31 March 2009

I seem to recall that in the early days of my career, there was some level of government regulation that prohibited classroom teachers from teaching about contraceptives. If a student asked for specific information, we were allowed to provide it---but we couldn't initiate any conversations. Mind you, I was never designated to teach sex ed; but being a teacher in the life science content area meant that certain topics are inevitable and it was always good to be aware of where the lines were.

I was thinking about this last week after a conversation I had with an instructional coach. He had invited me to spend a day with his teachers (and others around the district) to talk about student feedback, data collection/use, grading practices, and interventions. We'd sorta plotted things out. It was shaping up to be a really great day of professional learning.

And then, word came from above him to say that there could be no conversation involving the g-word: Grading. He'd been slapped with the contraceptive rule.

I have mentioned before that one of my favourite quotes in the research literature about grading is that "Teachers guard their grading practices 'with the same passion with which one might guard an unedited diary or sacred ground'" (Kain, 1996). I can tell you that after getting out and about this year with various presentations, grading is still very much a taboo subject among teachers. Even knowing this, I am still a bit surprised at the hammer that came down. The coach was given no reason for the district's change of heart (although, based on other things I'm seeing/hearing in other schools, my hunch is that a nervous teacher complained to The Union).

So, we will put Grading in the back of our minds for a day and work on the other items with teachers. If they have questions about grading, we'll answer them. For the most part, however, we just have to assume that if we don't talk about things, teachers will stay professionally safe and sound.

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The Merit of Pay

22 July 2008

Another edublogger once pointed out that actors and athletes have unions---and are considered professional. My thinking, however, is that unions are not a mark of professionalism. Doctors and lawyers don't have unions. In fact, other than actors and athletes, I have a hard time thinking of any other professional pursuit which uses unions. Even then, I think that there are some significant differences in operation and benefits.

I never hear that any variety of players' union is concerned with setting an uppermost salary limit. You could say that there is a minimum established---a baseline for pay, but players of the stage, screen, or field can have differing salaries based upon the quality of their performance, value to the organization, size of role, or other factors. No one would dare tell Julia Roberts or Will Smith that no matter how well they do their job (or how long they work), they can only earn the same as everyone else who acts. Does Tom Brady deserve the same amount of pay as a benchwarmer for the New England Patriots?

If their unions operated along the same principles as teachers, all of that talent would be limited to being paid the same as the least able member. Is this really what collective bargaining should be about---to establish the bare minimum and ensure that no one dare go further than that?

So, what if teacher contracts were negotiated the same as for sports or film? The state already sets the salary schedule. There's no need for The Union to set the minimum, only to deal with basic benefits and process. If you're a superstar teacher who gets results in student learning and achievement (however defined by the organization), why not have the ability to contract for a commensurate salary? Why should you be stuck at the same wage as a teacher who does little more than surf the net while kids fill out worksheets every day? Shouldn't school districts compete for the best talent they can get?

Teachers' contracts are negotiated under the premise that all teachers are created equal...but the simple truth is that we're not. While it is highly unlikely that any of us will ever achieve celebrity status, what's the harm in being allowed to be pursue something better for ourselves?


A Lesson in Survey Design

13 June 2008

The Union recently sent out a "District Climate Survey." I might not be a member, but it showed up in my box and I filled out the bubble sheet. This was a bit of a struggle because although the responses were supposed to be scaled, they didn't follow a traditional Likert format (from Strongly Agree to Strongly Disagree). Instead, the answer choices went like this:

A. Strongly Agree
B. Tend to Agree
C. Tend to Disagree
D. Strongly Disagree
E. Not applicable/Don't know/Not sure

Do you see the problem? By placing the fence-rider choice at E instead of C, they have likely skewed their results. Most people are trained to use "A" as the strongest agreement and "E" for the strongest disagreement. How many people bubbled in "C" now and then by accident---thinking that they were ambivalent and instead indicated dissatisfaction? Same thing for people who might have mistakenly marked "E" when they really needed "D" for their unhappiness. Even though I read the directions (and assume others did, too), it was still a bit of a struggle to remember this very different order across four pages of questions.

Interestingly enough, The Union did not view itself as part of the climate in which we work. There were no questions whatsoever concerning teachers' views of Union activity. Even if they have much to learn about survey structure, they may already know that they shouldn't ask questions they really don't want the answers to.


Looks Like Detroit May Be Next to Take Out the Trash

01 May 2008

An editorial in the Detroit News caught my eye this week. There's definitely some hyperbole involved, but that just makes it all the more interesting. Here's the start:

Detroit Public Schools teachers are following a suicidal path if the union members continue to be the major obstacle to reforming the city's schools.

They have to accept their share of the responsibility for the district's failure and recognize their jobs depend on regaining the confidence of parents who are increasingly choosing other education options.

The Detroit Federation of Teachers is among the country's most militant education unions. It has fought efforts to improve teacher quality, instructional rigor and more effective spending. The union's resistance to change, combined with the incompetence of Detroit administrators, has placed the school system at risk.

There are plenty of articles and reports out there about the decline in the public school system in the city. Nancy over at Teacher in a Strange Land has lived and worked in Michigan for many years and has her own unique insight on the issues. I can only look at things as an outsider as such, but the kinds of roadblocks described ring just as true here.

I'm not convinced that charter schools or other private initiatives will solve any of the problems. We still have the same students, families, and accountability measures. In many cases, we have the same teachers and administrators. I would agree that significant changes to the system may be necessary, but I think its shameful that the schools themselves don't make the push for it.

Those Detroit teachers who want a better working model and better results from their classrooms should not allow themselves to be held hostage by union factions.

The union is holding leadership elections this fall. Teachers who want change should use those elections to make an impact. Currently, militant members tend to control the union.

