Wednesday, February 17, 2010

On the Post’s War Against MCEA, Part Three

The Washington Post has twice depicted the Montgomery County Education Association (MCEA) as a “toxic influence” seeking to “squeeze enormous concessions” from MoCo taxpayers despite conclusive data to the contrary. Why is the Post targeting the teachers?

First, the Post has a long and virulent history of breaking its own unions that continues to the present day. Of the newspaper’s seven collective bargaining agreements (CBAs), four have expired. The Post’s agreement with its 435 mailroom workers expired on 5/18/03 and the company imposed its last offer in 2006. Any organization with such a history is bound to be permeated with hostility to labor from top to bottom.

Second, the Post is ideologically predisposed towards charter schools and vouchers, running three editorials in favor of them in less than two weeks. At the same time, the Post’s own reporters published an article on a new study by UCLA branding charter schools as “more racially isolated than traditional public schools in virtually every state and large metropolitan area in the country.” We do not express an opinion about the merits of charter schools or vouchers in this blog post, but the Post’s vigorous pursuit of them and its complaint that union leaders are “disturbingly inflexible” on them illuminates a long-running grievance by the Post against teachers unions.

Third, the Post editorial board’s allergy towards school unions is manifested by its close relationship with D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee, who rightly or wrongly is at war with her own teachers union. Last month, Rhee got in trouble for telling Fast Company magazine that some of the teachers she had recently laid off had “hit children” or “had sex with children,” comments which she subsequently softened. Post schools reporter Bill Turque went after Rhee for the details of those allegations, but Rhee ignored him and went directly to Post editorial writer Jo-Ann Armao instead. The resulting editorial called on Rhee to explain her comments but also condemned the union for allegedly “enabling some of these unfit teachers to stay in the classroom.” Turque then called out the editorial writer for rewarding Rhee’s efforts to avoid him, saying that the editorial board “has been steadfast, protective and, at times, adoring” of Rhee. Turque also said the Post’s editorials provided “a guaranteed soft landing spot for uncomfortable or inconvenient disclosures - kind of a print version of the Larry King Show.” Turque’s comments provoked such rage from Post editorial boss Fred Hiatt that Turque’s essay was first deleted and then watered down with no explanation to Post readers. This incident shows that the Post editorial board will scoop its own reporters and its news editors will alter its reporters’ content after it has been published in service of the newspaper’s jihad against education unions. In the case of the Post’s pursuit of MCEA, its editorial writers acted without any corroboration from the paper’s reporters – further evidence of the Post’s eagerness to condemn school unions.

Fourth, the Post’s editorial board displays a willful ignorance of how success is achieved in public schools that could be dispelled from reading their newspaper’s own reporting. The Post has repeatedly praised MCPS Superintendent Jerry Weast for his tenure in MoCo’s schools. But Weast’s achievements have depended in part on his ability to build a partnership with MCEA and the other education unions. The MCPS peer review program for teachers was profiled by the Post last year and is an example of a reform that could not have been achieved without enlightened leadership by both labor and management. And former Post columnist Marc Fisher contrasted MCPS’s culture of cooperation favorably with the bludgeoning style of Post darling Michelle Rhee only a year ago. Without the genuine give-and-take relationship that has been carefully built by both Weast and the three school unions, the unions may not have voluntarily given up the cost-of-living increases contained in their contracts a year ago – a concession that has never been credited by the Post. The experience of MCPS shows that there is more to be gained by mutual labor-management respect than the crude union-bashing favored by the bosses of the Post.

Finally, the Post’s excessive rhetoric about MCEA suggests an emotional investment in blasting the union. Consider its language. “Toxic influence.” “Twisted system.” “Scare tactics.” “Political thuggery.” Such terminology is beneath the august standards established by the titans who built the Post into the area’s paper of record decades ago. The rhetoric is especially unworthy when it cannot be justified by the facts. If the Post continues down the road of wanton and baseless condemnation of the teachers union simply because it is a teachers union, it will not damage MCEA’s reputation nearly as much as it will damage its own.