Monday, July 20, 2009

Union Forces NY Schools Fire Teaching Assistants?

I read this article in the NY Times today about schools being forced to fire parent-paid teaching assistants all over the city. This seems like one of the most egregious cases of union idiocy that I've ever seen.

Essentially, top public schools in Manhattan have raised funds from parents to provide teaching aids to over-full classes. The aids are not unionized, and make far less than unionized paraprofessionals. They also seem to have different responsibilities -- they help escort children to the nurse, tie shoes, hand out papers -- than paraprofessionals. The article describes these lower-paid assistants' roles as non-instructional.

The union filed a grievance and got the school system to agree to stop employing these people because they are not union members and because they have not undergone the system-level background checks (the principals were conducting their own hiring and background checks). Here is the quote from a union official: "'It’s hurting our union members, and to some extent it could be hurting kids because we don’t know how qualified they are,' said Ron Davis, a spokesman for the United Federation of Teachers."

Well this sentence pretty much sums it up. "It's hurting union members, and that's more important than kids or families." Clearly, the union doesn't care about preserving jobs, it cares about preserving union jobs. The union is all for the working man, as long as he pays into union coffers. (Also, "to some extent it could be hurting kids"? That's as damning as he can get? Someone needs to send this guy to debate class, because that's not going to convince anyone of anything.)

The parents are, not surprisingly, outraged:
  • “The reason the teaching assistants are here is because they’ve been stuffing so many kids in these classes,” said Patrick J. Sullivan, co-president of the Parent-Teacher Association at the Lower Lab School (P.S. 77), where parents spend $250,000 a year on the teaching assistants. “Nobody wants to break any rules, but 28 is just too many kids for one teacher.”
  • “How much do parents have to put up with?”
  • “This is not like the movers and shakers of Wall Street; this is a middle-class school,” said Emily Heckman, whose 7-year-old son will be entering second grade. “We’re doing this because we’re stuck — we have kids coming out of the windows.”
Now, clearly there is an equality issue going on here. The more affluent parents can afford to pay the salaries of these assistants, while schools in poor communities have to deal with over-enrollment without the help. But the solution isn't to take resources away from the wealthy schools, it's to bring those resources to the poor schools as well. Additionally, doesn't it make sense to expand the staffs the high-functioning schools and therefore allow more children to attend? Then more kids get a better education.

I don't claim to be some kind of expert in the world of NY schools, and I can admit that I may be missing something. If anyone has some plausible explanation for why the schools should be prohibited from hiring these people, I'd love to hear it. Otherwise, it seems to me that the UFT just cost 290 people their jobs because they weren't getting a piece of the pie.


Kings said...

I would expect that the motive was to ultimately get these people in the union and paid a fair wage, to force the city to use its own funds to provide the needed services and to avoid putting too many kids in a classroom.

As long as the better-off parents help do the city's job, the city is not going to live up to its responsibilities and the kids at the bottom, as usual, lose out.

Title I said...

Interesting. I wonder what the status is of those in DCPS who are employed by the wealthy PTAs?

I think this is one of those areas that has been largely ignored. Some of these PTAs in DC are raising nearly a half million dollars a year, with little or no real board oversight.

The Capitol Hill Cluster School PTA hasn't even bothered to file taxes in years, despite raising hundreds of thousand of dollars.

Don't suppose the Post is going to crack this story though?

Mr. Potter said...

We're in a recession, and the NYCPS school district is in a hiring freeze. So the district can't pay for these positions (at least not at this point in time). And now the teaching assistants have no wage. This doesn't make any sense to me.

Anonymous said...

Imagine how much support parents are going to offer next time any contract negotiations sour in those districts. Given the numbers involved and the obvious ceiling on how large this could grow worst case, couldn't the union have used this as an example to push for more resources. In the end, both the students and teachers get screwed.

Glenn Watson said...

Do teachers really want these underpaid under-trained people in their classroom. I'm a teacher and I know I wouldn't.

Toby said...

Though many have been nice as can be (or not), I've worked with many DCPS teachers' aides with questionable to awful skills. Just the other day, one confused perimeter and area when helping a student with an assignment, after hearing me discuss perimeter many times, and we haven't even started area. I've heard teachers' aides speak highly ungrammatical English, scream at kids, spank kids, get into fights with parents. Some of these have been weeded out by not being able to pass the paraprofesional Praxis, which looks like it's on an 8th grade math and English skills level. So many of the aides I've worked with over the years have rarely impressed me.

lodesterre said...

There's more to it than simply the union fighting against non-union or even the desire to get the aides decent paying jobs. The overcrowding of classrooms has been a problem in NYC, especially after Klein and Bloomberg took control of the schools. Schools were closed (much like here) and students were crowded into other schools; teacher positions were cut (hmmmmmm, much like here)and so the student to teacher ratio became huge.