But in other cities, teachers tired of their union's knee-jerk resistance to change are making their voices heard. And in some case, they're actually leading the reform movement.

In Los Angeles, teachers have voted to turn over their public school to a charter operator that puts students' needs first.

The New York United Federation of Teachers is teaming up with the charter school operator Green Dot to open a high-performing school. The Chicago affiliate is exploring such a venture as well. Green Dot is unionized, but under a contract that rewards performance rather than seniority.

AFT-Michigan President David Hecker says his union would be interested in working with Green Dot to transform an existing troubled Michigan public school. It's a small step, but potentially an important one.

By now, Detroit teachers must realize the path they're on leads to destruction. Their tired cry for more state money has gone unanswered and, given the economy, will continue to be. Their only hope for maintaining their jobs, and what for many is their life's calling, is to embrace reform.

Teachers who wield union contracts to block changes that could benefit students will find themselves on the street, and that's where they belong.

Meanwhile, a school board member in an area district has resigned because union leadership there has harassed her family and her to the point where she can't continue because she is "unwilling to subject [her] innocent children to organized abuse by this teachers union." For more on area union woes, click on over to see what Dr. Pezz and Ryan have been dealing with. Teachers in right-to-work states should be envied.

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The Critical Mass

12 April 2008

I was told that the last time the teachers' contract was up for ratification in this district, just 15% of the membership was involved. As I think about this, I'm wondering who The Union actually represents? On the face of things, they supposedly represent all teachers...but the longer I am in this business, the more I discover greater numbers of teachers for whom this is not true. They may have money deducted from their paychecks (and not by choice) to fund Union graft, but feel that there is no sense of their professional values present in what is negotiated. They are a silent majority---at least for now. It would seem that they are trying to figure out what the next steps will be.

More and more, I'm sensing that there is a greater mass of discontent with unions. Whether it's been editorials in the New York Times or posts and comments in increasing numbers of blogs (like From the Trenches), there is far more critique of unions now than when I first started writing. While I don't think the public at large would deny teachers the benefit packages (health, dental...) that come with the job, I do think that they are wising up to the stranglehold unions have that makes tenure a greater priority than good instruction for children.

I recently heard from a friend here who made the choice to drop membership and become a fees payer. It was a decision mulled over for awhile, but in the end there was a realization that membership carried an agreement that the things the out of touch prez and her Little Dictator sidekick promote are okay. It just isn't. In a meeting with admin, if the admin claims that a teacher has waived the right to due process, shouldn't the prez bother to ask the teacher if this is true---rather than roll over for admin? Should crying when you don't get the outcome you want (as is often the case with the LD, much to admin's amusement) drive the decision making process in the district? Shouldn't it be incumbent on The Union to demonstrate that whatever views they push forward are truly those of the majority of members? Because if they're not---and the admin knows that 15% of membership is behind union leadership---it's not a very strong bargaining position. It would seem that The Union was interested in survival, it should seek out this critical mass and find out how to represent them.


Are Teachers' Unions Bad for Schools?

26 March 2008

Two Op-Ed pieces recently caught my eye: Teaching Change in the New York Times and Teachers' Unions Are Ruining Our Kids' Schools in the National Examiner. Both make the argument that the current practice of collective bargaining (and therefore a one-size-fits all contract for teachers) is stifling the educational process.

Most contracts are throwbacks to when nascent teacher unionism modeled itself on industrial unionism. Then, that approach made sense and resulted in better pay, working conditions and an organized voice. Yet schools are not factories. The work is not interchangeable and it takes more than one kind of school to meet all students’ needs. If teachers’ unions want to stay relevant, they must embrace more than one kind of contract. ---from Teaching Change

Teachers unions derive their money from the fact that, no matter how badly they function, public schools don't shut down. That's why they bitterly oppose any attempt to introduce competition into education.

It's why the Detroit teachers union organized a walk-out that sabotaged a $200 million private offer to fund charter schools in that troubled city. (The new schools would not have been unionized and would have competed with Detroit's decrepit public education system.)

But competition between schools isn't the only kind that teachers unions can't accept. Competition among individual teachers, with incentives for the best performers, also undermines the unions' chief selling point, collective bargaining.

If teachers are paid on their individual merits - like every other kind of professional, from accountants to dentists to engineers - why would they want to negotiate their salaries through a system that collectively lumps innovative, energetic educators together with slackers doing the bare minimum? ---from Unions are Ruining...

We tend to talk about merit pay in the form of bonuses, but what if it wasn't set up that way? What if it was simply different salary scales for different teachers to be contracted for? The "trick" in all of this (as well as in merit pay scenarios) is determining what is most valuable about classroom work as well as its monetary value. Can the threads of student achievement be untangled enough to identify exactly what each teacher contributes to the educational process of the student?

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Breaking Free

26 February 2008

The Colorado Springs Gazette says that Unions are Yesterday. Given the recent issues with The Union in Denver, the op-ed piece is not a surprise.

Throughout the country, most teachers belong to a chapter of the National Education Association. The Colorado branch is known as the Colorado Education Association, which is broken down by local chapters. Dues exceed $600 a year, which can be tough for teachers supporting families on wages that average $40-some thousand a year. In some school districts, such as D-11 in Colorado Springs, the union assumes membership and takes dues from a teacher’s wages unless the educator jumps through hoops to opt out during a short window of opportunity.

The union has never succeeded at getting teachers the wages they deserve, and it typically works against efforts to reward excellence with above-average pay. The only tangible benefit most teachers see for their membership fee is liability insurance to cover lawsuits.

Because of international trade and wondrous new technology, today’s business world is more hyper-competitive than ever. Barriers to entry are low, meaning new companies can challenge older businesses. The older companies must innovate or die. The workforce must be better prepared than ever to compete in markets that guarantee nothing and reward energy, quick thinking and ingenuity. Teachers are trying to respond by creating ever-improving, competitive schools — charter schools and neighborhood schools alike. But the union — stuck in the old world of institutionalized entitlement — gets in the way.

