Teacher Unions/Tenure/ Negative effect on Schools

johnj2424's picture

Thom...

I have served as a building principal for 13 years in two different states...one that did not allow unions and one that did .  I have never heard this point discussed on any talk show, either Progressive of Conservative.  I would love for your producer to contact me so that we could have an extended conversation on this issue.

I have my M.S. degree from the University of Houston with a concentration in item statistics and tests and measurement.  My focus as a principal has always been on student acheivement.  I also have 36 hours of post-graduate study to qualify for the Texas Superintendent Certification.  I am a serious guy.

My major point is this:  When unions enter the workplace in schools, the focus turns from what is best for the students to what is best for the teachers.  In Texas, when a teacher, or a parent, or anyone else came to me for an idea for changing something, my first question to them was "Is it good for the kids?".  Usually their response was a positive one.  When the same situation occured in Colorado, and I asked the same question, I was usually met with a "deer in the headlights" look and a stuttering reply that it might be, but it would definitly be better for the staff.

This is wrong.  Schools exist for the benefit of the students not the benefit of the staff.  If you disagree with this, please.....let us talk about it!

Another result of the presence of Unions in the workplace is an incredibly high incidence of teacher turnover.  In Colorado, any teacher who recieves his fourth consequtive contract is considered "tenured."  As a result, school districts are hesitant to renew a teacher for that fourth year as the are effectively "marrying" that teacher.  The most talented and innovated teachesr are often dismissed before his fourth year because their innovative and "out of the box" thinking is threatening to the status quo....whether it be administrative, parental, or school board related.

One year after I was released, mostly because I was such a threat as a supervisor to the staus quo, my wife was non-renewed for the first time in her 30+ year career, even though she produced the best state test results in the history of the school district. This move was announced to us on the last day of school and came as a complete surprise.  All acceptable actions under the "collective bargaining agreement" between the teachers and the school district.

These two items are the most negative influences of the presence of unions in schools.  I would love to discuss these with you on the air so that your vast audience could benefit from the discussion.

 

Thank you!

 

John Johnson, Parachute, CO,  970 309 7418

 

 

 

Comments

Geoff Gould
Geoff Gould's picture
While I disagree with you

While I disagree with you about union teachers not caring what is best for the children, I have definitely seen the tenure thing work in the way you describe.  Many administrators tend to not renew a teacher's contract if there's any smidgeon of doubt.  Not really doubt, just the lack of obvious perfection.  But what's the alternative?  Teachers always at the whim of quirky boards and administrators?  No easy fix.

scriber1
scriber1's picture
Johnj2424;  teachers are

Johnj2424;  teachers are evaluated each and every year just like with any other job.  If they meet low expectations, and it is documented, they can loose their job.  All this talk about teachers unions is nonsense.  Teacher's unions also advocate for the students. If you check the statistics, the states with the strongest teacher unions generally have students who perform better.  If you think that a teacher is a bad teacher in your school and you give them an evaluation, and they are still there, then you didn't do your job and document why they should be let go.  All you need is to document the teacher who is performing poorly in their evaluation.  Then there is a reason for that teacher's dismissal.  You can't just fire someone willy nilly without proof and documentation. That is what unions fight for.

johnj2424
johnj2424's picture
The absolute best faculty I

The absolute best faculty I ever had the honor of leading was in Colorado, a union state.  Most of them truly cared about what was best for the kids, only a few did not.  We found we were hamstrung many times by the terms of the CBA and that ideas brought up by teachers that would have had a positive impact on student achievement were prohibited by the current agreement.  Also, as a principal, I found the preoccupation with "union worries" by my superintendent and board to be completely overbearing.  They stopped almost every attempt at change and improvement with the line that "it violates the CBA," or "the union won't like it."  It is the main reason that I am no longer a school principal!!!!!!!!!!

johnj2424
johnj2424's picture
I challenge your statement

I challenge your statement that union states have higher student performance scores than non union states.  Please cite your source for that please.  I believe that you will find Texas, a state in which teacher unions are illegal, very high after adjusting for demoographics and economic status.  Everything you say about teacher evaluation is true, but the level of documentation and incidents required to dismiss a tenured teacher is about 10 times the amount for an untenured teacher.  You misread my main concern........really innovative and great teachers are let go because a union shy administrator doesn't posess the cojones necessary to stand up and say these people need to stay......give them the 4th contract and tenure them.

