Beyond WI

This week’s School of Thought column at picks-up where the debate in WI is stopping:  The fight over bargaining rights is obscuring an important set of issues that need attention – and where progress can be made.  I discuss five common practices in teachers contracts and/or state law and regulation that need to be changed:

Given their place as the most powerful public employee union, teachers unions are front and center in the debate going on in Wisconsin. But underneath the high-decibel clashes between tea partiers and public employees unions are some contentious education policy issues reformers, teachers unions, and analysts have debated (and sometimes even collaborated to fix) for years.

Although teachers contracts are often singled out, in practice the rules and regulations most commonly cited as problems by school superintendents, school reformers, and not infrequently teachers themselves, are often found in state law as well. That’s why schools in states without teachers unions tend to operate pretty much like schools in places with powerful unions. In Virginia, for instance, where I served on the state board of education, it would be difficult to tell the difference between most of our schools and schools in heavily unionized Maryland. It’s also why teachers unions are not the only culprit here. They did not unilaterally create these rules and regulations—someone signed those contracts or passed those laws.

So forget the theatrics in Wisconsin, reform doesn’t have to mean abolishing collective bargaining. But, if we’re serious about having school systems that put student learning first and creating a genuine profession for teachers here are five common practices that must change.

4 Replies to “Beyond WI”

  1. Great post. Before becoming a lawyer, I worked as a teacher in both unionized and non-unionized states (Virginia and California). I’ve always said there’s little difference between teachers’ jobs in unionized and non-unionized districts: The hours, pay scale, responsibilities, etc. are generally similar. In fact, my pay was better in the non-unionized district (Virginia) than the unionized district (California). Based on this point, I believe the current wave of attacks against teacher unions are misguided, to say the least.

  2. The provision removing work conditions as a subject of bargaining begins to get into some of these areas. However, it is generally understood that after the process is completed with the budget repair bill and the biennial budget, the GOP majorities in the legislature will introduce a package that will include changes in all five areas.

  3. The real fight on this bill hasn’t even started. Wait till they have to start talking about the elimination of payroll deduction of union dues.

  4. The real fight on this bill hasn’t even started. Wait till they have to start talking about the elimination of payroll deduction of union dues.

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