Joe Williams: Teachers themselves will push unions to better models

Joe Williams

Joe Williams

Editor’s note: This is the second of four guest posts on the future of teachers unions.

When I was a cub reporter in my 20’s at a unionized (but open shop) newspaper in the Midwest, I waited about five years before I signed my union card and started paying dues to the Communications Workers of America. The delay wasn’t because I was cheap (though I was). It was out of principle: I had trouble supporting a union and a collective bargaining agreement which was at complete cross-purposes with my interests. I actually liked my job and wanted to keep it.

I was the youngest, least-senior reporter at a time in the early 1990’s when newspapers nationwide were just starting their cost-slashing death spirals, which meant I was watching colleagues take buyout after buyout, while position after position would subsequently go unfilled. The contract held that if there were layoffs, it was “Last In, First Out.” And rumors of layoffs were almost always in the air.

I understood the union had a job to do by representing the older folks who were worried that a cheaper (and perhaps more handsome) young worker might inch them out of a higher-paying job. But it just seemed stupid for me to pay dues to a union that was fighting hard to make sure I was going to be the chump who was teed-up to get tossed out onto the street. (After a few years, some new chumps came on board and I gave in to the argument that I had been a free-loader on the union contract for a long time.)

I mention this at the start of this post on the future of teacher unionism not because I want to hammer away at LIFO or the newspaper industry, but because I believe it is important to remember that self-interest is a pretty important factor in this discussion. Two considerations, in particular, are worth noting:

1. Teachers will continue to seek protection from teacher unions if they believe it is in their interest.

2. Unions will continue to operate using business models which are in the union’s interest. Continue Reading →


Florida magnet school teachers and parents vote to go charter

Nearly every teacher and parent at a popular magnet school in Bradenton, Fla., has voted in favor of turning the district school into a charter school.

rowlette magnetRowlett Magnet Elementary Principal Brian Flynn announced the final tally Monday evening during a public meeting at the Manatee County school, noting 94 percent of his instruction staff and 95 percent of parents turned in Yes ballots.

“So that’s pretty overwhelming support,” he said, but “we have more work to do.” That includes developing a financial plan, naming an independent school board and putting together a “solid” charter application that is due to the district by Aug. 1.

The move follows months of turmoil in the school district, where a $38 million budget shortfall has resulted in state intervention and a reorganization plan that has brought a districtwide spending freeze, program cuts and threats of layoffs. It got so bad recently at one local middle school, the principal sent home letters to parents asking for donations to make it through the final weeks of the school year.

Rowlett administrators, teachers and parents decided that rather than lose their special art and communications classes, and devoted teachers, they would attempt a charter conversion.

“It’s not the direction I thought we would be going in after 13 years,” said Flynn, a 34-year district employee who has led the school since it opened in 2000. “It’s not about wanting to leave the district. We wanted to be able to continue the type of programs that we have always offered.”

The district will have to review the application. If approved, Rowlett could open as a charter school – the first conversion charter in Manatee and the 21st such school in Florida – in the 2014-15 school year.

For parent Erin Novarro, who has a rising second-grader and fourth-grader at Rowlett and enrolled them in the school because of the special programs, going charter is the right decision. It’s the only way, she said, “to keep Rowlett Rowlett.”

Every one of the 61 teachers eligible to vote on the conversion cast a ballot, Flynn said. The final count was 57-4. Of the 645 families eligible to vote, 506 did so with 480 voting yes.

Editor’s note: School officials discovered four more ballots that were mailed in, changing the total number of votes for parents from 502 to 506 and the total yes votes from 477 to 480, said Assistant Principal Kim Penman. We updated our story to reflect the new numbers.


Florida roundup: Gifted students, cyberbullying, teacher pay cuts & more

Tax hike: Seminole County schools Superintendent Walt Griffin says his district needs another 1-mill tax on county property to pay for a slew of school improvements. Orlando Sentinel.

florida roundup logoDigital divide: Over the next few years, computers will play an even bigger role in public education. StateImpact Florida.

