Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Teachers Union Caves--For All The Good It Will Do The Students

You might remember the story of the Rhode Island school district that threatened to fire all its teachers at one school because they wouldn't agree to some reforms--catch up here if you don't. Well, everyone's huggy-kissy now, as the firings are rescinded and the teachers union caved to some of the reforms. Frederick Hess at National Review Online offers his assessment:

Some observers might regard Gallo’s move as a disappointing reversion to powder-puff school management, especially given her weak-kneed press release stuffed with assurances that all the union ever wanted was “what is best for our students.” But such concerns are misplaced. Gallo’s play shows how stiff-spined management is supposed to work — by forcing unions and other claimants to come to their senses...

The Rhode Island story is a truly encouraging development. As with Michelle Rhee’s new contract in D.C. or Commissioner David Steiner’s ability to win new language on teacher tenure in New York, this story shows how leaders with backbone can eventually force union leadership to accept a new reality.

Mr. Hess' celebration is off-base.

My regular readers might think that I'm anti-union, but this isn't correct. As I've said many times before, I believe that (with few exceptions) Americans are rightly entitled to join unions, but that no American should be forced to join a union or to support one financially. In general, I believe in the idea of unions; in practice, however, I'm more likely to support a local union but be against a state-level or national union, for reasons that don't need to be repeated in this post.

So in the story above, the teachers union essentially caved. If it were caving to a "force of good", I'd be dancing, figuratively, as is Mr. Hess. But what, exactly, did they cave in to?

Gallo had asked Central Falls High’s teachers to agree to a series of school-improvement measures: you know, such nutso stuff as lengthening the school day, adding 90 minutes per week of common planning time, asking teachers to do a week of paid professional development at $30 per hour during the summer (the union wanted $90 per hour), and asking teachers to eat lunch with students once a week. The teachers rejected the proposals out of hand, triggering Gallo’s escalation...

The Central Falls Teachers’ Union agreed to accept all of Gallo’s initial requests, including two weeks (rather than one) of summer professional development at her preferred rate.

Crucially, the agreement also stipulates that Gallo and the school’s new principal will have the authority to select an outside evaluator next fall. The evaluator will provide support and intervention where needed, and will identify teachers who need to be removed.
What's lacking here is any indication or evidence that the proposed changes will elicit the desired results. Let's look at the proposals.

Lengthen the school day. Let's say they add 5 minutes per period, or an additional half hour per school day. How will that really improve student performance? What evidence is there of this?

90 minutes per week of common planning time. While I wouldn't like having to work extra for no extra pay, I see this as a good proposal.

A week of paid professional development in the summer. Any teacher will tell you that 99% of professional development is busywork that is complete and total crap--especially if it's a one-time-only presentation with no follow-up. Waste of time and money.

Eating lunch with students once a week. That 5 hours a week the teachers currently spend with students doesn't seem to be working, but 30 minutes a week in the cafeteria is going to make an academic difference? Someone's got meatloaf between the ears.

External evaluator to assist teachers who need assistance and identify those who need to seek alternate employment. Depending on the evaluator and how this is handled, this could be an excellent idea.

So as I look over the ideas, two seem (to me) to be possibly useful and three seem to be a waste of teacher time and district money.

No, I can't celebrate this victory over a teachers union. The victor represents nothing more than another side of what's wrong in public education, not some sort of savior.

1 comment:

mmazenko said...

Great post, D.