I've never fired anyone "willy-nilly."  I always looked at hiring a teacher much like a long term relationship......both of you have to work at it if its going to work.......breaking up is the last resort.

Alberto Ceras
There are more important

There are more important issues in U.S. education than whether unions serve students or teachers or whether good teachers may be lost because of tenure rules (or conversely, bad ones kept on). The most important question is: Why does the present system fail to educate?

Robindell addressed this concern in an earlier blog post “History test scores remain poor” (http://www.thomhartmann.com/users/robindell/blog/2011/06/history-test-scores-remain-poor).

Not only history test scores but also students’ test scores in math and science fall short of results in most developed nations. Wouldn’t it be more productive to search for solutions to these poor results than to argue the merits of Unions and tenure?

Here are a couple of comments from Robindell’s blog (one mine):

When I taught math and biology at a prep school in Australia there were two separate secondary school systems, one providing liberal education for those planning to go on to university and another that provided technical training for those not planning on attending a university, The US might consider adopting this system. Today secondary schools and most universities in the US are little more than trade schools. (express)

Some time ago (pre-Internet) a study done in New York suggested that no public elementary or secondary school should have more than 250 students and that the school should be located in the community that it serves. School officials and teachers would then be able to maintain close relations with the community particularly with the parents of their students. The school staff would be required to encourage the community to participate in school activities and to make the community feel welcome in every possible way. The school might even become a sort of community center.

It made good sense to me when I read the study years ago and it still does. Internet and computers would eliminate most, maybe all, of the supposed disadvantages that small schools have in relation to larger ones. In mega-schools students tend to get lost in the crowd. They have limitied chance to participate in student government, in sports or in any other extra-curricular activity. Participation in school sponsored activities outside the classroom might produce more model citizens than having them sit quietly listening (?) to someone lecture them. 

It works. I know from experience.  (Alberto Ceras)

Laborisgood
Laborisgood's picture
I am NOT in the education

I am NOT in the education business and predicate my following comments from my labor/management experience outside of the education field.

There is no place in any CBA where years of service should single out one union member from one of lesser years of service.  This is contrary to the basic principle of "collective" bargaining.  As Thom says, "unions are democracy in the work place".

Does the vote of someone in our nation's democracy who has been voting for 50 years have more weight than the vote of an 18 year old's first vote?  Should it?  No and HELL NO!

Unions can bargain for whatever they want, but those that choose to bargain for special treatment of some members over others (based on years of service or any other arbitrary criteria) are doing a disservice to their union over the long haul.  You reap what you sow.  Unions who choose this path will pay the price and we are seeing it play out in the education business today.

As I said, I am not in the education field but I believe Alberto makes some valid points about education which should be considered in our attempts to revitalize our education system.  You can't possibly overstate the importance of money on the performance of schools.  There is a direct relationship between performance and the income levels and/or local school taxation.

I can't speak to the influence of union education vs non-union education, but I can speak to the effects of worker performance when they get fair compensation.  When you take the approach of labor being just another easily replaced resource in your process which can be purchased from the lowest bidder, your product will suffer.  More to the point at hand, if you overcompensate some labor members at the expense of other labor members, your product will also suffer.

Organized labor is a good thing.  We need more unions.  They are one of the last useful tools at our disposal to fight against the Goliath of corporate/financial power that is swallowing us up.  Unions that are being led down the wrong path need to wise up and take over their unions from within (just like Thom says about us taking over our local political parties).

We not only need more unions, we need to reform the unions we already have.

Alberto Ceras
Right on, Laborisgood.

Right on, Laborisgood.

Alberto Ceras
The U.S. educational system

The U.S. educational system is in a sorry state. Here's a paragraph from a recent article:

http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2011/03/23/110782/commentary-is-everything-we-know.html 

Commentary: Is everything we know about school reform wrong?

By Mary Sanchez | The Kansas City Star 

"All these assumptions and more are challenged by a new report prepared by McGraw-Hill Research Foundation. The report, titled "What the U.S. Can Learn from the World's Most Successful Education Reform Efforts," compared the U.S. education system to those of the highest performing countries as ranked by the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA). According to the most recent PISA, the U.S. was ranked on average at 19th among more than 50 countries for science; we did a bit better in reading (15th) and ranked a deplorable 27th in math. Chinese, South Korean, Japanese, Canadian and Finnish students left ours in the dust."

