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OldGreyEagle

Education and Teacher Unions

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I didnt want to get specific in the parent thread as I want to talk specifically about Teacher Unions here.

 

First I agree with Lisabob's comment about going into teaching knowing that you wouldn't get rich. In the early 80's I was teaching at Indiana State University-Evansville (now the University of Southern Indiana). The school had many varied programs, one of which was a Mining Technology Program in the Engineering College. Graduates routinely made more than the professors and the University could not keep professors for very long as they kept leaving to work in the industry. The ones who stayed stayed because they couldnt get hired, and generally were a dour group

 

Then there is the other shoe falling

 

For quite awhile now the US has struggled with the Public Education System. We always seem to be behind other civilized countries in literacy, math skills ,science, or something like that. Big cities school systems tend to be more babysitting facilities than bastions of learning. Governors and Presidents run on platform of Educational Reform time and time again yet our Public Educational System pretty much still sucks.

 

Every year some local school system has negotiations with their TEachers Unions and a strike always seems to either occur of just get missed yet I do not ever hear anyone ever say that teachers have to improve the education level of the school or else. Well of course, the or else is the sticking point. Or else they get fired and someone else gets to teach? Presumably better, but if such uber teachers exist, are they not already employed? How do we increase the effectiveness of Public Education, are Unions needed or not? Do they help or hurt or are a non-factor? I recognize the need for Unions, but do they have a place in Education or again, is this just a red herring?

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>>How do we increase the effectiveness of Public Education, are Unions needed or not? Do they help or hurt or are a non-factor? I recognize the need for Unions, but do they have a place in Education or again, is this just a red herring?

 

I prefer to let Bob Chanin, former NEA General Counsel, answer that question:

 

"Despite what some among us would like to believe it is not because of our creative ideas; it is not because of the merit of our positions; it is not because we care about children; and it is not because we have a vision of a great public school for every child.

 

The NEA and its affiliates are effective advocates because we have power. And we have power because there are more than 3.2 million people who are willing to pay us hundreds of million of dollars in dues each year because they believe that we are the unions that can most effectively represent them; the union that can protect their rights and advance their interests as education employees."

 

 

 

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I don't know, could be! All I know is in my experience with the teachers' union, the priorities are, in order: union interests, teachers' interests, students' interests, parents' interests.

 

I taught in middle school, but now I am in the private sector. As a teacher, it was frustrating to know that there was no opportunity for merit/performance-based pay. As a parent it has been frustrating to see mediocre or even poor teachers protected because of seniority.

 

I am painting with a broad brush here admittedly, but I can give specific examples. Here's one: we (parents) used to be recruited by teachers to come and help in the classroom as volunteers--reading, making copies, generally helping out. When the district needed to lay off a number of paid teachers' aides for budget reasons, a concession that had to be made to the union was that parents were no longer allowed to come help in the classroom.

 

That's proof of my priority order cited above. And I ask you, how does that help our children?(This message has been edited by 83eagle)

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Not to take the thread off topic, but I'd like to address decline in education in the US. I believe that for all the good that things like "No Child Left Behind" intends to do, it actually hurts education. In an effort to make things better, we are making things average. Federal funding is tied to standardized test scores. To get the federal funding, you have to hit the mark on standardized tests. What does this do? It causes school systems and therefore teachers to "teach to the test". They quit "educating" students in the subject they teach and put their efforts into producing the all important needed standardized test score. If funding were dependent on kids being taught to bark like dogs, you'd see a lot of barking kids. Imagine if state and local school systems were able to set their own standards and compete against other school system and teachers could plan their curriculum to teach students in the subject devoid of hitting the mark for one all important test.....to get federal funding. just my two cents.(This message has been edited by sr540beaver)

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SR540Beaver,

 

Please point out where schools have actually lost funding due to NCLB? I haven't heard of a case yet. I have heard of school faculties being disbanded, and new ones recruited, but never an actual loss of funding.

 

 

I think the unions are being labeled as the bogeyman in educational problems. The problem isn't the unions. The problem is the entrenched bureacracy.

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By what benchmark do you determine if a teacher is mediocre or poor? I'm not suggesting that there teachers can't be mediocre and poor, I just want to know what benchmark one uses. Unions help school districts determine those benchmarks - and hold school districts to those benchmarks. Despite what the former general counsel of the NEA had to say, when you read about negotiations between teachers and the board of education, the vast majority of the time the negotiators for the teachers are actual teachers in the school districts. At least that's how it works in Chicago and the Suburbs. The head of the Chicago Teachers Union is a teacher - she teaches at King College Prep. When I was in high school, I saw the head of the teachers union that represented the District 214 teachers every day - he was a teacher in my school. When negotiations were reported, we read about the negotiations and negotiators and recognized them as teachers and as neighbors.

