That is the question posed by educator Clay Burell at

My answer as Co-President of my local is obviously a resounding no but my realistic nature requires me to say, well of course they do from time to time. No organization or group of people is wholly perfect and above a bashing from time to time. Unfortunately, the bashing is usually in the form of wholesale blame for all the problems within the education system.

Take, for example, this relatively innocent article from the St. Cloud Times about proposals to suspend or do away with state laws that require schools to start AFTER Labor Day. There is no indication in the article that Education Minnesota opposes the measures to change start dates and I can tell you that they DO NOT. Does that matter? Apparently not given that the comments are devoted to blaming unions for this provision:

This is such bull! This is about faculty, staff and administrators wanting to get to their cabins early!! Don't these people have ENOUGH time off!!! So, we should cut our summer short and the kids (in some schools) suffer without air conditioning so they can "get out early" in Spring.

GOOD!!!! 1. The teachers would have to work a full year for their pay! (However, no raises should be given)
2. We need year round school, maybe our stupid kids could catch up to the rest of the world. Too many are falling behind. One of the main problems is that parents are basically on dates with their kids, they don't parent, they don't discipline or set high enough expectations for their kids.

YEAH, year-round school.

i blame the school system for caving to the union so they get a 3 month vacation on top of all their breaks.

The teachers and the union become a convenient scapegoat for an issue which they do not oppose and which is generally speaking, out of their control. At no point have I ever heard the union to which I am a proud member proclaim opposition to changing the school calendar or creating a year round school system. I only wish that these people making these comments would realize that the summer vacation is not a byproduct of unions but rather a historical construct left over from our agrarian society.

Another example comes from an editorial in the St. Cloud Times bashing Education Minnesota for commercials that ask the state to spare education funding as they look to make deep cuts in government spending.

Are they asking for more money for their union members or for the school districts in general? Every time we turn around, our public school systems are begging for more of our money. When is enough ever enough?

I have yet to see the commercial in question but it seems somewhat combative to immediately use words such as begging. Any increases in funding would be used to keep crucial programs running and fund initiatives that help children learn. Would some of the money pay teachers? Certainly, but one would hope that teachers have as much right to earn a decent living as the next person. Also, this question of when is enough ever enough consistently comes up and I always wonder if they could define what it truly should cost to educate a child in a world where we are consistently being asked to take on more responsibility. So, what should be the perfect amount of money be to educate a child?

Yes, education is important. But where is the accountability for how that money is spent? For example, do the unions base teacher salaries on performance or merely on how long a teacher has been working?

Interestingly, this leads to a speech given by President Obama today in which he touted the need for merit pay. While I have no problem with the basic concepts of merit pay in which teachers are paid more based on a set of accountability standards, there needs to be a long discussion of what we mean by accountability and performance. Reading the above editorial you might think that the evil union would have screamed bloody murder at the initiative laid out by Obama today. Yet, what you got was a measured response that makes me proud of my union:

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, a union with more than a million members, said in a statement that "teachers want to make a difference in kids' lives, and they appreciate a president who shares that goal and will spend his political capital to provide the resources to make it happen."

"As with any public policy, the devil is in the details," Weingarten said. "And it is important that teachers' voices are heard as we implement the president's vision."

There are many times when the union must look inside itself and make sure it is being reasonable but the same must be asked of those people who automatically attack the union. It is difficult to take a measured position when those opposing you stake out such a virulent and mean spirited stance against you.