Robindell
Robindell's picture
Merit pay for teachers has

Merit pay for teachers has been touted by some as a means to improve teacher performance.  Our local superintendent of schools recently wrote a piece in a newsletter which the school system periodically sends out to people in the district.  He wrote of the management and quality control expert Dr. W. Edwards Demming who is often credited with creating the modern Japanese economy when he was hired to consult with Japanense manufacturers.  When Demmings methods were adopted, the quality of Japanese products greatly improved.  According to the superintendent, Demming is against merit pay as it hurts morale by giving the impression that some workers are superior to others without providing a sound motivational basis to improve the quality of one's work.  The superintendent went on to say that he sees classrooms and schools as learning communities.   All of the emphasis on ranking both students and teachers does more harm than good because it inteferes with the ethic of a learning community. 

Although the U.S. lags behind other countries in math and science results, I think the larger problem is that the cognitive and emotional developmental process is being hindered.  I don't think academic achievement tests alone can adequately measure the outcomes of education.  I work with the public and through my job, over time, I have witnessed some problems in human behavior which may in part relate to an educational system that has failed to instill some basic concepts and values in citizens.  From my vantage point, I see that many people in certain respects seem to be anarchists.  They believe that there should be no rules, no guidelines, that anything goes, that they have complete and uncontrolled freedom to do anything they please, even if their behavior may endanger someone else's life or property.  The approach known as the sociology of education could be used to better understand the increase in anomie, or normless, in our society, as it relates to educational methodology.  I would think that patience is important quality in scholarship and in learning, but this characteristic seems to be almost completely lacking in many people, whose aggressive maneuvers suggest delusions of self-importance or profound anxiety or a combination of both.  Also, patience in certain social situations is linked to tolerance and basic respect for others, and in our society, this is lacking.  It is lacking both in inner-city predominately minority communities which often have a high crime rate, and it is lacking in white majority suburan and rural areas where crime may be lower than in a large city but nevertheless where poor judgment, cognitive breakdown, and an irrational lack of emotional control are in evidence.  Schools are not the only influence on children, but they are nonetheless an important influence. 

Because the educational system as a whole is showing signs of inadequacies, and because teachers are at the core of education, you can't just pretend that all teachers are always delivering the best possible instruction which will have the best possible outcomes.  Just because teachers are unionized does not automatically mean they are good or bad.  Unions may sometimes not want to increase the workload of teachers even it it may mean that they could get more accomplished.  At the same time, unions argue for smaller class sizes and other ideas that may be to the benefit of teachers and students alike.  There are many factors affecting teachers just as there are many variables affecting the learning and development of students.  The mind set often seems to be more on learning something for purposes of getting a job rather than on leaving a lasting impression of the need for lifelong learning.  I believe that culturally, America is significantly failing through its educational system.  For instance, the music of the great geniuses of music is something that most Americans are ignorant of, with cutbacks in music education based on the judgment of pedagogically unqualified public officials, when many people in Asia are very interested in listening to the music of the great composers, attending concerts, and even learning to play instruments, even when the composers are mostly European.  When people go to an art museum or art exhibit, they often don't know what they are looking at.  Respect for serious theater seems to be diminishing. 

Scientific knowledge is important, but technical skills alone cannot reverse many of the disturbing trends in our culture.  It takes an appreciation of life and an expanded knowledge and awareness of the human condition for progress to be made.

johnj2424
johnj2424's picture
I agree that small schools

I agree that small schools are superior in their potential to "mega-schools."  As a specialist in testing, I disagree that well designed tests cannot measure true "student achievement."  Any quantifiable skill can be tested in a reliable and valid manner, if the testing instrument is properly constructed.  The concept that our schools are not teaching "critical thinking," etc. is a red herring.....it turns the discussion away from the issue of student performance, and it lets the teachers, principals, superintendents and the local school districts "off the hook" for being responsible for lousy performance.

Many of you are either choosing to ignore my premise, or you are so uncomfortable with it that you avoid it.........when unions enter the school house door the main focus of the organization turns away from what is in the best interest of the kids to what is in the best interests of the staff, and that has a profound negative effect on what goes on there.

Stop drinking the kool-aid and start thinking for yourselves and analyze the premise and refute it if you can.  Logically, I think my premise is sound, and my experience over many years has supports the premise.

