June
5th 2012
Wisconsin & Douglas County (CO): Key Moment for Professional Teaching, Reform?

Posted under Governor & Independence Institute & Innovation and Reform & PPC & School Board & School Finance & Suburban Schools & Teachers

So I hear there’s this little election going on in Wisconsin today. As is so often the case, the political happenings are closely connected to the issues of our public school system. One of the nation’s leading education reform voices, RiShawn Biddle, has written a two-part series (here and here) highlighting the dilemma centrist Democrats face regarding aggressive collective bargaining reforms like those advanced in Wisconsin by Governor Scott Walker.

Biddle shines a big spotlight on the national implications of today’s likely Walker victory for the future politics of education reform. You really need to read both pieces in their entirety. But in this passage he really drives the point home:

For most veteran teachers, the value of union membership mostly has to do with the perceived ability to shape workplace conditions (even if much of it is determined by state laws instead of at the bargaining table), and that’s what they like about the concept of collective bargaining. Stripping teachers’ union affiliates of that symbolic power is a critical step towards remaking teaching into a true profession. As much as centrist Democrats hate to admit it, the membership losses experienced by the NEA and AFT in Wisconsin proves that Walker’s strategy was the right one. More importantly, Walker’s move to end forced collections of dues from teachers regardless of whether or not they wanted NEA and AFT protection has also stripped the unions of the money that sustains their influence, weakening them just enough for reformers on both sides of the political aisle to finally support reform-minded candidates and advance systemic overhauls for the decade to come.

More than a year ago, when Gov. Walker spurred the Badger State debate over government union privileges, my Education Policy Center friend Ben DeGrow unpacked some of the key issues in an op-ed, concluding:

An identical repeat in Colorado is off the table. But given our own budget crunch, local school boards and city councils should consider re-thinking negotiated policies that empower union interests over the public interest.

Nowhere has this consideration emerged more than with Colorado’s Douglas County school board, which is advancing through its current, soon-to-end round of open negotiations for an end to automatic payroll dues deductions, unaccountable tax-funded release time for union officers and activities, and special privileged access to district systems and facilities.

The proposal coming forward in the state’s third-largest (and the nation’s 66th-largest) school district also includes reshaping compensation to reward performance and to differentiate among different teaching specialties.

In a recent article DeGrow wrote for School Reform News, Biddle registered his prediction that “old-style education unions will continue their downward trend and succumb to major reforms within the next two decades.” Who knows? He may be right.

And if he is right, between today’s landmark election in Wisconsin and the bold proposals in Douglas County, we may someday look back at this week as a significant moment for professional teaching and education reform.

3 Comments »

3 Responses to “Wisconsin & Douglas County (CO): Key Moment for Professional Teaching, Reform?”

  1. Zach Rupp on 06 Jun 2012 at 1:13 am #

    Funny- You’d figure people would tire of this conversation that is ill-informed, ill-advised, and does nothing but fuel fires with no reputable intention or outcome, except continued frustration for all.

    Yes, the Federal and State governments do “shape” workplace conditions, but only on a larger scale that still must be translated into the local situations, which is where the district and union steps in. Good luck in changing the state system to make a “one-size fits all” to meet the needs of the students, families, and constituents across the state.

    How is released time “unaccountable”? Most often union leadership that is “released” from the district to carry out union duties/roles are paid by unions to the districts from dues-dollars collected from members. How is this paid for by tax dollars? If you mean that the teachers who pay dues are utilizing their earned paychecks to do so, and those paychecks are funded by tax dollars, then I guess you could look at it that way. But then that means you also get to tell me where I can buy my groceries (and maybe what I can buy)…

    Why wouldn’t I want to pay for activities that include professional practice expansion and development? Clearly districts lack the resources to do it effectively enough for all employees. In reading your article, I am left to read between your lines that all “union activities” means old-school striking or work stoppage. Speaking of striking, when was the last one in Colorado…1994? I am not saying one couldn’t happen now, but clearly that is not the modus operandi of the union(s).

    As long as “management” (including reformers) are largely from non-related professional arenas and lack the experience as well as expertise, they can not grasp the true realities within the trenches or front-line, education in this case, from student, teacher, and parental points-of-view (collectively), then the union will continue to serve as a piece in the greater system of “checks-and-balances”. At some point, unions will also be allowed to be the gate-keepers of the professions they represent.

  2. Eddie on 06 Jun 2012 at 12:05 pm #

    Can and should professional teacher voices play an important role in shaping local policy and working conditions? Absolutely. Is the monopoly model of bargaining necessary to accomplish this? Certainly not.

    You ask how release time is unaccountable? You ask how it’s paid for by tax dollars? Read http://education.i2i.org/2010/02/colorado-schools-and-association-release-time-making-the-privilege-accountable-to-citizens/. That should clarify your understanding. I too am thankful Colorado hasn’t had issue with teacher strikes in nearly 20 years (and outside the city of Denver, an even longer time). Union activities can entail internal membership meetings, political campaigns, private bargaining negotiations, grievance actions, etc. When the union pays for the time off, it’s not so much an issue. When taxpayers are footing the bill, as is often the case, the dynamics change.

    Professional development makes up a small piece of union budgets. No one says that school districts should provide all, most, or necessarily even any PD. But why set up a monopoly situation where the union alone determines PD opportunities? Options are good for teachers, too. If you’re thinking of the union as a voluntary association with guild-like status, which your comment seems to imply, then that would represent a significant shift from the current situation, a shift that anyone not vested in special interest power could applaud.

  3. Ed is Watching » Wisconsin Postmortem: More on Teachers, Unions, and Where It’s All Headed on 06 Jun 2012 at 12:41 pm #

    [...] I shared some thoughts about the current and coming changes to public education labor relations and the teaching [...]

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