Thursday, March 04, 2010

Rank and File Teachers Fight Back Against the Post

Following is an open letter sent by a group of Montgomery County public school teachers to the Post's editorial board about their recent editorials targeting the Montgomery County Education Association (MCEA). The letter is not an official communication from the union.

An Open Letter to the Washington Post Editorial Board:

Who is Turning Democracy Upside Down?

Over the course of the past few years many of us who teach in public schools and remain loyal subscribers to the Washington Post have observed an anti-public schoolteacher bias in both the nature of your editorials and content. Most recently, an editorial entitled “Rotten Apple” followed by a lead story in metro section entitled “District reported 220 allegation of abuse by teachers,” then again in an editorial entitled “Union Scare Tactics” and once again in “Cash in the Barrel” ignited those of us who are both public school teachers and loyal Post subscribers to act. For this reason many of us are cancelling or suspending our subscription to the Post for a week.

The bias is most prominently featured on the editorial page in articles such as “Rotten Apple” and “Union Scare Tactics” in one-sided attacks against the need to fairly compensate teachers via broad side attacks and innuendo against those organizations that work on our behalf to ensure excellent public schools, fair working conditions and adequate pay. Ironically, these broad attacks against public school teachers are being put forth by a newspaper whose parent company’s KAPLAN INC is in direct competition for public school tax dollars with unionized public schools teachers.

To claim that organizations such as Montgomery County Education Association do not represent classroom teachers infers that we, classroom instructors, are either too unintelligent to select good union representation or are cynical, money grubbing dead weight unqualified to shape this nation’s future, who hide behind our unions for protection. Neither is true! Unions such as the Montgomery County Education Association provide a critical check to administrative demands, which too often are poorly thought out or have the potential to result in a weaker teaching corps. The existence of effective teacher unions is the reason why public educations in states with union friendly laws tend to be so much stronger than public education in right-to-work states.

In “Rotten Apple,” “Union Scare Tactics” and “Cash in the Barrel” the Post used ambivalent language in its claim that Montgomery County teachers received a 23% raise in the past three years and failed to recognize that we elected to allow the county to break its contract with us that would have resulted in a 5% Cost of Living Adjustment in 2009. Federal government employees received a 21.5% pay increase using the Post criteria during the same time. Context is important!

The Post also claimed that MCEA shakes down political candidates in return for an endorsement. In reality, MCEA asked these candidates to contribute to the MCEA PAC so that it can put out promotional materials that would benefit the endorsed candidates. Unfortunately, MCEA’s PAC is not as well endowed as those representing the private sectors in a large part because its members earn modest salaries. Candidates voluntarily give to the MCEA PAC in order to promote their candidacy not because the union’s toxicity, but as a result of its credibility with Montgomery County voters in promoting what is good for public education.

The Post’s parent company generates over $2.3 billion in revenues from Kaplan INC, a for-profit education service corporation. Some of those revenues have gone to subsidize the continued publication of the Washington Post. Kaplan benefits from the negative depiction of public schools and public school teacher unions as it is in essence a competitor for tax dollars. One of the many services KAPLAN offers is curriculum development and assessments for troubled school districts such as those in Philadelphia. Another service includes state assessment preparation for students in such states as Florida. It also offers a virtual high school that draws revenues from public school contracts to service gifted, special needs and home and hospital students as well as others. These services siphon tax revenues into the coffers of private companies, which renders the Post’s tireless support of charter schools and vouchers not only diaphanous, but insidiously self-serving.

In 2008, KAPLAN provided CEO Jonathon Grayer $46 million compensation package upon receiving his resignation according to the Wall Street Journal. Yet, the Post complains that private sector wages are stagnant and that Montgomery County should not raise the $18 million needed to give over 11,000 teachers who are primarily responsible for MCPS’s strong educational reputation, (a fact conceded by the Post,) a raise that will help the Montgomery County teaching corps maintain salaries indexed for inflation. This is nothing short of sickening. Further, the claim that MCEA practices political “thuggery” and scare tactics put forth in each editorial strikes many of us as a multinational corporation using its newspaper to intimidate and belittle its competition.

Stop demonizing public school teachers and the unions that represent us and ask yourself - who is turning democracy upside down!

Marc Grossman – Montgomery Blair High School
Kevin Murley – Montgomery Blair High School
Pamela Bryant – Montgomery Blair High School
Liana E. Smith – Takoma Park Elementary School
Gloria Condelli – Sherwood High School
Janet Berry – Montgomery Blair High School
Daniel Hutton – Takoma Park Elementary School