Take, for example, the experience of teachers at Denver’s Bruce Randolph Middle School. Principal Kristin Waters and her heroic staff lifted the school in recent years from among the worst in Colorado to one of the best, using what the Rocky Mountain News called “out-of-the-box strategies,” such as refusing to promote students with failing grades.
Realizing the union resisted most innovative measures, Waters and her staff sought to free the school from union rules that were holding it back. For example, they wanted the freedom to determine how much time children should spend in school each day. But the union — supposedly dedicated to the interests of education — balked. Union leaders wanted to maintain control over a variety of everyday decisions at the school, including hiring practices, thus impeding progress.

In addition to maintaining educational mediocrity, the NEA and its affiliates have used the hard-earned money of teachers to fund a variety of endeavors unrelated to education. A report by the U.S. Department of Labor showed the NEA funding Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow PUSH Coalition, People for the American Way, and the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, among an array of other noneducation related causes.
While thousands of teachers struggle to make ends meet, more than half the NEA’s 600-plus employees and officers earn salaries of six figures and up — wages paid by teachers who typically earn far less than half that much for more important work.

The actions of the Denver's Teacher Union are not necessarily unusual---but their visibility at a time when schools are working hard for every child may well represent a turning point in union power. In fact, a School-freedom Bill is currently working its way through the Colorado legislature. It "is perhaps the most-watched education legislation of the year, a bill that would let clusters of schools break from district rules and state law to form 'innovation zones.'" It also means that The Union would not be able to impede the function of these schools. This is looking like a healthy step in the right direction.

As an alternative to the NEA, the Colorado Springs article suggests the following:

The American Association of Educators, by contrast, is designed for today’s more competitive, progressive schools. It offers teachers twice the liability coverage of the NEA policies, with fees that are less than a third of the union dues. Teachers can pay as they go, and may opt in or out any time. Money collected in excess of the cost of liability coverage pays for continuing education courses offered through major universities — open to members and nonmembers alike. None of the money goes to fund activism or political lobbyists.

Colorado teachers have been choosing the
Association of American Educators over the union in such numbers that the organization opened its own Colorado chapter last year, known as PACE — the Professional Association of Colorado Educators ( Still, few teachers know about it. That’s because local NEA chapters have worked hard to prevent PACE representatives from distributing literature in schools or setting up tables at teacher orientation functions and benefit fairs. At one school in the Harrison School District of Colorado Springs, CEA representatives physically blocked a hallway to prevent teachers from reaching the PACE table.

The NEA is yesterday’s union, with no place in the cutting edge classroom. To usher in a new era, introduce teachers to the Association of American Educators and its local branch, PACE — a non-coercive association designed around modern educational needs. Young minds are too important for an outdated union to waste.

Let's hope that more teachers are able to break free so that students can get the education they need.

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One Small Step for Freedom from Unions

18 February 2008

Earlier this month, I mentioned that teachers in Denver, Colorado, were being held back by their union. The teachers at one school wanted some contract waivers---they voted and approved these waivers---and their union leadership refused to honor the request.

In a move that is good for teachers, students, administrators, and parents, the union has changed its stance:

In a sudden about face, the Denver teacher's union has granted two schools a series of waivers that gives the schools powers no traditional Colorado public program has ever had before. Bruce Randolph School, Manual High School, the Denver Public School District and the Denver Classroom Teachers Association announced the agreement on Tuesday afternoon.

Under the agreement, both Bruce Randolph and Manual will operate autonomously from DPS, meaning they will have power over who they hire, the budgets and what they teach. The DCTA had previously not given approval to the move for autonomy, but instead granted a series of waivers to circumvent the union's agreement with the district. Tuesday, all parties announced there are a new set of waivers being granted to Bruce Randolph, which applied for autonomy in December, and to Manual, which followed with its request a short time later. These new waivers give them the autonomy they had requested. The DPS board approved Bruce Randolph's request on Dec. 20 and plans to approve Manual's request at the Feb. 21 meeting. The waivers allow the schools to:
  • Decide how to structure the school leadership teams and what responsibilities those leadership teams have;
  • Add extra days to the school year (subject to additional compensation being paid);
  • Make decisions on how to allocate teacher time during the school day and how to utilize time on days in which students do not attend school;
  • Make decisions on teaching loads (e.g. the number of pupils per class);
  • Be free to hire new staff members without being subject to current hiring and staff transfer rules (staffing process);
  • Pay teachers more than the rates currently set for extra duties and extra time.
"We are pleased with the work we are doing with these two schools and the agreements we reached for the remainder of this school year and for next year," said DCTA President Kim Ursetta in a statement. "The faculty at Bruce Randolph is grateful for DCTA's support of our request," said the DCTA representative at Bruce Randolph, Greg Ahrnbrak, in a statement.

"This is a giant step forward towards educational reform and teacher professionalism. We are proud to be union members and DPS teachers."
Bruce Randolph Principal Kristin Waters said, "This is great news to our students, faculty and community. We are now even better equipped to drive improved student learning at Bruce Randolph."

Manual Principal Rob Stein agreed, saying the agreement "will improve the quality of the education we can offer our kids."

DPS Superintendent Michael Bennet also released a statement.
"This is great news for our kids, our teachers and our schools. I congratulate the schools for their reform efforts and their dedication to our students," said Bennet. "The board of education has stressed how important it is for us to give greater flexibility and autonomy, combined with accountability, to our schools, and this agreement is an important step forward towards those goals. We are pleased that the union has approved these efforts with respect to Bruce Randolph and Manual."