Parents can make up for the lack of support as long as they have the money - this happens in DC as well. What the union is probably attempting is to not let Klein and Bloomberg off the hook for where they put the schools. I am not saying that this is right but just suggesting this may be one explanation.

It's not a bad idea to follow some of the NY teacher blogs. They offer insight on what Mayoral control of schools can bring to us. Also, since Madam Weingarten has honed in on the act around here we could get a good sense of what is in store for us in terms of concessions made. Some of the NY blogs are:

Teachable Moment
Accountable Talk
Schools Matter

All but Gothamschools can be found on blogspot.

Kings said...

Harry - I and others here can think of logical explanations for what happened in NY.

What about all those provisional teachers here in DC who were fired for no given reason? I believe your response was "sometimes people get fired."

Think of those poor teachers out on the street, think of the costs to replace them and consider that some classes might be overcrowded when replacements aren't found.

Anonymous said...

The people who were fired in DCPS were determined to be ineffective. That determination may have been right or may have been wrong, but someone still made it. The people in NY were fired because the union filed a grievance about the existence of their jobs. That's significantly different.

What does it say about the UFT that they got people fired to suit their own political agenda?

Kings said...

provisionary employees can be fired without a reason - just like principals and 825 staff.

Anonymous said...

It is important to look at this issue and take out the union presence at first. I say this because when many people hear the word "union" they automatically become suspicious about selfish motives and it clouds their judgment.

The original problem in NYC was that many classrooms were extremely overcrowded and teachers were overwhelmed with the high student teacher ratio. Parents were very concerned for a whole host of reasons so they devised a plan to hire classroom helpers.

Problem #1 with this plan- this takes pressure off the school leadership to address the overcrowding problems that plagues the system. Although parents may still be concerned with the number of students in each class, the helper being in the classroom minimizes the outrage. The issue of overcrowding gets put to the back burner.

Problem #2- Even though these helpers have been born out of the best of intentions, the fact remains that they have not had proper training and clearance. To argue "so what" because some DC aides speak poorly and yell a lot is a distraction. We need to be moving in the direction of hiring more qualified aides in DC and NYC not make up excuses why hiring untrained people is okay.

Problem #3- It is an indisputable fact that workers who belong in unions get better pay and benefits. Last year Rhee hired a contract company to hire many aides in DCPS. We had both the contractor aides (non union) and the union aides at our school. Even though both groups are underpaid which is why it is more difficult to attract more talented individuals, the contractor group gets crappier pay and benefits. Last school year it was a revolving door with them because once they found a better paying jobs they left.

It may have come across as the union only caring about itself and not the kids. The reality is the NYC school leaders are attempting to erode workers rights but siphoning off union jobs. What is wrong with people having a livable wage and basic workplace rights?

Sarah said...

I'm a teacher at a New York public school whose PTA raises money each year to pay for assistants in the classroom. At my school, each kindergarten and first grade classroom has an aide. As a former first grade teacher, I can tell you that having an aide was invaluable. Most of the aides are education grad students looking to pay their way through grad school while gaining experience. The assistants at my school are excellent. With class sizes at my school ballooning (kindergarten classes had 25+ kids per class this past year, with an increase in size expected for next year) the assistants are necessary.

Also, the assistants gain invaluable experience, working as apprentices for a year before taking their own teaching positions.

It's baffling that the union decided to take issue with this matter. I was once a strong union supporter, but as a NYC teacher it is becoming more difficult to stand behind my union.

Should well-off parents have to do the city's job by helping to reduce the burden on teachers who have large classes? No, but with class size limits that are astronomical, parents with the means should be allowed to supplement their child's education.

Kings said...

" parents with the means should be allowed to supplement their child's education."

And what about parents without the means? Do you support institutionalizing disparity in the public schools based on parent income? Do you support management increasing class size, knowing that wealthy parents will be able to subsidize aides and low-income parents will not?

Couldn't these education students volunteer as aides as some parents do, or receive stipends from their universities? Their experience would be just as valuable.

lodesterre said...

This is exactly what the "reform" minded-ed mayor of NY and his Chancellor are doing - dividing the public school parents and teachers and further eroding the public school system. Under their lights we will soon have a system that is based on what you pay. To hell with providing all schools with the basic necessities they need to teach the children. Your school overcrowded? Tough luck for you if you can't afford an aide.

They created this in NY by closing schools and dumping students into other schools and forcing the issue on the parents. So now these parents who can afford the aides pay twice - once in being taxed and twice in paying out of pocket for teaching aides. Eventually these parents say "to hell with public school" and they either jump to private or form a charter. Thus you have the end of public education. Oh, right, I forgot, charters are public schools - except for those who "can't be taught".