 

There are parents who will claim that a teacher is poor or mediocre because the teacher gave their precious little snowflakes a C on a paper, or a D on a test. Thank you but I don't want those parents to have a voice on which teachers are considered mediocre and poor. There are great teachers who are saddled with classrooms of 30 students in poor schools with few resources with struggling students that would be labeled as mediocre and poor because their students don't meet standards. Thank you, but I don't want some kind of arbitrary standard (and yes, they are arbitrary) determing whether someone is a mediocre or poor teacher.

 

There are ways of weeding out the truly poor and mediocre teachers - and frankly teachers make the best judges of who is poor and mediocre in their profession.

 

 

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Yah, not sure why you'd expect a union to be anything other than somethin' that represents the issues of its members. Of course they're not there to solve all da issues of education, any more than my dentist can be expected to perform an appendectomy. Da union's job is to represent teachers.

 

Now, I confess that I have a hard time with da notion of unions of professionals. Unions exist primarily to protect those workers who do not have da ability or education to negotiate their own interests. Folks who are easily replaced or taken advantage of, because they are unskilled labor or such. So I don't quite get the need for a union of teachers. Like other professionals, they should be able to negotiate their own contracts, eh? And those contracts shouldn't look like da sort of work rules stuff that a custodian's union would generate. Leastways, if they are in fact professionals.

 

At da same time, yeh rarely get unions without employer abuses causing 'em to form, and I reckon the State can be an awful and oppressive employer. Yeh do need to have as many checks on state power as you can get, and unionization is one of those. So I do see a real need for public employees' unions more generally.

 

Take blind seniority and tenure off da table, mandate sending health care out for bids once da terms have been negotiated. But yeh shouldn't use da power of the state to take away collective bargaining rights that anybody else in da private sector is entitled to.

 

Beavah

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Last year, a public university in my area found itself facing a unionization drive by its roughly 700 adjunct (part time) faculty. The administrators attempted to laugh it off, claiming that these 700 faculty were not "real" faculty, were nothing more than "casual laborers" like one might find outside of Home Depot on a weekday morning, and that they were just there for a "nice experience and a little money."

 

The vote on that campus was overwhelmingly in favor of unionization. Probably would've been regardless, but adding insult to injury made it a sure bet. Much of what drives unions (whether in education or elsewhere) is tied up in issues about respect, and due process. If all employers always treated all employees fairly and respectfully, unions wouldn't exist. Experience tells us that this is not the case, though.

 

Now unions cannot mandate respect, but they can work together with employers to establish processes, for things like hiring/firing/promotions, evaluation of job performance, disciplinary policies, and more. And when both sides (management and labor) actually follow the agreed-upon processes, things work pretty well. Over time, that often results in heightened respect and a good working relationship, too. Unions can be excellent partners and not just mulish opponents.

 

Now the single most common complaint I hear about teacher unions is that they protect bad teachers.

 

I'm a contract officer for my (public university) teacher union. It is a little different from the K-12 world, but not really all that much different. Let me put it this way: I don't, and my union doesn't, have any interest in protecting bad teachers. We do have an interest in ensuring that the process for correcting bad teaching and possibly even firing bad teachers is correctly followed. This means administrators should do their jobs and evaluate teachers as per the contract that the administration negotiated. It means there should be multiple, documented, instances of problems & pro-active interventions, improvement plans, etc, as the contract spells out (every teacher contract I've ever seen includes these kinds of things to some degree). It means that people can't get fired just because one student (or parent) complained that "s/he's too hard!" or because some administrator or other teacher has a personality conflict with a teacher. It means that administrators had better have a paper trail, and it had better be legit, before they go and fire someone. It means that if someone is getting fired because of poor performance, there is very little that I, as their contract officer, can or will do to "save" their job, assuming that the administration did their job right.

 

If administrators did their jobs then bad teachers wouldn't be in the classrooms. But time and again, I hear administrators moan and wail about how that's just too hard to do and takes too much time & effort. My response? Earn your damn 6 figure salary, or get out of the way and let someone else who has a spine do the job.

 

And finally, the answer to this is not to get rid of tenure - it is to use tenure more wisely. If you have a person who teaches for 3-5 years in a "probationary" status and you can't tell during that time if they're any good or have potential? Then you are NOT paying attention. Again, it isn't the union's fault that administrators frequently fail to do their job here.

 

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Here's what I know.

 

My youngest has gone to elementary school now in four different states because we're a military family.

 

If the goal of our education system is to train our kids for minimum wage jobs their whole life, America's schools are doing an outstanding job.

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Thanks Lisa, needed that!

 

I think my original comment is more directed at education overall, rather than a direct jab at unions.

 

Even in the good/fair to middlin schools, there is little academic rigor, and the students' intellect is rarely challenged.

 

Strategy seems to be keep it simple/flip a switch/get a banana. Kids are bored and think that school isn't important. They desire more from their education but don't quite know what want--but they do know something is missing.

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