In some ways, this feels like a charter school type opportunity. The two schools will operate as public schools in DPS, but also outside the bounds just a bit. This could be a very significant step for other schools and districts, especially those with ultra-restrictive contracts. Have a look at the recent findings of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation in terms of how such contracts are hampering the progress in districts around the country---especially those with high minority populations in "closed shop" states. It appears that "right to work" policies are better for kids. What a giant leap it will be for students when more unions take a step back.

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When will The Union get something right?

04 February 2008

This month's union newsletter was full of various tidbits that show that the leadership just doesn't get it.

There's a whole page devoted to stirring up the proletariat over We're testing so much---when do we have time to teach? The rant starts off with some undocumented generalizations about how the "era of having 180 days of instruction appears to be long gone," but quickly changes things to money. You know what? The state does spend an awful lot of money on the WASL---I definitely agree with that. But what is interesting is how The Union throws its own members under the bus in the process, describing how many of its teachers have been paid for WASL related training and work. Another point of interest is how they compare the costs associated with "a typical norm-referenced test, such as the Iowa Test of Basic Skills." Um...let's start with the fact that the WASL is not norm-referenced, and end with the acknowledgment that Iowa is now moving to the same kind of state-wide standards found here. Finally, a paragraph is devoted to the State Board of Education's report that the "WASL isn't even a particularly good test." Apparently, The Union doesn't mind all of the money spent by the board for an independent contractor to evaluate things...just independent contractors to develop them.

Meanwhile, The Union is crying about academic freedom again---a big survey is headed in the direction of teachers. (We're not too busy to fill out surveys for The Union apparently, just do our jobs in the classroom.) This seems to come up over and over and there's no reason for it. The case law out there does not apply to public schools. The state code tells us what to teach. There is some choice in how the instruction is delivered, but the "what" isn't up for discussion. Maybe The Union could spend the money stolen from my paycheck on doing something to make a real difference?

I suppose things could be worse. I could be teaching in Denver, Colorado. "The refusal of the Denver Classroom Teachers Association to support the contract waivers sought by Bruce Randolph School has resulted in one of the worst public relations disasters ever suffered by a Colorado labor union. In rejecting the very reasonable reform requests sought by the great majority of the school's teachers, supported by parents and approved by the Denver Public Schools board, the DCTA has gotten a very public black eye that no amount of union doubletalk or sophistry can conceal. The message is clear: Union power trumps both the wishes of teachers and the needs of children."

You can read more here about the problems faced by Denver's teachers who are stuck in a union that is more interested in its own petty agendas than truly supporting the needs of the classroom. It doesn't appear that The Union is going to get anything right in the foreseeable future. What a shame for professional educators and children in our schools.


Will 2008 Be Different?

21 December 2007

As the calendar year wound down this week, various conversations with teachers made me wonder "Will 2008 be any different?"

  • I know a teacher who is just fantastic in the classroom. It's someone who constantly strives to improve instruction, tracks information on students, seeks out professional growth opportunities...and has hit a wall in terms of collaboration. No one wants to talk about what works for kids---only what's convenient for teachers. In order to continue to have some passion for work, this teacher is going to have to find an environment that supports that. This is not the first time someone has "outgrown" that particular school. How many more times will this happen before anyone in a leadership capacity notices that the culture there doesn't allow the best teachers to be retained?
  • Another related discussion centered around "bad" teachers. If it isn't any secret as to who isn't getting it done in the classroom, why don't we get them out of there? Why do we move them around to different grades or schools...put children who have parents who won't complain about poor teaching into seats...and so on?
  • And last of all, if schools and districts which are in the last step of school improvement sanctions are able to have school-wide structures for common formative assessments, targeted instruction toward the standards, and reporting structures which enable high-quality analysis of student progress without union interference, why can't districts which are only at the start of the school improvement process? When will teacher unions wake up and realize that what happens in a classroom is about kids---and that it in the best interests of their membership to support best practices and accountability?
Sadly enough, I don't think 2008 is going to be the year when we will see any of these questions answered other than "Not this year."

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Preaching to the Choir

06 December 2007

Some highlights and other points of interest from the first day of the Sound Grading Practices Conference in Portland...

  • Breakfast with The Repairman. Yes, he's just as convivial in person as he is on his blog. I didn't watch him present today (too many good things to choose from on the program...and I knew he'd be preaching to the choir if I were in the audience), but I'm sure that he has even more fans now. There was a lovely contingent of people from his district that let me crash at their table for the keynote. It definitely seems like a district with its collective head on straight.
  • The keynote this morning was delivered by Ken O'Connor, who I've seen/met before. This presentation was on his latest book (Repair Kit: 15 Fixes for Broken Grades). He is the loudest voice in the standards-based wilderness. I certainly agree with the philosophy he promotes---however, two thoughts were provoked in me this morning. One is simply that I wish he would reword his 15 ideas. They are all negatively phrased, e.g. "Don't include student behaviors (effort, participation, adherence to class rules, etc.) in grades; include only achievement." Okay, so the end is a little more upbeat; but, I think people generally respond better to things that aren't worded as a "Thou shalt not..." It makes things seem doable because there is a positive course of action. If we're talking about repairs here, then let's talk about how we fix things. I know it's a matter of semantics---like the difference between telling my kids "Be on time." vs. "Don't be late." It just makes things simpler to directly tell people what you want. My second thought is that teachers would likely benefit from clearer information on what to do, rather than examples of what not to do. I realize that a step-by-step guide wouldn't be appropriate because there is no "one size fits all" in education; however, time is our most precious commodity...and we're asking teachers/schools/districts to take this information and individually translate it. There has to be a better scaffold.
  • After making a comment in one of the sessions, teachers from Texas asked where I was in the room at the end of the presentation so they could find out more about how I track marks and handle report card grades. We had a very fun chat.
  • Listening to a group of teachers from Canada talk about their first reactions to standards-based grading---something which was brand new to them as of this morning. They their comments, but it was good to remember how change has to happen. I was asked by them why my district didn't send more people. (For the record, they didn't send me---I'm paying for all of this out of pocket and using personal leave.) I mentioned that Boss Lady 2.0 is the only one here. I didn't mention that she is likely the least useful representative. Before I even got here I had heard some general murmuring that she was not the desired choice of someone to send. I didn't have a good answer for the question at the table. "Money," I said. "Poor choice in priorities" is what the real answer is.
  • Some of my district's materials are being used at the conference. At one session, people at the table noticed that I was from the same place as the source of the handouts and asked me why we only have standards-based grading and reporting for elementary. "Because The Union leadership doesn't feel like supporting it." When I mentioned that the prez and the Little Dictator don't even work in the classroom---and haven't for years (but don't tell the Little Dictator that she's not a teacher or she'll cry...again)---the consensus at the table is that The Union must be totally out of it. Several people there were very happy that they don't have to deal with union weirdness in their districts/states. No kidding. It is also worth noting that BL2.0 won't even support conversations about grading for secondary. (Good thing she was here, eh?) I noticed that both the presenter (who was in our district at one point) and her hubby (who was in charge of Curriculum before my original Boss Lady) mention which district in Washington they worked for. They seem to be much happier away from the culture and union games there.
This evening, I am enjoying a quiet time of things. Portland is a beautiful city and having time to walk and explore has been wonderful. It should be another great day at the conference tomorrow.

