Sunday, December 30, 2007

Why the irrational hatred of the UEA? Seriously...input please.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. Work and then play have kept me away from the blog for too long. Just watched Spiderman 3. I liked some parts and hated others. Won’t be hurrying to see it again. Anyway, I have a few things to bring up in the next couple weeks.

This is not principally a voucher post, but an article from about the #5 news story in Utah for 2007, School Vouchers, had comments that motivated me to get to this post I’d been working on. Here’s the link to the article and a couple pasted-in comments:

The real story was how the teachers unions and the government worshipers went around lying to people's faces about this.
by SAMSUNG @ 11:15pm - Fri Dec 28th, 2007

The teachers unions and the government worshipers went around lying and telling everyone that "vouchers will TAKE money from the public schools" when the truth was that the public schools got to KEEP thousands and thousands of dollars PER CHILD THAT THEY NO LONGER HAD TO EDUCATE!

This vote CLEARLY and OPENLY split the public into two camps: the government loyalists/government worshipers in one camp, and people who CAN DO MATH and who want CHOICE in education in the other camp. Sadly, the government worshipers won and this vote showed that most of the public in Utah consists of government worshipers who don't care about FACTS, only emotion.

UEA Worshippers...
by Byu beats utah!!! @ 7:24am - Sat Dec 29th, 2007

...were more of the problem in this instance. Roughly 40% of the electorate that cast ballots chose to vote for vouchers. Probably the majority of those who voted for vouchers including myself did so out of our disdain for the UEA. The UEA continues to fail Utah school children and families each year by fighting teacher qualification and other issues aimed at making classroom improvements, especially if it doesn't mean throwing a wad of money at the problem.
There are times when unions become too powerful and cumbersome, and the UEA isn't any different than the Iron and Steel Workers 25 years ago. Unions hate competition, and so I suspect that the legislature will allocate more funding for charter schools over the next few years, since the UEA hates charter schools nearly as much as vouchers.
The World is Our Campus!

by BYUROCKS @ 8:51am - Sat Dec 29th, 2007

That would be so funny the UEA is pure Evil

The UEA has a monopoly on education
by MaryT777 @ 4:34pm - Sat Dec 29th, 2007

There are a lot of parents that DO NOT agree with what is being taught in our public schools and would like more say on what our kids are taught. The UEA doesn't have any competition without the vouchers since most people cannot afford to send their children to private schools if they disagree with what their children are being taught. The UEA has failed Utah's children but for more money will "correct" their own problems. Private schools are more accountable than public schools since they cannot afford to lose money.

We won’t go into my embarrassment at the representation from my alma mater or all the details of who was lying about voucher finances—check earlier posts. But I honestly cannot understand why the UEA is such a lightning rod. The only substantial reason I can see is the UEA’s opposition to merit pay. I think there is a lot to that debate and I plan on posting my thoughts on that in the next few days. But is that “silver bullet” really the cure-all for education? There are no reasonable concerns about such a plan—the teachers are just looking out for themselves and don’t care about kids?

What I really want to know is why someone (you reading this post, another specific person, or a hypothetical person) specifically hates or vilifies the UEA. I can see where someone is coming from who disagrees on their merit pay stance, but I read so much bologna.

1. Intelligent, well-informed people voted against vouchers. This was an expression of public belief, not UEA “power.” That “power” is often attacked and exaggerated when people don’t want to admit that the average Utahn supports public education. If a lot of people disgree with a policy, it is more probable that they are informed than manipulated by the crafty science teacher next door.
I was disappointed in the defeat of Referendum 1. It would have had a better chance if citizens had done more research and understood it better. Lack of knowledge is intimidating, causing people to vote for the status quo. Do those who opposed vouchers really believe those who drew it up had a selfish agenda? Of course not. On the other hand the huge, impersonal, power hungry, liberal NEA union has pumped hundreds of thousands into Utah to defeat it. NEA does have a selfish agenda. The union's only objective is to protect their dues paying union members. As one past president of the teacher's union said, "I will start caring about kids as soon as kids start paying union dues." Those opposing vouchers joined hands with Ted Kennedy, Hillary Clinton, Al Gore and John Kerry to name a few. Ardent supporters were Governor Huntsman, Mitt Romney, Rudy Giuliani, and Orrin Hatch. Whose judgment do you trust most?
•Fay S. Parker Orem

However, one thing is now abundantly clear. The UEA has functionally demonstrated that it is the most powerful political entity in Utah. The UEA and its fellow travelers pulled out all the stops on killing the voucher law passed by the legislature earlier this year, and they won — big time. The UEA will come into the 2008 legislative season with more political power than it has ever had.