 

 

johnj2424
johnj2424's picture
I really don't know what is

I really don't know what is of more important concern that the lack of student performance.  America has always committed itself to universal education, so the British/Australian systemt of dual education....one for the "elite and capable," and one for the
"masses," is not tenable here, especially with the separating test taking place in the 5th or 6th grade at  the age of 10 or 11 years of age.  Our country is one of "second chances."  If you fail to blossom in high school you can get a GED, attend a public junior college, move on to university and end up with a doctorate.  Such opportunity is the heart of the "American Dream" and is unknown in many of the foreign countries that are oftern cited as being so successful.  If they tried universal education as we do, they would not have the stellar results that you cite.  We need to find a way to be successful with as many as possible......I assure you we are doing a bang up job with those students who are able, motivated, and industrious.  It is with the student who comes from an unmotivated environment, who is not enthusiastic, and who needs a lot of encouragement that we are not getting it done with.  My premise is that a non union shop where the primary concern is the kids and what is best for them stands a better chance of being successful than a shop where the staff is primarily concerned with themselves.

johnj2424
johnj2424's picture
Stop drinking the kool-aid

Stop drinking the kool-aid and think for yourself.  Refute my premise that a school house based on what is good for the kids will be a more effective place than one that is based on what is good for the staff.....if you can.  I don't think you can and all your labor quotes and theory will not refute my premise.

scriber1
scriber1's picture
John2424,  You said "I

John2424,  You said

"I believe that you will find Texas, a state in which teacher unions are illegal, very high after adjusting for demoographics and economic status. "

1) Texas is 47th or 48th in the nation.  2) Texas does have teacher unions.  They are not illegal. They are powerless, but not illegal.

In my experience, unions fight for teacher input, innovation and autonomy.  Teachers are advocates for students.  I, as a teacher, want what is best for my students. Teachers know what works in the actual class room.   Unfortunately,  the Texas legislature and administrators have been very dismissive of teacher input.  The teacher argument is that since we are on the ground and interact with students daily, we know what works and what does not work. In Texas, educational policy is set from the top down, with very little, teacher input.  If you look at the committees that set the objectives and outline statewide curriculum in Texas, you may have one educator, maybe.  But as far as seeking teacher input on new ideas and innovation, the general attitude is administrators and legislators know what is best. 

I think te

Laborisgood
Laborisgood's picture
As Scriber1 points out union

As Scriber1 points out union or not union does not adequately define all the variables associated with "performance" in our educational system.

Robindell's Demming reference on singling out individual workers is applicable not only to quality control (which Demming is the grandfather of) but also to tenure within educational CBA's.

A case can be made for college professors requiring tenure, but with K-12 teachers or any other union for that matter, rewarding years of service with additional job security invites complacency.  Just as merit pay invites workers to game the system.

scriber1
scriber1's picture
John2424, you wrote "As a

John2424, you wrote

"As a specialist in testing, I disagree that well designed tests cannot measure true "student achievement." Any quantifiable skill can be tested in a reliable and valid manner, if the testing instrument is properly constructed. The concept that our schools are not teaching "critical thinking," etc. is a red herring.....it turns the discussion away from the issue of student performance, and it lets the teachers, principals, superintendents and the local school districts "off the hook" for being responsible for lousy performance."

Maybe because your speciality is testing, you are partial to testing. I can see testing to get a baseline and see where students are.  I have no objection to that.  What I am opposed to is testing being the sole basis of determining the progress of students. I have many reasons that are too numerous to go into, but I will state a few.  However, let me preface with this, education and learning are complex.  Children do not develop uniformly.  Some children are immature. Some students have personal issues, be they familial, non familial personal, or just emotional issues with no apparent cause.  Some children are late bloomers, some are early bloomers.  Some children wont focus and really comprehend until they are out of school.  I have seen all cases.

My objection to testing is that a test is one instrument.  You have a plethora of information to convey to students.  I can also tell you that as a teacher, we spend a lot of time preparing our students for the test, instead of teaching the whole curriculum.  It is very frustrating that a narrowly focused test can basically determine a child's future  It is unreasonable to make one test the sole means of evaluation of student and teacher success.   A test is a snapshot, not the whole picture.  I also think that teacher assessment of student performance is often discounted. 