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Giving the Union Their Dues

05 November 2007

As an agency fees payer, I'm entitled by law to information about The Union that its own members do not receive. Every year, I get an accounting of expenses and the opportunity to object to how my money was spent. Shall we see what this year's packet has in store?

  • $220,629.46 in dues (paid for on the backs of and out of the paychecks of 688 teachers)
  • $1571.18 interest on checking account
  • $8363.35 in "miscellaneous revenue" (no explanation given, but possibly bullied from teachers in the form of taking their lunch money)
  • $497.00 for the "Spring Function" (they made money on a party that cost them $5635.57)
I won't list all of the outflows---it's a long list, but let's have a look at some of them:
  • $80,755.56 President's salary, benefits, summer stipend, and mileage
  • $8,733.08 for office hospitality and parties (not including the $1700 stipend for the social coordinator)
  • $11,851.59 for going to conferences
  • $32,147.48 for 29 different stipends, including negotiators, scribes, and the overpaid social coordinator
  • $12,882.14 for substitutes for members who wanted a day off
So far, we're up to $146,369. 85---not including the rent for the office, supplies, and other the net assets reported of $71,820 (including carryover from the previous year).

That's right, nearly $72K is sitting in the local Union's bank account. Money that came out of my paycheck and that of every other teacher. Money that could have been used to feed families, buy shoes for children, pay bills, and so on. Thanks, guys, for looking out for us.

The Union is saying that 94% of their expenses are chargeable to me. Would anyone like to have a look at the list above and explain how any of this (let alone 94%) had a direct impact on my working environment? I paid for the Union Prez and the Little Dictator to fly to California. I pay for their copies, but don't get their newsletter. I pay for their meetings, but aren't allowed to attend. I pay for the prez's mileage, but I don't ride in her car. I pay for other teachers to be away from their jobs, but I'm not eligible to use the service. And before anyone jumps on the "but you're just a fees payer" bandwagon, let me say up front that as a non-member, the only stated services I am not eligible for are legal and insurance related, can't be a rep, credit card offers, and other "discount buying."

Do you know how your Union dues are spent? What percentage would you say actually goes toward improving your personal workplace?


Look for the Union Label

13 October 2007

Are you living in a state with forced unionism for teachers? (There's a map here, if you're not sure...or are thinking about moving.) Dues vary by district and state. Here, they're close to $870 per year. As a "fees payer," I do get a bit of a rebate once a year.

I was poking around the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation recently. Tidbits of interest included a way (pending member support) to deauthorize the portion of the contract which forces dues collection. The union doesn't lose the ability to be the negotiator in collective bargaining, but it does have a bit more accountability to potential members. There's even a "Concerned Educators Against Forced Unionism" group, a blog, and other resources available.

Teacher in a Strange Land shared a link to an interesting report by the Education Sector about Leading the Local: Teachers Union Presidents Speak on Change, Challenges. As TiaSL points out, one of the most interesting aspects is the "learning from the research was that most of the presidents felt they were leading “'parallel unions:' an old-guard contingent unwilling to give up the adversarial politics that got them improved salaries, benefits and entitlements, and a newer group of teachers who are more interested in guaranteed mentoring, professional learning, teamwork and genuine opportunities for leadership." That is certainly the case here, with the union leadership only interested in the "old-guard contingent." If the newer group of teachers had the ability to withhold dues until their interests were adequately represented, I wonder what would happen?

One of my primary objections to the union as it exists today is simply that if teachers are professionals, we should act in a professional manner. The "old guard" is purely representing a blue-collar mentality of labor-management relations. It's time that we as teachers expected more from "our" representation and thought more about how we view ourselves. As long as our appearance as "just teachers" is facilitated by union leadership, we can never build the kind of collaborative community we need to help every student reach his or her potential.


Got Contract?

11 August 2007

The teachers in this district apparently have a new contract to ratify. The scuttlebutt is that negotiations ended in the wee hours of last weekend. The Union's Little Dictator even showed up at the administrators' meeting this week---though not everyone believed she had reason to be present. Everyone is feeling rather smug, as some districts in the state are having trouble getting to this point.