Expect to see the governor and the legislature led around like cattle. Oh, not every legislator will kowtow to the UEA, but I would be very surprised if the overall legislature didn’t act like a wholly-owned subsidiary of the UEA. This does not bode well for Utah’s school children or for Utahn’s in general. As Rep. John Dougall (R-AF) reports in this post, the UEA “opposes improving academic achievement.” Its practice is to stonewall and ignore when ideas are solicited for ways to improve, because the UEA is invested in the status quo.

Rep. Dougall writes, “To talk about improvement would require an openness to admit that some things can be done better. It would require a discussion about change and the UEA opposes change.” He says that “the UEA takes the approach that if you are not with them 100% of the time, then you are against them.”

Regardless of whether voters rejected vouchers because they believe the solution was flawed or because they are anesthetized into thinking that Utah’s schools are fantastic, the result is that the UEA will be even less incentivized to be part of the solution to Utah’s education problems.

Another lesson is pointed out by LaVarr Webb (here). He says that voucher proponents lost vital ground early in the campaign when they allowed “the education establishment [to] successfully fram[e] the debate as pro-public school vs. anti-public school.” Webb says, “An important political lesson here is to never allow your opponent to define you early in a campaign.”

Jesse Harris discusses a number of other flaws with the pro-voucher campaign in this post. The problems, he says, began with the legislative process. Years of compromise amounted to only minor tweaking. The result of the narrowly-passed bill was a law that was easy to demagogue. This process has unwittingly empowered the UEA; the very establishment voucher supporters sought to diminish.

2. The UEA is not a large organization secretly opposed to noble individual teachers. I am not a UEA expert, but I believe there’s like four paid state UEA people, and most of them besides the president still work in the classroom. The district and school rep’s get nothing for their extra time. Then there’s a few lobbyists whom I for one think are worth every penny. Senator Dayton tried to convince me in conversation that the UEA leaders actually try and keep teacher pay low or the UEA wouldn’t have reason to exist. Representative Dougall supposedly dazzles teachers with this pearl of wisdom as well:
(I would love to hear the other side of the story from a teacher who has had such a conversation w/ Rep. Dougall.)
This view is sometimes justified by saying the union focused too much on class size rather than pay. (But the teachers are than called whiners for asking for pay raises—catch-22…) Discipline problems and workload directly related to class size contribute as much or more to teacher attrition as low compensation. I strongly considered quitting after my first year of teaching because of those issues.

3. In a related point, the UEA does not focus exclusively on teacher salary at the expense of other priorities. (You can see from the last point that what exactly the UEA does so evilly varies when necessary to make a point.) However, salary and the ability to make a career out of teaching directly impact the classroom and are legitimate concerns of anyone in education. When 50-year-old starter homes in Orem are close to $200,000 and a 4th year teacher qualifies for WIC if he has two kids (Discussing this at lunch, I found that many of the older teachers’ kids got reduced-price or free school lunches for years because they fell under the poverty guidelines.), I worry about paying for my kids’college and my retirement. I don’t think that is greedy or unreasonable.

4. The UEA is composed of individual teachers who live in your neighborhood. They are not liberal bogeymen/women. Ask them their opinion rather than insulting them en mass behind their backs.

5. The UEA does not make specific curriculum decisions. The state school board and state curriculum committees do. Local school boards and district curriculum committees do too. Teachers and school or district administrations butt heads all the time. They work together, but also disagree on priorities sometimes. I can see legitimate concerns about bureaucracy and administrative pay, but why are those things blamed on the UEA? (And I believe all of Utah’s districts are all on the top 1% of fewest #’s of district personnel per student. I would be happy to see $50,000 lopped off the Alpine superintendent’s salary and some off of the assistant superintendents and others…but how many more teachers would that money really pay for? The funding problems in education are much deeper than a few administrators.)

