch writes that “like other conservative Republicans, the Wisconsin governor wants to sap the power of public employee unions, especially the teachers' union, since public education is the single biggest expenditure for every state.”

She adds that “public schools in Madison and a dozen other districts in Wisconsin have closed as teachers joined the protest. Although Walker claims he was forced to impose cutbacks because the state is broke, teachers have noticed that he offered generous tax breaks to businesses that are equivalent to the value teachers are being asked to give up.”

From New York University's Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development, the research professor explains that “the uprising in Madison is symptomatic of a simmering rage among the nation's teachers. They have grown angry and demoralised over the past two years as attacks on their profession escalated.”

According to Ravitch, “the much-publicised film ‘Waiting for Superman’ made specious claims that ‘bad teachers’ caused low student test scores. A Newsweek cover last year proposed that the key to save American education was to fire bad teachers.”

Ravitch argues that the Obama administration's Race to the Top program has “intensified the demonising of teachers, because it encouraged states to evaluate teachers in relation to student scores.”

Of course, there are many reasons why students do well or poorly on tests, and teachers have felt they have been unfairly blamed when students get low scores, while the crucial role of statutory resources, families and the students themselves is overlooked.

On the unions’ roles, Ravitch warns: “Unions actively lobby to increase education funding and reduce class size, so conservative governors who want to slash education spending feel the need to reduce their clout. This silences the best organised opposition to education cuts.”

She suggests that “as the attacks on teachers increase and layoffs grow, there are likely to be more protests like the one that has mobilised teachers and their allies and immobilised the Wisconsin Legislature.”

Many EI members from around the world have written protest letters that agree with the sentiments expressed by Prof. Ravitch, and have called on public authorities in Wisconsin, USA, and elsewhere, stop their attacks on the teaching profession and hard working unions like the AFT and NEA who defend their members’ rights.

EI reiterates its support“to its affiliates in the United States, the AFT and NEA, in their vigorous campaign to fight regressive legislation that would deny state employees, including teachers, collective bargaining rights in Wisconsin, Idaho, Ohio, Tennessee, Indiana and elsewhere.”