Member-Led Reform Rewriting the Anti-Union Narrative
At the same time educators in several states face legislation to strip their right to bargain with school districts on most issues, teachers and support professionals in those states and across the country have entered a new era of collaborative reform with their school districts.
Despite the deep-pocketed promotion of an anti-union narrative in media and government, in state after state, unions are showing the way, not only in education reform, but specifically in strategies to close the achievement gaps and raise student achievement in struggling schools, what NEA calls Priority Schools.
- In Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Education Association Council developed a plan for pay differentials and evaluation aimed at ensuring effective teachers in every classroom. The state’s governor is now trying to break the union’s right to bargain despite WEAC’s open offer to do its fair share in compensation and benefits to meet the state’s budget shortfall.
- In Hamilton County, TN an initiative formed around five inner-city middle schools that tended to perform less well than the other middle schools. The district and union together formed networks to share and implement best practices throughout the district. Since the program was expanded to every one of Hamilton’s middle schools in 2005, the percentage of middle school students passing the state’s reading exam increased from 84% in 2005 to 90% in 2009. The percentage of middle school students passing the state’s mathematics exam increased from 86% in 2005 to 89% in 2009.
- In Nevada, the Clark County Education Association initiated the Empowerment School Project. Under collaborative management teams, teachers were able to choose textbooks, they organized the day around a block of focused reading in ability-level groups, and initiated small-group tutoring after school. When Paul Culley Elementary joined the empowerment school project in 2005, fewer than a quarter of its students read on grade level. By 2008, 57 percent did.
- Just five years ago, John Muir Elementary in Merced, CA was the lowest-performing elementary school in California’s Merced City School District. Now, thanks to a new focus on professional development and collaboration – and a seven-year grant from a union-backed program – John Muir is now one of Merced’s top-performing elementary schools. The school uses California’s Quality Education Investment Act funds to focus on professional development, reducing class size, and a boot camp where kids who were falling behind could receive additional instruction.
- In Indiana, Evansville Vanderburgh School Corporation and the Evansville Teachers Association jointly developed a plan called Equity Schools, targeting two elementary schools and a middle school where scores on the state test were low and falling. The plan includes increased professional development designed jointly by teachers and the district, and compensated longer school days and a longer year. The district and union bargained the changes, including a requirement that, beginning in the 2010 school year, teachers wanting to work in the three schools were required to first pass through a rigorous Equity Academy program designed by the district and the union. More teachers applied than there were positions available.
- In Illinois, three unions representing more than 230,000 education employees, the Illinois Education Association, the Illinois Federation of Teachers and the Chicago Teachers Union jointly developed a proposal to streamline the process for removing underperforming teachers and resolve teacher dismissals in a much shorter time, helping to reduce costs associated with dismissals for both districts and employees. The unions also proposed that evaluations be clearly tied to a teacher obtaining due process rights, usually known as “teacher tenure.”