Politics in Sacramento makes for strange mathematics.Â Earlier this week, for example, five became eight in Democrat-controlled Assembly committees.Â At issue was Assembly Bill 2160, the California Teachers' Association's controversial attempt to expand radically the union's control over our children's education.Â Between Tuesday and Thursday, to borrow the Sacramento Bee's description,Â "five stooges" on the Public Employees, Retirement and Social Security Committee morphed into "eight stooges" on the Education Committee as Democrats committee members made sure, in turn, that AB 2160 reached the Assembly floor in a form acceptable to the CTA.Â Five became eight because eight votes were necessary to pass the bill out of the Education Committee.Â Presumably, had ten votes been needed, five would have become ten.
If the CTA has its way, eight will soon become 41, the votes necessary to pass AB 2160 in the whole Assembly.Â This would defy both common sense and a very nervous Governor Gray Davis, who is on record as opposing AB 2160.Â When the CTA flexes its muscles, however, assembly members tend to wilt, especially Democrats.Â The CTA's 330,000 members, both willing and unwilling, and its millions of dollars in political donations to Democrats have that effect.Â The bill's opponents fear, therefore, that with some window dressing amendments to provide cover, the fifty member Democrat majority in the Assembly will pass the bill and the governor, who is up for re-election this year, will go along.
If AB 2160 passes, only the CTA benefits.Â The rest of us, especially those with children in public schools, suffer. The bill adds ten specific categories to collective bargaining.Â All are bad.Â The worst, however, give the union authority over our children's education, soup to nuts.Â They add to the bargaining process decisions on educational materials including textbooks, local standards for achievement, course content, educational objectives, curriculum, and programs designed to encourage parental involvement in student education.
Some people think that last item particularly bold, and shocking.Â Not content with controlling the actual educational process from beginning to end, the union looks to decide where parents are allowed to be involved in their children's learning.Â CTA representatives, who are not necessarily the same folks as classroom teachers, will essentially exercise veto power over ideas about parental participation in schools that originate with parents or local school boards.Â If you and your board, for instance, want access to your child's schoolwork as well as homework, you might be frustrated if union representatives take the position that such material should only be available to "professionals."
There are many other reasons, of course, for concern over what is described variously as a union power grab, an attempt to prevent educational accountability, and a "frontal assault on education reform."Â The California School Board Association, for example, objects to taking money out of educational resources to pay for what will be much more complex collective bargaining and bemoans the likely prolonging of the bargaining process because it would now touch upon everything schools do.Â Â There is also concern that teachers, who already take part in all the things AB 2160 reaches, would essentially be shunted aside as professional union representatives take over all the details of education the process.
In the final analysis, AB 2160 is most objectionable because it places more barriers between the public and public education.Â The bill's supporters apparently desire a system where union representatives and professional educators get together to decide things, shutting out nonprofessionals like parents.Â The American Federation of Teachers, supporting the bill, predicts that it will lead to "enhanced cooperation between educators and administrators."Â What group is missing in that formula?
In a district close to mine, a school administrator recently complained that parents were protesting because his school "requires voluntary service" from students.Â Without a hint that there is something fishy about required voluntary service, the administrator made clear that he considered parental objections intolerable.Â One can imagine what he and similarly minded professionals might do if AB 2160 becomes law.
Occasionally, the public turns on the educational establishment.Â In 1998, voters passed Prop. 227, which assures English language teaching in most of our classrooms.Â For the educational establishment, this was an affront, although by virtually all accounts the results have been quite positive.Â If AB 2160 passes, even in an amended form, it may be necessary for the public to travel that route again.