18 February 2008

One Small Step for Freedom from Unions

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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