Governor Walker does a 180 on unions

I couldn’t help but smile when I read this morning about the support that Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker is giving to union workers. Governor Walker, through his politics and policies, has sought to dismantle teachers’ unions (as well as those that represent nurses) in his home state. Now, he’s doing a 180 of sorts in his call for the return of unionized—and currently locked out—NFL referees.

I guess for Governor Walker what’s good for professional football—well prepared and compensated referees who have pensions that encourage them to remain in the profession—isn’t good for public schools and teachers. Team owners have decided to sacrifice valuable experience and expertise instead of spending more money. In the meantime, 1,500 years of collective experience on the field are being lost as substitute referees man NFL games. Team owners have decided to sacrifice

Walker’s words are timely, considering much of the nation is still attuned to the teachers’ strike in Chicago, and the factors at play there. Matt Miller, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, has noted of late that there is a lot “lost in the clash” between school reformers (e.g., Mayor Rahm Emanuel) and teachers’ union leaders (e.g., Karen Lewis).

I suspect the same can be said for what ails NFL management and the referees’ union.

According to Miller, at the “heart” of the Chicago public schools kerfuffle is money—because that’s what it takes “to boost teacher salaries to attract and retain decent talent.” That in turn, he says, ensures that all students—no matter where they live—have access to high-quality teaching and learning opportunities. Miller’s take is that simply making students go to school for more days or evaluating teachers primarily on the basis of test scores will not solve the underlying problem: gross inequity of funding in public education.

Don’t get me wrong: there is much more to school reform than additional dollars. And the unions should not expect more pay and benefits for its members without a teacher evaluation system that draws on student learning results. But reformers miss the mark when they insist on evaluation systems that rely on statistical tools that can easily misidentify teachers as “good” or “bad.”

They also miss the mark when they press for a longer school year for students by hiring ill-trained (and cheaper) novices instead of laid-off (and more experienced) veterans. And they surely miss the mark when they want to extend the school year without supplying the resources students need—including textbooks, computers, and classrooms that do not freeze in the winter and swelter in the summer. What’s also missing is high-quality professional development for all teachers in the school system.

Similarly, NFL team owners have clearly prioritized saving money over valuing professional experience and expertise. One of the many consequences of the replacement referees is the loss of more than 1,500 years of experience on the field.

It seems that Governor Walker, now that these inept substitute referees robbed his beloved Green Bay Packers of a sure victory, has learned something about the importance of investing in people as a key lever for quality control. He has made quite a turn—though I suspect his views on the NFL referees’ union won’t affect his views on teaching and learning.

It’s time that we extend the same benefits and open thinking we give our sports teams to our public schools and teachers.

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