6. Also, the UEA does not directly receive money from the state. Teachers voluntarily pay dues if they wish. I really like Jeremy’s blog. This comment came from his post worrying about the “status quo” after the defeat of vouchers. It is a perfect example of the vague anger I see at the UEA's supposed influence:
There are few things that make me really angry and frustrated.
The UEA is one of those things. (or I should say, groups of people). They seriously need to be taken down, or at least, changed so that they don’t have so much power over the money earmarked for various aspects of education. Money just seems to dissappear in their swollen, red tape infested belly.
Whoo. That felt good…
Comment by nosurfgirl — November 9, 2007 @ 12:20 pm

7. The UEA does not employ goons to ensure conformity. This is an exchange I had with another commenter on a blog. I cut down the original post to its barest bones—enough to understand the context of the comments below. There are a lot of other comments besides mine and David’s, but these are relevant to my post here.
Original post summarization:
Potential Myth #1 – Spending more on education will improve education….The UEA and all their teachers keep asking us to throw more money at the problem. Perhaps we should find out if that’s a successful method before we spend the money.
Potential Myth #2 – Teachers are underpaid.

Comment from David James
Time: November 14, 2007, 9:04 pm
Perhaps you could help me with this one. I believe the union contract calls for 7 hour days. And if you’re a teacher, try staying after union quitting time–you’ll be hearing about it whether your a union member or not (ever notice how teacher parking lots at school clear at a certain time each day?) I assume that many teachers take work home (doesn’t every professional?) but it is kept pretty invisible.

Comment from UtahTeacher
Time: November 14, 2007, 10:43 pm
Some of the comments above just blow me away. What schools are they claiming to watch and on what days? A large percentage of teachers are at my school hours past contract time everyday, just doing their normal planning and grading. And we all use more family time to supervise extra activities like concerts, plays, dances, etc., sometimes getting paid a generous $7 hourly wage for that. The anti-UEA stuff is kinda, sorta understandable with many negative union stories nationwide, but have you actually talked to a teacher, whether member or not? To think that the two dedicated, middle-aged union reps at my school, who often stay late themselves, would pressure someone to leave early instead of doing a good job is ridiculous in every sense. The supposed union arm twisting does not happen. They distribute information and encourage everyone to join with a couple flyers. Really talk to a teacher from your neighborhood and ask them. The stuff floating around is just silly.

Comment from David James
Time: November 15, 2007, 5:02 pm
Yes, I have. She is my sister. I backed that up with conversations with my niece. No giant conspiracy this time. Sorry.

Comment from UtahTeacher
Time: November 16, 2007, 8:02 am
I’m not sure exactly what you mean by conspiracy, but the experiences you mention are so completely foreign to anything I have seen, that I really do have trouble believing it. I know teachers in many different districts, in elementary and secondary, and I’ve never heard of the union discouraging teachers from working. On the contrary, we’re always sympathizing with each other on all of the papers we have to correct and how much we have to prepare. (Insert anti-UEA whining/belly aching comment here.) I see teachers in school late, early, and on weekends. It doesn’t even make sense that the union would want to limit teachers working from a negotiation standpoint–why try and make your job look easier if you’re seeking higher salaries and smaller class sizes?
David, we don’t know each other, so it is impossible for me to completely evaluate your assertions. I see anti-UEA stuff on any local news comment board and many blogs, and I don’t believe that most of them argue with anything beyond hyperbole. I think they see what they want to see, and no doubt, they think that as a teacher I do the same thing. Anyone else, I repeat my request that you ask a teacher or teachers you know about this. If David’s relatives really feel pressure to leave after 7 1/2 hours (my contract time), I submit it’s an isolated, overzealous exception. The union rep’s in my school are good teachers who work hard, advocate for causes I support, and listen to my input, even though I am not a paying union member. I’d love to hear what anyone else finds out.

