It will never be said that Illinois’s Republican Gov Bruce Rauner is a friend to teachers’ unions, at least not after what he said at the 60th annual national seminar for the Education Writers Association in Chicago on April 20.
He set the tone for the seminar for education journalists, putting education in a very important place in the national agenda, the EWA reported on its blog.
“You name the issue we face within our nation, education may not be the sole solution to the problem, but it’s a major building block to the solution to the challenge,” the EWA quoted him as saying. “Nothing we do together as a society is more important than education.”
But after the niceties, he laid in to teachers’ unions.
“We have a broken system that’s not working for parents and taxpayers,” he said. “I love teachers, but … the schools don’t belong to the teachers’ union. [Unions] have a voice—and they should have a voice—but the schools don’t belong to the teachers’ union.”
Mr Rauner then asserted that education decision-making should be put in the hands of parents and taxpayers.
Although I’m no big fan of teachers’ unions—the response from Illinois Federation of Teachers President Dan Montgomery was a mess—I completely disagree with Mr Rauner’s plan to leave education decision-making up to taxpayers and parents of students who are now enrolled in our public schools. My kids, and a lot of other parents’ kids, go to those schools, too.
I also disagree with his idea in that federal courts at the appellate level have been clear (see comments) that parents don’t have any right to tell the public schools how to operate. Parents have the right to the upbringing of their child, yes, but if those parents decide to send their children to the public schools, the same ones my children and the children of many diverse parents attend, then they need to follow the same rules I’m following.
They have no more or less right than I do about handling the educational decision-making or the running of those schools. Those decisions and that authority our courts have left to the educators who know how to run the schools as a result of their training and education.
Furthermore, a public school is accountable to the taxpayers and voters, not to the taxpayers and parents. I have as much right as any “parent” to tell the public schools how to teach or what to teach children—which is, as I believe, no right at all. But public schools are accountable to me as a taxpayer and voter in that the school board has to win elections (in most districts). Public schools therefore answer yes to each of the following questions:
- No matter what, do you promise never to turn my child away?
- Can I see your financial statements any time I want to?
- Do you hold all meetings in public and give people a fair chance to speak?
Mr Montgomery’s response, intended to question Mr Rauner’s selection as a speaker at the seminar, criticized the governor’s proposed budget, which cuts after-school programs and several other K-12 program, like Advanced Placement, as well as a few higher education initiatives.
“Gov Rauner ought to take notes, not give a lecture on the right way to fund education,” he said, WGN-TV reported. “You can’t invest in the future of Illinois by cutting successful programs that allow our young people to excel and gutting resources for higher education.”
It’s fair criticism, since Mr Rauner is the governor, but that also means he wasn’t a bad choice to speak at the seminar for education journalists. His opinion on issues in education is very important and needs to be reported fairly.
Once we get past the rhetoric, which may never happen, we can focus on the issues facing our schools. We should start with the question of who actually runs our schools. Here’s a hint: It’s not the parents of students who are now going to those schools.
Mr Rauner raised some good points, though, about testing and the “corrupting influence” of teachers’ unions. He said he’s not sure how he feels about the PARCC tests yet, but that some objective measure of student learning growth is required if we are to hold schools accountable.
“I feel like [the PARCC tests are] going to get dummied down and politicized and manipulated,” he said. “And I certainly don’t want the federal government controlling curriculum in our classrooms. … But we do need a consistent, rigorous, objective way to measure student growth. We can’t truly hold our schools accountable if we don’t measure growth.”