Summer lunch: And breakfast at more than a dozen South Florida schools that will keep their kitchens open to serve needy children. Miami Herald.

Jewish schools: A coalition of Jewish leaders is advocating for policies that help ease the financial burden on private school parents. SaintPetersBlog.

Overage students: Superintendent Nikolai Vitti will ask board members to OK a plan that increases  the number of schools offering classes to overage students. Florida Times-Union.

Teacher turnover: In Florida, four out of 10 new teachers leave their jobs within the first five  years. In Duval County, it’s about five  out of 10, according to a recent study. Florida Times-Union.

Lessons learned: Manatee County schools suffered the brunt of lax accounting and archaic budgeting software, but a citizens advisory group stands behind the new superintendent. Bradenton Herald. Manatee school board member and budget committee chairwoman Julie Aranibar looks back on troubled year. StateImpact Florida.

Gifted students: More than 10 percent of Miami-Dade County’s students are labeled gifted students. Miami Herald. Although school districts test children for free to determine if they are gifted students, many parents turn to outside psychologists, instead. Miami Herald.

Education shift: Five retiring teachers reflect on the changing landscape in public education. Ledger.

Portables: Broward looks to spend millions to get rid of 1,180 portable classrooms older than 20 years. Sun-Sentinel.

Arrested: Royal Palm Beach High assistant principal arrested in prostitution sting. Palm Beach Post.

Scholarships: Four Hillsborough County seniors win Red Pittman Scholarship. Tampa Tribune.

Budget cuts: The Pembroke Pines Charter System projects a $2.4 million budget shortfall for the 2013-14 school year and has no money for contracted raises for 330 teachers. Sun-Sentinel. Manatee officials say they’ll work to get kilns running again at Manatee High. Bradenton Herald.

FCAT: South Florida’s students perform as well or better than last year in most every field tested, but schools and teachers likely to be judged more harshly as Florida moves toward more rigorous standards. Miami Herald. And students aren’t making  the kind of gains they should be, educators say. Tampa Tribune. Education Commissioner Tony Bennett calls the results unacceptable and suggests the state has lost focus on reading and math. Tampa Bay Times. More from Orlando SentinelSarasota Herald-Tribune and Palm Beach Post.

BP and schools: Volusia County school district official says the BP oil spill had a clear impact on state revenue, decreasing state dollars that could have gone toward education funding. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Grads: Service, technology and international pursuits are on the minds of Hillsborough’s seniors. Tampa Tribune. A contest glitch results in car giveaways for two Hillsborough seniors. Tampa Tribune. 211 seniors are the first graduates of Weeki Wachee High. Tampa Bay Times.

Bullying: New law gives school districts the right to discipline students for cyberbullying outside school, if the student’s school life is impacted. Florida Times-Union.

Tolerance: Parents start a petition after a principal criticizes their son for wearing makeup to school. Tampa Bay Times.

Charter schools: Large charter organizations draw criticism for impact on public education. St. Augustine Record.


Terry Moe: Dilemma of teacher union power won’t go away

Terry Moe

Terry Moe

Editor’s note: This is the first of four guest posts on the future of teachers unions.

At the heart of any discussion of the unions’ role in American education, whether that role is now or in the future, lies a fundamental dilemma. On the one hand, it is clear that teachers are the key determinants of student achievement, that they are the experts on teaching, and that, if human capital is to be organized in the best possible ways for educating children, teachers need to have systematic input when decisions are made. They also need to be involved in the implementation process as decisions get translated into action. The teacher unions – which represent teachers and provide the key means of coordinating their behavior toward agreed-upon ends – would therefore seem to have very positive roles to play in both the making and implementation of education policy.