8. The UEA did not “lie” or spread misinformation about vouchers. The KSL "truth test" was wrong and KSL tried to spin it when PCE used their bad report in mailings. (See my Nov. 4th post) This next comment came from a discussion of the ridiculous USU study used to claim billions in voucher studies. I don’t know if this David is the same David as above.

Where do you get your facts? I read the USU study and thought it gave some very true and interesting points and remains neutral. No one has been more manipulative in this whole race than the UEA. I know that both sides have done their fair share of stretching the truth but PCE has only been fighting to keep up with the competition. And why do we not trust those that almost definitely know more than we do about the issue. The legislators that decided to pass the bill had studied this option for years…

9. The UEA is not unionized “against the people.” You can’t have it both ways—the same “big government” that is railed against for trying to “control” education is the same one that teachers try to influence for the good of students and teachers. The government does not purely represent “the people.” Beyond all of the PCE donations to individual campaigns in 2004 and 2006 (FAAAAR beyond UEA donations. The millions spent in 2007 by both sides of Ref. 1 went to advertising, not campaign donations.), or lobbyist influence in general, we live in a republic and most public employees are just regular peons like everybody else. Our livelihoods are affected even more directly by the whims of the legislature than a private-sector employee who is affected indirectly by taxes and regulations, and we pay our same share of those taxes.

10. Many teachers regard the UEA as a professional organization like the Bar Association or AMA. It is inherently political as well as developmental because education is a government function.

11. "Throwing more money at education" is a myth, deliberate misnomer, and smear. Public education funding increases have never surpassed inflation of gas, heat, construction costs, higher education costs, groceries, etc. It has barely even kept pace. There has never been excess money "thrown" at education--it has always been underfunded. Allocating more funds to reach desired ratios and goals is not "throwing" money at a problem. "Give me a solution that doesn't involve throwing more money at the system" is code for "Funds have always been stretched by the number of kids in Utah, but I don't want to admit that because I have an agenda."

So after all that, why are you opposed to the UEA? Or why not? Or what do you agree or disagree with them about? Does the hatred really just boil down to merit pay? Does your perception or the public perception of the UEA square with reality? Are my perceptions wrong? Please comment.


Jeremy said...

Wow...this post is awesome. I was raised a UEA hater and I still cringe whenever I read those initials.

There was a teacher strike when I was in high school. My parents and many others expressed a lot of bitterness at the irresponsibility of teachers and their union for causing so much inconvenience. I don't know what the issues were then but that bitterness sticks with me to this day. Your post does a good job expressing in words what the real issues are beyond the knee jerk anti-union bitterness.

I am glad you posted a response to the "smaller class size vs. better teacher pay" debate that is being framed by some in the discussion on how to get more quality teachers in our state. I read the the recent Utah Taxpayer Association post ( ) which denegrates the idea of smaller class size and mostly agreed with them. I didn't like their typical insistence on using obviously unrealistic numbers to make their point but I agreed that smaller classes cost a lot more than they might be worth. Your perspective as a teacher and the troubles with huge classes helps the other side get some attention.

Thanks for this will take some time to digest. You've definitely provided a lot to think about. I do think merit pay could be a silver bullet worth a serious fight...but I'm also willing to be shown where I'm wrong :-)

Jesse Harris said...

My biggest problem with all teachers' unions is that they are ineffective at their core mission and thus are a corrupt drag on teacher salaries. Despite more than doubling inflation-adjusted education spending over the last four decades, teacher salaries have been flat during the same period. That's a pretty crappy job negotiating compensation for the rather large budgets that unions work with.

I just can't see how a group powerful enough to stare down the legislature can tuck tail and run when confronting district superintendents, you know? I wonder how long it'll take before teachers figure out they're being scammed.

UtahTeacher said...


