Teacher Unions a Very Controversial Essay

  • Length: 15 pages
  • Sources: 6
  • Subject: Teaching
  • Type: Essay
  • Paper: #68900940

Excerpt from Essay :

Since smaller class size has been shown to positively affect student learning, at least in the early grades, one might also infer that this affects teachers' work positively. Further, researchers have found a positive relationship between collective bargaining and increased preparation time for teachers, which many educators believe is essential for good teaching and collaborative work among colleagues within a school.

Collective Bargaining, Unions and Teacher/Educational Quality

In a March 1999 study of Texas Schools, teacher salaries were shown to have a modest impact on teacher mobility and upon student performance. The authors of the study found that teacher mobility was more affected by the characteristics of the students, including income, achievement and race.

Salaries are also more weakly related to performance on teacher certification tests. This appears to be relevant only in districts where there are high levels of hiring (ibid., 30). The study found that certification tests were not significantly related to student achievement (ibid., 34). The only significant relationship that they found between salaries and student achievement involved existing experienced teachers and not in the case of new hires or for probationary teachers (ibid, 45).

Given the case study, at least in the state of Texas, the relationship between collective bargaining and educational quality is amorphous at best. This has not however excused teacher's unions from being blamed for problems in schools and education with regard to educational quality.

In an article by Frederick Hess and Andrew Kelly, the authors try to find a middle ground between the two extremes on the issue. While it does not address the political implications of collective bargaining, it does look at the effects of contracts on where it hits schools the most, in the budget sector. The advantages of this study were the statistics were gathered by interviewing over 50 national, local and state school district and union officials. In this framework, the study analyzed sample contracts from 20 districts and the press coverage related to these contracts (Hess and Kelly, 2006, 54).

As the study authors point out, very little is usually covered in the press about what the contracts actually cover (ibid, 55). What is interesting is that collective bargaining did not find its way onto the scene in K-12 levels until the 1960s. Therefore, prior to then, the school districts had free reign in setting contracts, retirement packages, etc.

In 1960, the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) organized a teacher's strike in New York City over pay. By the next spring, the teachers received generous increases and so the reputation of the UFT rocketed and there was a sharp rise in union membership in New York. Such successes fueled the growth of the UFT's parent, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and membership rose from 125,00 members in 1966 to 580,000 members in 1981. This was approximately a five-fold increase. With such successes, the National Education Association (NEA) embraced collective bargaining as well and throughout the 1970s, collective bargaining became more and more the norm in school districts around the country (ibid, 56).

Many of today's local teacher union leaders have been teaching in their districts since the first collective bargaining agreements were signed in the late 1960s to early the 1970s. They can remember as to why particular provisions were bargained. Consequently, it is not difficult to understand why teachers might be reluctant to relinquish their hard-won gains. Being schooled in adversarial labor negotiation tactics, While there are comfortable with the standard topics of industrial contracts (i.e., wages, subjects). Such subjects might also include peer review and/or professional development. However, this old generation of union leaders is soon to retire. There is a new cohort of leaders emerging who do not have the same tie to the past.

Such a younger generation began remaking labor unions in the 1980s and 1990s (Kahlenberg, 2006, 19).

Prospective teachers must consider a whole range of working conditions in their decision on whether or not to take a job. Some of these are directly addressed in collective bargaining. Examples might include whether the school building is sound or functional, whether the teaching assignments and loads are executable or whether or not there is time set aside to for class preparation or to work with colleagues. Some people might become excellent teachers who never consider the teaching career option because school are broadly portrayed as horrible workplaces. However, those persons who have chosen to teach recognized how the working conditions differ from school to school and district to district and then they often seek out a school setting where they can perform their best work (ibid, 18).

In the above study, teachers in states where there was collective bargaining allowed generally received more money. However, local conditions affected the quality of the contracts as much as state statutes (Hess and Kelly, 2006, 59). The study found that teachers are very influential in school board elections giving hem significant power vs. school district management teams. (ibid,. 64). For whatever reason, teacher strikes have been on the decline (ibid, 67-68).

This would mean that one stereotype of teacher unions is the disruption of the school year due to strikes. The reality would appear exactly the opposite, that is that collective bargaining is actually a stabilizing factor in the uninterrupted presence of teachers in the classroom environment. Although pay is obviously important, it can not function alone in drawing teachers into classrooms or in retaining them once they are present. Based upon the study above, there is considerable evidence that working conditions for teachers affect both who enters teaching and who stays.

To sum up, the assessment of the overall impact of collective bargaining and teacher labor unions upon teacher quality is of course challenging outside of the financial sector.

Unfortunately for all, there is not consistent evidence about whether or not the quality of the teaching force has either improved or diminished as a result of collective bargaining. This has been partly because conducting research about this topic is very difficult and little research work has been done of the financial sector. As noted above, many of the findings are inconclusive because collective bargaining practices and local teacher contracts can vary widely from district to district and state to state. All of this results in beliefs and gut reactions about the relationship between collective bargaining and teacher quality that are shaped more by rhetoric and ideology than by disinterested, scholarly investigation and thorough inquiry.

Beyond those basic findings, however, little can be said with confidence about the relationship between collective bargaining and teacher quality, except that policy and practice vary widely. Some outcomes of local bargaining, such as those that reinforce the single salary scale, strengthen the district's reliance on seniority, reject differentiated roles for teachers, or guarantee dogged defense for competent and incompetent teachers alike are likely to compromise the quality of teaching. Such positions mimic those of industrial labor, which served as the template for much of educational labor relations. A

different set of policies and practices, however, develop when those who bargain the contract recognize that certain features of teaching cannot be addressed with conventional labor approaches.

Such research approaches support experiments with regard to performance-based pay.

These create incentives for school teachers to work in the hard-to-staff schools, to limit seniority-based adders and also differentiated roles for teachers. Provisions like these are likely to attract the enterprising individuals who simplify seek opportunities for professional growth and influence.

In the first case, a person might argue effectively that collective bargaining has a negative effect upon teacher quality. Secondly,

Thus, collective bargaining has produced varied outcomes that appeal to different types of teachers in different settings. This is important for one to recognize because this means that the effects of collective bargaining are always not fixed. The ways in which unions and school leaders approach labor relations and its particular provisions are included in the contract.

This determines a great deal about whether the teacher's schools will further attract the kind of committed teachers who will serve students well.

Case studies that document the history of progressive reforms suggest that they result, not from dramatic, one-time changes in contract language, but from steady and productive labor-management relationships developed over time (ibid, 23).

Often in such districts there is continuity of leadership on both sides of the bargaining table. The participants have a long-term allegiance to the district, its community, and its students. Union and school leaders recognize that respect, candor, and trust are essential in their joint enterprise and they know that they have a shared stake in the schools' success. Their work is about solving tough problems, not splitting the difference between extreme positions (ibid., 19).

However, there is a lot that can disrupt the communication flow in productive labor relations. This might include rapid turnover rates among school teachers or teacher union leaders that can thereby derail talks on promising negotiating initiatives. This makes it very hard for anyone to be able to curry support among school teachers…

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