In Defense of Teachers and Teachers’ Unions

Contrary to what you'd think watching the new documentary Waiting for Superman, teachers and teachers' unions are not the spawn of the devil.

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Charter Schools Across the Nation Do About the Same as Public Schools: Some Do Well, Others Poorly

There is an irony: The idea of charter schools began in 1988 with Shanker. He had a vision of a system in which small groups of teachers and parents would submit research-based proposals outlining new ways to educate kids.

As Shanker envisioned it, charter schools would become laboratories for innovation, a place to test new ideas that, if successful, would be adopted in public schools.

The reality hasn’t lived up to his hopes. Charter schools, some run by not-for-profits, others by for-profits, offer educational programs that are closely geared to the standardized tests. Few offer anything innovative, and most require parent involvement as a prerequisite for acceptance. A small number are unionized, and the unionized schools are quite successful. The Green Dot Charter Schools in Los Angeles is one success story.

But why the emphasis on charter schools? Teachers are suspicious. Again, for good reason.

Merit-Pay Plans — Pay for Performance — Have Simply Not Worked

The drumbeat from the critics of unions is that teachers should be paid according to the performance of their students as measured by a standardized exam. (As they stand now, teacher pay scales are incremental; you receive annual raises and additional raises for additional graduate degrees.) Teachers’ unions object to individual pay for performance, asking, where has it been tried and it worked? The most recent study, at the National Center on Performance Incentives at Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College of Education, concludes that pay for performance is not “the magic bullet that so often the policy world is looking for.”

The study’s conclusion: “It doesn’t work.” Are unions wrong to oppose unproven ideas?

In many school districts, including New York City, unions have negotiated plans that give schools, not individual teachers, bonuses for meeting achievement targets; the bonuses are distributed collaboratively by the staff.

Tenure Means Due Process, Not a “Job for Life”

Why do unions defend “bad teachers”? Why do lawyers defend “bad” defendants?

In most states, teachers serve a three-year probationary period, during which time they can discharged “at will.” After that time period, they obtain “tenure,” which hardly guarantees the teacher a cushy job for life. Tenure does, however, guarantee the teacher a due-process hearing regarding disciplinary charges or issues of incompetence. In some instances, this has caused problems. In New York City, teachers accused of malfeasance sat for months, sometimes years, because management chose not to expedite the cases for political reasons. After years of dispute, the law now requires all cases to begin within 60 days and to be concluded within six months.

Unions, under the law, have a duty of fair representation. Members pay dues, unions represent them — and an impartial party determines innocence or guilt. “Jobs for life” is nonsense.