I haven't seen or heard any specifics of the newly negotiated working conditions for us, but teachers in Bethel aren't cottoning to the idea of using WASL scores as a component of teacher evaluation. They have agreed to enter into mediation with the district in order to resolve sticky issues in time for the start of school. (Jim has more on the story over at WA Teachers.)

Other districts, including Arlington, Edmonds, and Mukilteo, have also been engaging in negotiations throughout the summer. They seem to have been able to reach an agreeable conclusion, although the rank and file has yet to put their seal of approval on things.

I had heard that The Union here was unwilling to move through negotiations too quickly as they wanted to see what other districts were offering within their contracts. It would not surprise me to learn that they were specifically looking for protections for ineffective teachers. Someone recently mentioned to me that one of our elementary teachers recently made a point of taking on roles within The Union because she realized that she wasn't a good teacher. Having Union visibility would be the only way to keep her job.

Is anyone looking out for kids in all of this?


Another Reason to Be Away from the NEA

05 July 2007

Via Pharyngula...

This year's annual meeting for the National Education Association includes a booth by "Answers in Genesis," a creationist group. As Dr. Myers points out in his post:

It's rather like finding the Mafia has a booth at the police convention, but there they are, with lots of pictures, proudly peddling creationist dogma that is not legal to teach in public schools, and which can get school districts embroiled in expensive lawsuits, to teachers... I'm mystified why the NEA would allow this — any teacher in a public school who followed the advice of these clowns could land their school in very hot water, not to mention that they would be misleading and miseducating their students.

Hey, it's just another reason for the NEA (WEA, Uniserv, and Local) to suck away that $700 from my paycheck right? If a few out there teachers don't do stupid things, then what would be the point of the mob enforcement "protection" mentality that they have? Why not stoke their own fires by providing materials for teachers to get in trouble for using? I have no doubt that it would make perfect sense to the union "leadership" here.

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Get a Grip

16 June 2007

Many of us in the district have realized what an out of control union exists in our midst. It doesn't take much contact with other districts to discover that they don't have nearly the same issues in trying to effect positive change for children. Some cases in point just from this week...

An elementary teacher was telling others in a group how some at her school went to their union rep because the policy around field trips was changing. Um, what exactly does that have to do with your working conditions? Does it change your benefits or pay? Perhaps not being able to access a bus on certain days interferes with how your administrator supervises or evaluates you? I don't get it. What do the procedures for student field trips have to do with a teacher's contract? There was a look of puzzlement on the faces of a few others in the room (along with some rolled eyes). The Union is there to watch the contract, not go "there, there" whenever anything comes up that a teacher doesn't like or think is fair about the world.

Meanwhile, The Union negotiator asked that I not attend a presentation happening in the near future. This is the same one who takes great joy in rubbing the nose of one of my co-workers into the fact that there is a "fees payer in the office." Horrors! Run! There is someone who doesn't buy her line. Who knows what she's after this time, but the impact of this news on those who had requested my presence only serves to give more reason to distrust The Union. There are things that they must wish to hide.

I could go on about the excited salivation by one teacher this week about the "emergency phone tree" being developed around contract news for the summer.

Or perhaps how I listened to teacher after teacher beg to pilot the new math materials next year but because The Union is complaining about teacher workload, these teachers can't have what they want and what kids need.

I don't know what it will take for people to get a grip. I only hope that someone can tame The Union beast before any more damage is done.


The Union Goon

08 June 2007

Some of us here marvel at The-Thing-That-Is-The-Union. I hear more and more of my colleagues tempted to just be "fees payers," as they believe that The Union does not truly represent what they value...and yet in "leaving" its official membership, it only gives a stronger voice to the minority in the district. A minority which could never be satisfied. So, you either stay and try to effect change from within, or you just keep quiet, or you do like me and make a statement with your fees. I have enough on my plate trying to change things for kids from the inner workings of the district. I don't have the energy or capacity to deal with Union Goons, too.

This is a year where the entire contract is up for negotiations. I know this and yet I was caught completely off-guard when one of the Goons showed up at my desk on Tuesday afternoon.

"Hi! I'm Tracy, and I'm from The Union."

I eyed Tracy suspiciously. I was prepared for a science kit onslaught.

She continued. "I'm supposed to work with you and two of the principals on rewriting the Mentor Program portion of the contract."

Say what?

Participation for beginning teachers (a/k/a "noobs") is part of the contract and there are some parameters around the selection of mentors. But frankly, it's not something that would seem contentious. In a year of school closures, concerns about RIFs in coming years, program changes, etc...we're going to focus on noobs as part of the contract reopener? Whose idiotic idea was it to make this a big fish to fry?

I redirected her and handed her off to the person who will be supporting that group (if we have any) in the fall. After all, that person will have to live with whatever is negotiated. Later, after I'd had some time to recover, I got kinda indignant about the whole thing. Is it assumed that I must participate in this folly? What made Miss Tracy think I would be on the side of The Union? Is there no such thing as courtesy in giving me a "heads up" about this or perhaps making something invitational? The assumption seemed to be that I would drop to my knees in rapture over the idea. Her leadership must know better than that. I did have thoughts about meeting with Tracy and the admins and just telling the admins there and then that whatever they wanted, I would agree should go into the revision. Maybe I should contact her and tell her I've changed my mind and would love to work with her on this.

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Learned Helplessness

20 May 2007

Longtime readers here know that I don't belong to The Union, even though Washington is a closed shop state. I am a "fees payer," meaning that the dues are still withdrawn from my paycheck each month, but once a year, I am provided with a refund representing the amount paid that was used for "non-union activities." I know that there are some very healthy unions out and about, but the one here appears incredibly dysfunctional.

