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 rmatus@sufs.org or (727) 580-1577.


Florida charter school alliance counts successes, but says more work ahead

Former state Rep. Trey Traviesa says Florida is a national leader when it comes to its support for charter schools.

And the 2013 legislative session offered plenty of examples – from extra facility dollars to legislative language that included charters in teacher pay raises and school safety funds, to revamping charter applications and contracts to make them more uniform from district to district.

Trey Traviesa

Trey Traviesa

But there’s plenty more work to do, Traviesa said today during an online town hall meeting organized by the Florida Alliance for Charter Schools.

“Funding needs to be stronger,’’ he said. “Policy can be better.’’

With those two objectives in mind, the alliance and its band of former legislators-turned-lobbyists already are setting the stage for next year’s charter school agenda. The group plans to meet with operators, parents and other supporters across the state within the next few months.

In Florida, there are 203,000 children attending 579 charter schools. One of the biggest issues for the charter industry has been getting organized and developing a unified mission, alliance leaders said.

“We as a movement have to be able to stick together as one voice,’’ said Ralph Arza, another former state representative who now lobbies for the two-year-old Fort Lauderdale-based nonprofit. “That is the importance of our advocacy, to make sure that charters are front and center … and treated equally on the funding side and the policy side.’’

That “Herculean effort’’ really came together this year, said Arza, noting that the benefits for charter schools this legislative session were beyond the allinace’s expectations.

Among the highlights:

  • Lawmakers earmarked $91 million for charter school facilities construction and maintenance costs
  • Charter school instructors are included in the $480 million allotment for public school pay raises
  • The nontraditional schools also will receive a portion of the $64 million approved for school safety, which includes suicide prevention and after-school programs.

Charter schools also will get more leeway in submitting applications before the Aug. 1 state deadline, and have a quicker turnaround in the district review process – from 60 days to 30 days. Other changes include requiring districts to report to the state annually the number of charter applications they receive, and how many they accept or deny.

“We just wanted to make sure things are moving along quickly and as close to the timeline as possible,’’ said Mike Kooi, executive director of Florida’s school choice office.

The session brought “a lot of victories for charter schools in terms of polices and funding,’’ Kooi said. “And, hopefully, it will continue.’’


Education Week: Florida No. 2 in improving high school graduation rates

Florida’s high school graduation rate rocketed 23 percentage points to 72.9 percent between 2000 and 2010, putting the Sunshine State at No. 2 among states for progress over that span but still behind the national average, according to a new national report.

From Education Week

From Education Week

Only Tennessee did better, with a 31.5 percentage point gain, shows the annual Diplomas Count report from Education Week. The national rate was up 7.9 percent, to 74.7 percent.

Education Week, the country’s highly respected paper of record for education news, uses its own formula to calculate graduation rates.

Its findings are the latest in a stack from credible, independent sources that show Florida students and teachers are making some of the biggest academic gains in the country under a model distinguished by a tough, top-down accountability system and expanded parental school choice.

Florida ranks No. 44 in the percentage of students eligible for free- and reduced-price lunch (with the ranking going from lowest rate to highest), according to the latest federal figures. But the Education Week data puts it at No. 34 in graduation rates, ahead of states with less challenging student populations – and arguably better academic reputations – like Washington, North Carolina and Utah.

The gains also come despite tougher standards than other states. Among other things, Florida requires more academic credits to graduate than most states (24 to the national average of 21.1) and the passing of an exit exam (only 23 other states do). Continue Reading →


Florida roundup: charter schools, virtual schools, Common Core & more

Charter schools. Parents at Rowlett Elementary, a magnet in Manatee, say their calculations show a charter school conversion will bring in more money for fine arts programs. Sarasota Herald Tribune.

florida roundup logoVirtual schools. Florida Virtual School holds its first ever graduation for full-time students, reports the Seminole Chronicle. Lee County’s virtual school, the Lee Virtual Instruction Program, gets a  Bronze ranking from U.S. News & World Report’s high school rating system, reports Fort Myers Beach Talk.

School technology. Foundations may need to help school districts shift into higher gear. StateImpact Florida.

Common Core. Crazy claim of the week: involves Glenn Beck, Common Core and eyeball scanners in Polk County. Oh, mercy. EdFly Blog.

Retiring teachers. A final farewell. South Florida Sun Sentinel.

Graduating seniors. A Pinellas teen with cancer finds the strength to walk with her class. Tampa Bay Times. Continue Reading →