WEAC and MTEA: This Is War (I Expect)

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Category: Education & Law, Milwaukee Public Schools
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The decision by the state’s largest teachers organization, the Wisconsin Education Association Council (WEAC), to alter its stands on teacher evaluation and advocate breaking from the traditional method of paying teachers was not such a huge surprise for those who had been following statements from union leaders in recent months. The educational and political landscapes have changed, and the union wants to play a role in big decisions coming soon.

But the WEAC stand in favor of breaking up Milwaukee Public Schools into “smaller, more manageable districts” caught people (count me in) off guard. It’s just not something to which the union had shown previous inclination. And the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association, WEAC’s largest affiliate, strongly opposes such ideas.

There were clear indications in the way things happened this week that the gap between leaders of WEAC and the MTEA is now wide and sharp, and communication among them is not friendly. 

Consider what the MTEA said Tuesday on its Web site (www.mtea.org):

“The first time WEAC provided MTEA leaders with any information about their proposals was through a phone call Monday.  WEAC had already informed legislators of its proposals.

“MTEA President Mike Langyel told WEAC that our union absolutely opposed breaking up our district and asked WEAC to cancel the news conference.  WEAC refused.”

This doesn’t sound like one of the verses of “Solidarity Forever.”  And telling legislators before telling the local union that would be affected shows where WEAC’s feelings are about the MTEA. History and the dynamics of the current situation both suggest this gap will have a significant life span, and it may have a bearing on issues that go well beyond whether MPS should be broken into pieces.

I need to look back into history a bit, but I know there was a rupture between WEAC and the MTEA in, I believe, the 1970s and ‘80s. The MTEA withdrew from WEAC and held its own teachers’ convention each fall, among other things. Eventually the two re-united, but relations have been uneasy. In addition, relations between WEAC and the Madison teachers’ union have a long history of rockiness.

Some regard WEAC as primarily identifying with teachers in the out-state districts, while the MTEA, of course, is all about Milwaukee and MPS. One of the unspoken messages in the WEAC announcement Tuesday is how little sympathy there is for MPS and the MTEA outside of Milwaukee, even from fellow unionists. That is almost certain to be a relevant dynamic at a time when Milwaukee has so little political clout in Madison and so many big issues about education are going to be decided in Madison.

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6 Responses to “WEAC and MTEA: This Is War (I Expect)”

  1. Lee Kingston Says:

    I think the MTEA has used seniority to keep positive change from happening in Milwaukee. I am concerned about testing as a key in pay as the temptation for the teacher to cheat would be great. I think most teachers would not cheat but some would. I suggest that testing be done from the outside by trained testers. It is the only way to be really scientific about the testing.

  2. Mike Karolewicz Says:

    I support WEAC’s position while being sensitive to MTEA’s argument. The assessment plan, however, isn’t fair to all teaching levels. New teachers need lots of support and time to show what they can do. Veteran teachers should need less time to correct deficiencies while having a role in improving the team. In the private sector, success is based on meeting or exceeding objectives. The public sector, teachers included, should be held to the same standard.

  3. Ann Marie Nelson Says:

    It makes sense that WEAC and the MTEA as well as other urban districts, sometimes cannot agree on many issues. Urban, suburban, and rural school districts face different challanges. I am a teacher at Allen-Field School in Milwaukee. It is a large school with a large Hispanic and growing African-American population. I worry so much about some of my students. The stories they have about their lives are chilling. Their basic needs are not being met at home, and we don’t have the ability to meet them at school. My thought is that urban districts in Madison, Milwaukee, Janesville, etc., with large populations of free and reduced lunch students should have their own state union!

  4. I agree wholeheartedly with Anne Marie. This state’s large school districts with majority minority student populations have needs unlike rural and suburban districts. We need our own representation.

  5. I worked at WEAC and or affiliates for 30 years. I was asked to leave 10 years ago as I did not agree with the organizations new values and operational model and said so. I was viewed as being to “friendly” with the urban associations who were often viewed like an enemy within. It has been and remains my view that while urban and rural districts have differences and different allocation of resources is needed to deal with those differences the teachers and support personell still have much in common and there should be room for all views in the big tent. The key is to recognize that the power comes from the bottom and does not trickle down. Good luck all. There are big challenges ahead and unfortunately WEAC has turned the focus inward.

  6. The direction that WEAC is purporting to take is indicative of the apathy that they have for the student population in urban communities. It is this sort of apathy that perpetuates the dogma of racism and classism in America. When WEAC and MTEA begin to have open and honest discussions about the plight of the minority populace (Asians, African Americans and Hispanics), that makes up the majority of students in urban districts, then we can come up with effective solutions to these problems. After all it is not about WEAC or MTEA, it’s supposed to be about the children regardless of the ethnicity.

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