Several e-mails were tossed around the district this week as a few Union members argued about whether or not contract negotiations this year should be mindful of the fact that there are ever decreasing funds available on the part of the district. Losing 3500 kids in 10 years just doesn't generate the revenue it once did. Those programs which escaped cuts this year---like music---will likely be undergoing the budget knife in the next few years. How deep the cuts go depend, in part, on the benefits staff get in the meantime. Some Union members understand that any new benefits which are negotiated will come at the cost of programs. Others, it appears, seem to harbor mistrust over things that happened over a decade ago and are sure that the district must be lying about funding issues.

It is this second group I feel most sorry for. They don't seem to understand that their continued railing against The Man only reinforces the notion that they don't have any control of their work place. They look to Union leadership to save them---something the current regime appears to truly relish. The tone of each e-mail is meant to support the us vs. them mentality; and, frankly, it comes across as rather fascist. If you're not with them, you're the enemy...and being the enemy, everything you say is automatically considered to be a lie. (What I wouldn't give to draw a little Hitler mustache on their Little Dictator...well, if she didn't already have a mustache.)

I do wonder what will happen in the next few years if benefits increase? Will every music teacher whose job is cut because monies that once funded his or her program are now used to provide another teacher more planning time realize that it was The Union who brought that to the doorstep? Or, will those teachers on the chopping block advocate now for some moderation in the negotiations---hold the line, but be mindful of the future? How many teachers will learn that they don't have to be helpless. They have a choice to tell the Union "No, thank you."


Under the Bus

04 May 2007

It's no secret that I don't support The Union in this district. I am not opposed to the idea of unions...I even think that they have their place in education. I do not, however, support the concept of a "closed shop" where people are forced to join...and even if that were not the case in Washington, I could not in good conscience belong to this district's association. They do not represent the things I value as an educator. You might imagine today that I took no small delight in throwing one of their reps under the bus in front of the very teachers she was there to support. I like this woman and I realize that she was there to fulfill an obligation, but someone has to be there to speak for kids. So under the bus she went.

Believe it or not, the Free for All that started six weeks ago didn't come to a head until today. This was not due to me not caring or being too busy to mind this issue, but rather that I didn't have any backup at the ready. Today I did. The teachers who came to chat today don't want to do the new science kit because they do a unit on salmon. It's good stuff, to be sure, but it only has a couple pieces of content---and no process, which the majority of what kids are expected to demonstrate in order to meet the standards.

The Union rep was one of the people who selected this kit for adoption. I made sure to point this out in the beginning, because I have to say that my teachers who served on the materials adoption committee have scattered like cockroaches when teachers turned on the lights of their displeasure. I have let them run, knowing that they have to get along with others in their buildings. I don't mind taking any "blame," because the bottom line is that I'm not at fault. But as long as there was the one committee rep there...and not in a position to support the choice she helped make...then perhaps I should point that out to the teachers who were upset.

The bottom line? Teachers have to teach the kit. It's possible that the pieces they've developed can be integrated, but only as supplements. The backup I had today (someone with cajones...not Boss Lady 2.0) made it clear that (a) it is expected that teachers use the district adopted materials and (b) instead of complaining all the time how they have too much to do, they now have an opportunity to let something go and should take it. I'll work with them on putting some things together, but they do not get to trade one for the other.

I couldn't be more pleased. The kids win...and the only one under the bus this time is The Union.

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Union Blues

12 March 2007

Washington is a closed shop state for teachers, but I have never been a union member. I do pay fees because I "benefit" from representation in terms of the contract, but I get a refund on my fees each year for whatever non-contract activities they've engaged. Why don't I just join? Because teachers are professionals, not blue collar labor. As long as we act like blue collar labor---especially with our negotiations---we will be treated as such. If we are professionals, like doctors, lawyers, and so on, then we should behave that way. Those are the philosophical reasons. Within the district, I object to the workings of the union because their leadership feels it has a right to be involved with all district functions. Their jobs are to watch the contract---and that is all.

The odd thing about being in my role with the district is that I am a teacher working under the same contract as every other, but neither the union nor other teachers view us in that capacity. We are regarded as administrators---and the union is more than willing to engage in member-member attacks as a result. They have gotten their hands slapped by those levels of the organization which are above them, but it has yet to stop them.

Today, I listened to a conversation between another specialist and the union vice-president (hereafter referred to as the "goon") which was completely inappropriate. The goon wanted the specialist to alter an e-mail going out to teachers about an upcoming materials adoption. (Remember, we are paying them to watch the contract---which does not include how district materials are adopted.) This was so that the goon could "protect" the specialist from attacks by teachers. Pardon me? The union has no business with member-member interactions. If teachers have an issue with contract violations, they deal with it in terms of administration. Finally, the goon mentioned that she was worried that teachers would end up with curriculum that they might not like. Um, it's kids who are accountable. And if there are materials which are better aligned with standards and are grade-level appropriate, then kids deserve to have access to them. I understand that people don't like change---teachers, too. But what happens in the classroom is about kids every day...not adults. As adults, we have a responsibility to meet the needs of students. I'm really tired of union goons who don't get that.


Union Games

22 April 2006

Most of us who work in Curriculum went over after work a few days ago for a meeting with The Union. You might remember that we'd heard that they were being very "aggressive" about taking away our jobs now that the contract is up for renegotiation. This is not the first time that they have seemingly forgotten that we are part of their membership (whether or not we want to be).

The good news is that the parts of the contract which are included for this year's bargaining do not include Curriculum.

The bad news? I hardly know where to begin. The meeting was 45 minutes late getting started because The President was out at a car dealership conducting personal business. Or is it more unprofessional to use a second-grade sing-song voice when imitating the words of the District? The President kept talking about how teachers need more time to plan their implementataion of new standards and strategies in the classroom. Hey, I agree. But The Prez not once talked about exploring ways to build more time in the day---only about how to get a few more dollars into teachers' pockets. The Union is apparently holding grudges against the district for decisions they made two and three administrations ago. Should I point out their jabs at changes in the science program? It's true that at two schools, as science course demands increase for students that they will decrease in electives. But the district is going to have to cut ten secondary positions by next fall. Science only can take the blame for 1.5 of those.

