What’s with Cleveland mayor’s assault on the city’s teachers?

Last summer, Cleveland mayor Frank Jackson stabbed the city’s teachers in the back with a letter to Governor Kasich, Speaker Batchelder and Majority Leader Niehaus, urging them to eliminate teacher protections and install a system of “merit” pay, unproven panaceas for “fixing” education that allow proponents to blame teachers for all that’s wrong with the schools and not address the real underlying problems.

This week, in a Plain Dealer story titled “Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson proposes sweeping plan to improve education for city students,” Jackson offers those nostrums again — and more.


Never mind that it was only, — what? — two years ago that we were sold the latest of a long line of “transformation” plans that were going to perform educational miracles in the Cleveland schools.

It’s more of the same:

Mayor Frank Jackson hopes to triple the number of Cleveland students attending good schools by throwing out union rules governing teacher pay and layoffs, partnering more with high-performing charter schools and giving successful district schools more flexibility in how they do their jobs. … It also continues Jackson's push last year to develop a merit pay system for teachers and to wipe out rules that make seniority the deciding factor in teacher layoffs.

Education has become the one issue where Democrats have gone off the rails, siding with those who cynically exploit educational shortcomings in the most challenging schools in a battle against unions and an attempt to steal public education money for private profit. And he’s doing all this to set up a tax levy. Good luck with that!

For me the most shocking and disrespectful aspect of the mayor’s plan — and the one that most likely dooms it — is that he did not consult the main stakeholders, parents and students, and those most affected by it and invested in it, the teachers. Oh, excuse me — the teachers UNION, because when you want to demonize teachers without appearing to do so, you attack the UNION, which actually IS them, but never mind.

The Plain Dealer says,

Mayor Jackson said he did not talk to the union before coming up with his latest plan because he wanted to avoid further delay.

“Our sense of urgency is such that something has to happen in a systemic way and it has to happen now."

Yes, because nothing makes radical change more effective than haste and failure to involve those most impacted.

Oh, but wait — what’s this?

Jackson did consult with the city's business community and has its backing for the plan. Representatives of the Cleveland Foundation and Greater Cleveland Partnership, the city's chamber of commerce, joined him and Gordon in Columbus to present the plan to Kasich. Alan Rosskamm, chief executive officer of the Breakthrough Schools, the charter school group working with the district also attended.

So — teachers were not consulted, principals apparently were not consulted, parents were not consulted. But a charter school officer, a foundation, and the city’s right-wing Republican chamber of commerce group were. The involvement of the Greater Cleveland Partnership especially is a slap in the face of teachers — bringing in outsiders with no stake or expertise in education but a highly specific political agenda that is hostile to those who spend all day every day in the schools and care the most about the students. Maybe the next time the city has some big development plans on the drawing board it should fail to consult with downtown business leaders but meet with teachers instead. It would make as much sense.

And given that the Greater Cleveland Partnership not only endorsed SB 5 but poured money into the campaign to prevent its repeal it’s hardly surprising that Cleveland Teachers Union President David Quolke

worried that the law changes Jackson is seeking from the legislature will mirror the controversial and overturned Senate Bill 5.

If I were a teacher, I’d be running as fast as possible to another school system. It's to the credit of these dedicated people that in spite of being smeared, demeaned, ignored, demoralized, paid peanuts, and treated like peons, many of them will stay on and try to make a difference for students whose real learning problem isn't the quality of teaching but the quality of their lives.

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