20 December 2010

NEA, AFT, and other dangerous / harmful acronyms

I'm a history teacher. I was trained in the modern era, so I'm not even a Mr. Hand style teacher; though I do love me some lecture. But I'm also trained as a political scientist and as an economist. Want me to prove it? Ok, I'll link to some especially boring articles now. (BOOYAH!)

Anyway, the confluence of those three areas of study is labor. (or, as Dr. Dick Johncock would spell it Labour) In America, the study of labor is really the study of struggle between the capitalist pigs and the noble labor unions. Don't agree with that summary? Read some Howard Zinn. 

Educators are not exempt from this struggle. In 1857, as the labor movement was just beginning to gain some steam, the first of the American teachers' unions was formed. It was called the National Education Association. It did important things, like fight for better pay and working conditions. In fact it still fights for those issues. It still rallies the troops against things like NCLB. However, it, like the vast majority of American unions, also has grown to large for it's own good. In my view, it too often fights for bad teachers, and too rarely fights for the good of all teachers.

Before you hop into the comments and start berating me, and providing examples of good teachers you know that were saved by the union, I want you to stop. Now, calm down. Think about every incompetent teacher you've ever worked with (or been taught by), and think about how they were protected by "tenure". That tenure, and the system of simply putting in years to get it, was negotiated by the union. And that policy has protected far more bad teachers than good.

So far, my claims are basically just conjecture. I have no good way to prove how many "good" or "bad" teachers have been protected by unions. The numbers are hard to come by. It is also hard to define "good" and "bad". That is a failure of the educational system, but also a failure of the unions. Why haven't the NEA and AFT tried to find a better way to evaluate teachers? Why haven't they fought for some form of merit pay that rewards teachers based on a real evaluative method, as opposed to test scores or supervisor evaluations?
The way I see it, the union is content to play the role of being the party of no. Whenever change is proposed, unions tend to simply react in a knee-jerk manner. 

So how can it be fixed?
Unions need to become more local. (for the record I tend to think this is true not just for educational unions, but for all unions) I understand that by becoming more local unions lose much of their political clout. However, most educational problems are the result of their local circumstance. One of the great failings of education is that we keep looking for national solutions. If there was a cure-all, we would already be using it. We need to recognize (at all levels, and from all political points of view) that the solutions for education must be more local. 
This isn't to say that some level of sharing of knowledge and techniques for improving student success from across the nation isn't good. It is undeniably so. This is to say that we, as educators must realize that every school, indeed every student is different. Only by becoming smaller and more agile; more willing to compromise at the local level to find solutions, will unions actually serve both teachers and the taught. 
Unions should still protect teachers, but they should do so with locally bargained rules. They should fight to reform evaluative practices so that schools can more effectively teach students. They should protect teachers' speech and employment rights, but not their incompetence. 
I know this sounds like a pipe dream. I know it is unrealistic to hope for national education unions to voluntarily downsize, but I'll hang on to that dream. 

Now, because I believe in reinforcing positive behavior, a video for your amusement.

No comments:

Post a Comment