By the end of the meeting, they were trying (and failing) to whip us into some sort of frenzy about how we should be the ones deciding what our jobs were about. You know, none of us are in Curriculum to serve ourselves. We're there for other teachers so that they can make a positive difference for kids. Too bad The Union doesn't have the same ideals for their job descriptions.


Money Well Spent

14 April 2006

If you want to read about the collective wisdom of the NEA, there are plenty of edubloggers out there who will give you an earful. Washington is a "closed shop" state---if you teach, you must pay dues to The Union. You can "object" and have part returned to you or all donated to a charity of your choice. But the full amount of money (over $700 in my district) leaves your paycheck each year.

So, not only do they rape money from my pocket every month---now they're out to take away my job. And not just my job. They're out to get rid of every staff member who works in Curriculum. Why? Because our collective salaries could be divvied up amongst the other 800 teachers to give them a pay raise. The Union seems to have forgotten that if they send us back to the classroom---fifteen teachers will lose their jobs due to seniority issues. Not to mention that the district is overstaffed and some teachers' positions are already on the chopping block.

The Curriculum Dep't. has requested a liaison meeting with The Union to find out what their intentions really are. If that doesn't go well, we'll work our way up the food chain. There aren't any guarantees, of course, but there have been precedents of people who went above the local union reps and achieved wonderful results.

Would I be upset if I went back to the classroom full time? Nope. I enjoy my time with kids. But considering I'm paying $700+/year in extortion fees to the NEA Mafia to "protect" my job, doesn't that mean they shouldn't try to cut it?


Same Old Song---Will Anyone Dance?

15 July 2005

Those of you who have been recently haunting the edusphere have likely noticed lots of posts about teacher pay. Some states (like California and Texas) are seriously looking into "merit pay" for teachers. Others are simply taking advantage of a free market system: the more you offer, the better pool you attract (a/k/a the "get what you pay for" theory).

But will more pay---regardless of how it's assigned---attract more people to the profession? And, will it bring people to teaching for those vital positions that are hardest to fill: math, science, and special ed?

An Op Ed piece in the Indianapolis Star claims that a "one size fits all" with regards to teacher salary isn't appropriate. Indiana has recently been funding a program to transition people from other professions into teaching. But even with "modest successes," they still lack a deep pool of teachers from critical areas. Why teach for $32,000 a year when you can work as a drug company chemist for $60,000 a year?

As a society, we'd like to think that teaching is something of a noble profession...even a "calling." Therefore, salary and benefits shouldn't be at the forefront of our thinking. Maybe that's how things should be. It isn't how they are. People like money---for the security it gives and for the toys it buys. If one employer is willing to look at your education and credentials and pay you twice what another employer will, I'm thinking that nearly everyone would choose the higher pay. Even if you would be a knockout teacher.

The Indianapolis Star suggests that in order to level the playing field a bit, that teachers of math, science, and special ed be on a different pay scale---an elevated one which would (hopefully) allow more professionals in the industry to get into teaching without a significant decrease in financial security.
Critics argue it's not fair to pay a high school trigonometry teacher more than a second-grade classroom teacher since both work equally hard transforming lives. Is it fair to our kids that 15 percent of high school math teachers didn't major or minor in mathematics? Is it fair that 95 percent of urban school districts have openings now for math teachers and can't fill them?

I don't see any end to the teacher pay debate for the foreseeable future. I have no doubt that the NEA will fight any talk of merit pay or separate pay scales for different specialties. Instead, they will continue to endorse the pay scale developed over 100 years ago---one which rewards older teachers (and protects "bad" ones) while punishing the new blood we so richly need in our schools.

Lost in the shuffle are our students. Do they or do they not deserve the best math and science teachers possible?

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Blogrolling Along

21 January 2005

I did it! I added a blogroll. Okay, so it's not like I've saved the world or learned to do open heart surgery. Small steps are important, though, in life.

Today was as nutty as anticipated. And no, it didn't feel like a Friday.

By 6:30 this morning, I had at least a half dozen kids in my room and lab. (See? I'm not the only nut at school at that hour.) I was trying to set out another lab for my sophs. For their fall final, I have them solve a murder. There are 10 labs (fiber analysis, blood typing, DNA sequencing, etc.). I set out 1 a day to keep the kiddos going. Anyway, after being gone for 2 days, there was a mess to clean up in the lab. I share my portable with two other teachers, neither of whom are neatniks. So, I cleaned up, set up the next lab, got the exam ready for my seniors, played hide-and-seek with the stuff the sub left (don't ask), and tried to organize all the stuff I picked up at the conference.

The wave of kids hit. My classes went very well---I do enjoy my students and it was nice to be missed. After lunch, I had a meeting with the principal, and then another meeting with staff. Eventually, I got back out to my room to meet some kids who needed the lab (again). But I kicked them out by 3 and came home.

Earlier in this post, I mentioned something related to my contract. Let me just say here and now that I hate the NEA. Due to the law in the state, I am required to belong to The Union. It is a closed shop. And as a result, nearly $700 a year is raped from my paycheck. Seems to me that if The Union really gave a rip about how much I make, they wouldn't take so much. I am not "anti-union," in principle. But I tell you, as long as teachers act like blue collar workers, they will be treated as such. If they want to be treated with the kind of respect accorded to other professions---like doctors and lawyers---then they need to act like professionals.

I brought home a veritable poopload of work to do this weekend. I will try to make it through as much as I can, but I'm also tired. And with that, I think I'll drag out some of this work.

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