What If Everything You Thought You Knew About Teachers Unions Turned Out to be Wrong?

Iowa just became the latest state to limit collective bargaining rights for teachers. In other states, that’s meant big salary cuts for teachers…

Jennifer Berkshire: It’s a well-known true fact that teachers unions make it much harder to get rid of bad teachers. But you conducted a study that purports to find the opposite. In fact, you titled your study The Myth of Unions’ Overprotection of Bad Teachers. Tell us about what you found.

Eunice Han: What I found is that the facts are the opposite of what people think: that highly unionized districts actually fire more bad teachers.

Berkshire: That sound you just heard was of jaws collectively dropping. While we give readers a chance to re-combombulate themselves (and arm themselves anew with anecdotes), can you walk us through your argument? And feel free to use a formula. 

Han: It’s pretty simple, really. By demanding higher salaries for teachers, unions give school districts a strong incentive to dismiss ineffective teachers before they get tenure. Highly unionized districts dismiss more bad teachers because it costs more to keep them. Using three different kinds of survey data from the National Center for Education Statistics, I confirmed that unionized districts dismiss more low-quality teachers than those with weak unions formula2or no unions. Unionized districts also retain more high-quality teachers relative to district with weak unionism. No matter how and when I measured unionism I found that unions lowered teacher attrition. This is important because many studies have found that higher quality teachers have a greater chance of leaving the profession. Since unionized districts dismiss more bad teachers while keeping more good teachers, we should expect to observe higher teacher quality in highly unionized districts than less unionized districts – and this is exactly what I found. Highly unionized districts have more qualified teachers compared to districts with weak unionism. Continue reading →

Teachers at a Cleveland Charter School Organize a Union – for Some Really Big Reasons

UCP

Teacher Jacqueline Lehane with her first grade students.

*These kids deserve amazing teachers and teachers who want to be here and who have the support and resources they need—like we had when we were kids.*

For Jacqueline Lehane, it was the teacher demerit system at her Cleveland charter school that was the last straw. Teachers who’d been heard talking in the hallway, or whose students had been spotted with an untucked shirt, would be called out via an official email entitled *Quick Hits,* on which teachers, school and network administrators were copied. *It’s just public humiliation,* says Lehane, whose *hits* included having a messy classroom after her first graders completed an art project. To Lehane, this top-down shaming was a symbol of everything that was wrong with the school. *Once I even asked a dean, ‘do people who are higher up than you treat you the way you treat us?’*

If all you know about unions is that they are protectors of the status quo, responsible for everything that’s wrong with public education, I’m guessing you have no idea how hard it is to actually organize one. By the time Lehane and her colleagues at the University of Cleveland Preparatory School, part of the I CAN network, voted 18-4 to join the Ohio Federation of Teachers, the teachers had spent two years trying to form a union. Administrators responded, first by attempting to intimidate teachers into changing their minds, then firing the teachers who they’d identified as leading the effort. Seven teachers at the school were fired as punishment—such a clear and blatant act of retaliation that the National Labor Relations Board ordered I CAN to reinstate the teachers and give them full back pay. (I first wrote about their story here.)
Continue reading →

The Future of Teachers Unions?

Education reform advocate Eric Lerum and I talk about the future of teacher unions. In a bar. 

Well that went well… Oral arguments in the Supreme Court room drama of the year, Friedrichs vs. California Teachers Association, are a wrap. And with the justices widely expected to hand down a decision that will [insert devastating verb here] public sector unions, I invited education reform advocate Eric Lerum, formerly of Students First, to join me in a different kind of oral argument. We recently sat down at a NYC bar to chew (and sip) over some big questions: do teacher unions have any future? How have teachers fared in the four states that have restricted collective bargaining since 2011? (Spoiler alert: not well.) What about the growing number of charter school teachers who are organizing unions? And do we really want a country where the ultra-rich exert unchecked influence over everything? OK – that last one was my question. More beer please!

You’re Fired!

Teachers at Chicago’s Urban Prep Academies voted to form a union—then a whole bunch of them got fired…

urban prep mainIt’s back to school season, reader. Which means that all over the land teachers are returning to their classrooms, armed with the $513 worth of school supplies they purchased with their own money. Well, not all over the land. Sixteen Chicago-land teachers at Urban Prep Academies won’t be returning to the charter network this fall because they were suddenly let go at the end of the school year 🙁 Note: the firings had absolutely nothing to do with the fact that almost all of the no-longer-working-at-Urban-Prep-teachers were involved in a successful effort to form a union. Continue reading →

Save Hirsh!

Was a popular Manhattan Beach, CA teacher fired for speaking out?

Save Hirsh 2It’s field trip time, reader, and you’ll need your upscale duds for this trek. We’re headed to Manhattan Beach, CA, known for spectacular coastal views, pricey real estate and some of the highest performing schools in the Golden State. But these days there’s something fishy in the air here—and it’s not just the sea lions. For weeks now, students and parents in Manhattan Beach have been up in arms over the firing of Tim Hirsh, a beloved French teacher at Mira Costa High. So why exactly did Hirsh get the axe? There’s only one way to find out, reader. Into the bathyspheres—we’ve got murky waters to plumb…   Continue reading →