There is, however, an on the other hand. And herein lies the dilemma. Teachers join unions to protect and promote their occupational interests as employees: in job security, in better wages and benefits, in restrictive work rules.  These job interests – which are the core interests that motivate union behavior – are simply not the same as the interests of children or the requirements of effective organization. Throughout the modern era, as a result, the teacher unions have often used their political power to block or weaken major reform efforts – efforts that would expand school choice, evaluate teachers based on performance, pay teachers with some reference to performance, move bad teachers out of the classroom, and more – because these reforms are threatening to the jobs of their members. Similarly, the unions have used their power in collective bargaining to impose work rules – seniority based layoffs and transfers, restrictions on teachers assignments, onerous evaluation and dismissal procedures, and the like – that are not designed to promote effective organization, and indeed are perverse and counterproductive.

So the dilemma, to state it simply, is that teachers are enormously important to the effective organization of schooling, and their involvement in decision making and reform makes eminently good sense – yet when teachers are organized into unions, the teacher unions use their power to promote the job interests of their members rather than the best interests of children, and this often leads them to undermine effective organization and stand in the way of reform.

That there is a dilemma here is not a secret. Indeed, over the last decade or so, this problem has increasingly become a topic of concern within the reform community, particularly among the growing numbers of liberals, moderates, and Democrats who – while supportive of teacher unions and collective bargaining in general – are now critical of the teachers unions for being obstacles to reform and effective schools.

The widespread view among this crucial group of reformers, however, is that there is a solution to the problem. The solution is reform unionism: which rests on the belief that, with enlightened union leadership (think Randi Weingarten) and sufficient pressure from the outside (think Race to the Top’s “union buy-in” requirement), the unions can be expected to change their behavior – to stop blocking reform, to stop imposing restrictive work rules, and to actively embrace whatever approaches to schooling are best for kids. In a world of reform unionism, then, union power is not a problem and indeed can be welcomed and embraced – because the unions will use their power in the best interests of children and quality education.

This belief is a way of squaring the circle for those who see unions and collective bargaining as essentials of the good society. But in the hard light of reality it is fanciful and misguided, and it prompts reformers to look for solutions where they don’t exist. Continue Reading →


redefinED roundup: Vouchers in Wisconsin, ESAs in Arizona, tax credits in South Carolina & more

Illinois: Gov. Pat Quinn is expected to sign into law a bill that sets aside 33 percent of the enrollment at charter schools for children with parents assigned to federal military bases (Lake County Journal).

MondayRoundUp_goldNew York: The successful True North Rochester Prep charter school group plans to expand to serve 2,600 students (Democrat and Chronicle).

New Jersey: Newark’s charter schools network receives $10 million from national donors including the Walton Foundation and the Doris and Donald Fisher Fund (Newark Patch). A proposed state takeover of the Camden school district could result in an all-charter district or a radically restructured one (Education Week). Debate continues on Gov. Chris Christie’s school voucher program (NJ Spotlight). The state education department blocks the opening of two virtual charter schools with ties to K12, Inc. (Star-Ledger).

Michigan: Detroit Academy of Arts and Sciences’ CEO, Maurice Morton, says the charter school has had its share of success and failure, much like any public school (BET).

Maine: Bangor City Council considers a moratorium on charter schools, citing the negative effects of competition on the local school district (Bangor Daily News). Lawmakers pass a bill requiring charter schools to be run by nonprofits (Bangor Daily News). The Senate gave preliminary approval to a bill that would put a temporary moratorium on virtual charter schools (Portland Press Herald). The charter school commission considers a year moratorium on charter applications after noting the time-consuming work monitoring the five charters it already approved (Morning Sentinel).

Pennsylvania: The Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit, a school choice program, aims to raise at least $1 million by July 1, with donations starting to add up (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette). The House Education Committee passed legislation that prevents charter schools from double dipping in pension funds from the district and the state, and increases the tax credit program funding from $25 million to $125 million (Patriot-News). More from the York Dispatch. State charter school leaders joined Philadelphia’s call for more state education funding (NewsWorks). 2016 GOP presidential candidate Rand Paul set to give commencement speech at Philadelphia charter school (Washington Examiner).