Thanks. I was raised in a very pro-education family, even though my dad is a hardcore Republican involved in local caucuses. (Utah in a nutshell. He often agrees with me about a specific issue, and personally knows Republican legislators whom he dislikes...yet he still votes for them rather than vote for a Democrat.) I vaguely remember a strike from elementary/middle school years, and I was out of the country during the last strike in the late 90's. My school AEA rep says those two strikes made him disassociate from the union for awhile, and I would tend to agree with him. I want to be in the classroom even when I'm annoyed at the legislature. I only know only one teacher at my school, a California transplant who thinks the teachers should fight much harder for higher salaries like in his home state, who would support something like that. But that illustrates the true lack of power of the UEA (My point #1). They make a lot of noise and get news coverage...and what? Senator Dayton mentioned how mad she felt over the UEA's "paving over the backs of students" ad campaign a couple years ago. (The legislature assigned tons of surplus to transportation in '06 when polls and the UEA wanted more for education. I feel we direly need both and it's a tough call, but I definitely believe that many legislators have a personal grudge against education.) The legislature was pilloried in editorials and in polls, but the money still got assigned to roads, none of the Republicans got ousted (well, PCE picked off a few anti-voucher Republicans, but with other Republicans), and business went on on usual. Polls support giving more money to education all the time, but legislators know that doesn't translate to the ballot box. How many teachers are there compared with habitual Republicans like my dad? The UEA has some token influence and gets some publicity, but the public only got really mad and acted with the rich money grab of vouchers.

Class-size: think of a birthday party at your house, a scout troop, a Sunday School class, soccer practice, etc. Any group of kids needing to be led in an activity. Add 5 kids and tell me it doesn't make a difference in your ability to organize and your stress level. It's huge. I can completely and easily tell the difference between my classes with 32 students and 27 students. (Occasionally just one kid when certain ones are absent...) Saying that class size reduction is pointless unless it gets to 15 is a deliberate attempt to make the issue seem unappealing to the Republican core. I would LOVE to have a cap at 25! Each class would be more effective and my personal workload (7 classes x approx. 5 fewer kids = 35 fewer papers to grade each assignment) would be down over a full class. But it's true, this would cost major $ as you hire other teachers to cover those classes.

Thanks for your comment. I was actually thinking of your flat salary comments while writing the post. I've seen you make the statement, but I haven't dug back through your blog to see the numbers. Could you link me to your blog or somewhere else that explains those numbers. It doesn't surprise me too much. I was discussing this with some teachers at lunch. We disagree with the perception that the district sucks up these huge increases. We feel most of it does get to us. (We do disagree on the flat $2500 vs % in normal salary ladder, but that's another post as well as discussing district personnel more in depth.) We also need computer labs, books, and counselors. I agree my superintendent is overpayed--although that doesn't anger me nearly as much as auto-salary increases and lifetime insurance for the legislature!--but if you cut his salary and all the other district personnel over $100,000 down to $100,000, how many more teachers are you really going to hire? Or if you raise salaries with that $, I think it would be few hundred per teacher.

All that supposed growth in spending went mostly to student growth in the form of more personnel and buildings, and also more utilities, higher priced utilities, bus service and gas, increased insurance costs, increased cost of new technology in schools, etc. I agree that Utah is taxed and there is no easy solution to money problems and salary is not most teacher's number one concern. (Top five for sure though...=) ) The union reflects those priorities and fights for or against other issues besides salary.

Jesse Harris said...

Both the NEA and AFT (page 3, PDF) show flat teacher salaries in separate surveys.

While I can appreciate increased costs, the stark reality is that foreign countries (like Japan, Singapore, Finland, etc.) all spend a lower percentage of GDP on education and regularly outperform us. I think we need to figure out what it is they're doing and start trying to make it happen here.

CraigJ said...

Outstanding post.

The UEA is a great bunch - committed, loyal, and passionate about doing what's best for children (Jeremy we should talk sometime :-)). I've learned much from them and am amazed at how much garbage they take. Do they act on their convictions? Yes. To do otherwise would be chicken.

As for small class sizes, the Utah Taxpayers Association is simply trying to absolve responsibility by minimizing the effects. Does this make you wonder what type of businesses these folks run and the way they view their employees?

There's a heck of a lot more to education than successful test taking. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to understand the true benefits of more individualized attention to student needs, increased ability to deal with disciplinary issues and a fairer working environment for teachers.

The bogus UTA arguments remind me of those who say that global warming is bunk despite 99% of the scientific community saying otherwise.

UTA was wrong about vouchers and they're wrong now about class size reduction. Besides, what possible motivation do they have to improve public schools - that would only mean less of a market for their membership.