Tying this into unions.  A major concern of unions is that the testing is taking away from valuable classroom instruction time.  Most schools, even those in affluent neighborhoods, stop instruction and spend up to two months preparing students for the state tests.  There is a lot that rides on how students perform on tests, funding is one.  This funding is not related solely or necessarily to salaries, but to monies needed by districts to function.  Performance of schools based one exam performance should not be the sole basis of determining if learning is going on.  This is one of the issues that unions in Texas have taken up.

By the way, just an aside, if you spend so much time preparing students for the state test, how much time has been taken away from class instruction that could be used to develop critical thinking?   

scriber1
scriber1's picture
john2424, I think our main

john2424, I think our main difference is that you think unions advocate only for teachers and by extension, to the detrement of students.  My point is that unions advocate for students by trying yo make sure that teachers have a voice in the educational process.  We talk about class size, what is taught, and the tools used for evaluation to name a few.  I think you know that a teacher is more effective in a class where more individualized instruction can be given, than where there are so many students say 50 as opposed to 28 or 30 (highschool), that you have children falling through the cracks. Another current issue is school environment which includes discipline issues. Teachers are in the business of student education.  Unions are the collective voice of teachers. That's all.

Robindell
Robindell's picture
I offer the following

I offer the following information and quotes as a cautionary tale.  Heather Vogell wrote in the Atlanta Jurnal-Constitution on July 6, 2011:
     "Teachers and principals erased and corrected mistakes on students' answer sheets.

     "Area superintendents silenced whistle-blowers and rewarded subordinates who met academic goals by any means possible.

     "Superintendent Beverly hall and her top aides ignored, buried, destroyed or altered complaints about misconduct, claimed ignorance of wrongdoig and accused naysayers of failing to believe in poor children's ability to learn."

     "For years -- as long as a decade -- this was how the Atlanta school district produced gains on state curriculum tests.  The scores soared so dramatically they brought national acclaim to Hall and the district, according to an investigative report released Tuesday by Gov. Nathan Deal."

     ". . . The voluminous report names 178 educators, including 38 principals, as participants in cheating.  More than 80 confessed. . . ."

     "The investigators conducted more than 2100 intervciews and examined more than 800,000 documents in what is likely the most wide-ranging investigation into test-cheating in a public school district ever conducted in United States history."

     ". . . In some schools, the report said, cheating became a routine part of administering the annual state Criterion-Referenced Competency Test.  The investigators describe highly organized, coordinated efforts to falsify tests when children could not score high enough to meet the district's self-imposed goals."

     ". . . 'Hall became a subject of adoration and made herself the focus rather than the children,' the investigators wrote.  'Her image became more important than reality.' "

On July 6, ABC News reported:

     "The former superintendent, Beverly Hall, is accused of encouraging the cheating.  She received hundreds of thousands of dollars in bonuses. . . ."

     " 'It is an embarrassment to all teachers, all administrators,' said Atlanta public school parent David Garr."

     ". . . Many in the community are pointing the finger at No Child Left Behind, the federal policy that makes test scores king."

On Feb. 17, 2010, Richard Fausset of the Los Angeles Times wrote, as reported in the Newton Daily News from Jasper County, Iowa:

     ". . . Robert Schaeffer of the National Center for Fair and Open Testing -- a group critical of the reliance on standardized tests -- said the Georgia affair appeared to be part of a growing trend, based on anecdotes from around the country."

     ". . . Critics such as Schaeffer say that previous scandals have shown that the emphasis on test results tempts educators to alter schores to avoid sanctions.  He said that tying teacher pay raises to scores -- a proposal now being considered by Georgia lawmakers -- will create another temptation."

     " 'When test scors are all that matters, school personnel will feel forced to get them by hook or by crook,' he said."

 

 

johnj2424
johnj2424's picture
Everyone involved should be

Everyone involved should be stripped of their teaching/administrative certificates, and summarily dismissed for cause.  No benefits, no mercy.  One of your quotes stands out to me....the one about Ms. Hall making herself the focus, not the schools or the kids.  I just think that "union thinking" contributes to that syndrome.....not all the time, not in all cases, but more often .than a lot of people will accept.

Laborisgood
Laborisgood's picture
"Union Thinking"???? As in

"Union Thinking"????

As in fair compensation and having a basic set of ground rules to protect workers rights?

Testing is not the answer to any of the problems with our education system.