Mississippi: House Speaker Philip Gunn predicts one of the most heavily-debated education reform measures next year in the Legislature will be tax credit scholarships (Northeast Mississippi News). Continue Reading →


Clay County superintendent gets private school student into JROTC

Clay County public schools superintendent Charlie Van Zant has given the green light for 15-year-old private school student Kevin Gines to attend the district’s Junior ROTC program.

Kevin Gines hopes to join a JROTC program.

Kevin Gines hopes to join a JROTC program.

“This isn’t that hard,’’ said Van Zant, who was able to quickly resolve an issue over whether Gines was eligible. “We’re not going to keep a kid out of ROTC.’’

Kevin is a rising sophomore and A- and B-student at Christian Home Academy in Orange Park. He attends through a Florida Tax Credit Scholarship, which is based on his family’s income. The district was first unsure whether it could allow Kevin to take a naval science class that is part of the JROTC program at Middleburg High, and one administrator denied the request.

Van Zant says the situation reflects on the changing nature of public education in Clay County.

“Private-schoolers being enrolled in two schools at once – honestly, it’s probably never happened before,’’ he said. “We’re in a really exciting time in education.’’

The Florida Department of Education reviewed the case, as well, to make sure that Kevin’s enrollment in the district class does not affect the status of his scholarship. Under current law, scholarship students are allowed to take up to two public virtual courses a year. After final review, the education commissioner’s office determined that the JROTC course is consistent with that provision.

“This is a good example of how our public education landscape is changing so rapidly,’’ said Doug Tuthill, president of the nonprofit that helps administer the scholarship (and that hosts this blog). “Our state polices are struggling to keep up.’’


Florida roundup: Grad rates, charter school conversions, school nurses & more

FCAT: Florida releases scores today for reading, math and science. Miami Herald.

Graduation rates: Florida sees strong growth in grad rates, report finds. Gradebook. Florida’s high school graduation rates for Hispanics tops nation. Orlando Sentinel and Miami Herald.

florida roundup logoCharter school conversion: Rowlett parents weigh the benefits of converting their district school into a charter school. Bradenton Herald.

Advanced Placement: Report praises Orange County schools for improving black students’ AP passing rates. Orlando Sentinel.

Teacher conduct: A Skycrest Elementary School teacher faces firing for allegedly abusing two special needs students earlier this year. Tampa Bay Times.

School hiring: Pinellas Superintendent Mike Grego names a new area superintendent and three executive directors for elementary, middle and high school education. Tampa Bay Times. New principal appointments at Campbell Park Elementary, Blanton Elementary, Largo Middle, and Northwest Elementary. Tampa Bay Times. A former principal charged with stealing school property will become the principal of a Boynton Beach charter school. Palm Beach Post.

Teacher unions: Jackson County teachers OK salary proposals. Jackson County Floridian. Monroe County teachers’ union and district talk about unpaid furloughs, other negotiations. Keynoter.

Nonrenewed: A Hillsborough County school board candidate loses his job as a district teacher. Tampa Bay Times. Continue Reading →


Can teacher unions adapt?

teachers unionsFor decades dominated by traditional public schools, the landscape of public education is changing fast. New species are thriving – charters, vouchers, virtual, you name it – and who knows what nimble subspecies and hybrids are on their way.

Can teacher unions, so shaped by an earlier era, adapt?

We posed that question to a handful of ed reformers who have thought deeply about these issues. Next week, we’ll bring you their answers. You’ll hear from Terry Moe, the William Bennett Munro Professor of Political Science at Stanford University and Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution; Joe Williams, executive director of Democrats for Education Reform; Gary Beckner, executive director and founder of the Association of American Educators; and Doug Tuthill, president of Step Up For Students and former president of two teacher unions.

We asked several current teacher union officials to contribute to our series, but they declined. One told us the current climate within the union made it politically unsafe to do so. We remain eager to publish the views of teacher union officials, and don’t hesitate to reach out directly to me at or (727) 580-1577.