26 February 2008

Breaking Free

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 (www.coloradoteachers.org). 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.


EdWonk said...

I WISH my union dues were only $600 per year. The &!!!%@ take over $900 per year whether I belong or not. Our unelected-by-the-rank-and-file union leaders then give part of my money to political candidates that I actively oppose.


The Science Goddess said...

Mine are over $800, too.

I can't believe that they say that they care about my salary when they take every penny they can from it.