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Role of teachers unions shifting, as public shifts attention to education

1210-1240955295Hn8QIt looks as if the teachers unions are coming around to the realization that the education world is changing.

Or, more specifically, the political support for teacher tenure is changing—and teachers are slowly coming to terms with that.

One sign of realization is the agreement between the Baltimore city school district and its teacher union to, as the Baltimore Sun put it, “end the longtime practice of linking pay to years of employment” and to develop a new pay scale to “reward skills and effectiveness.”

The new pay system still must be ratified by the rank and file. But with the Obama administration pushing for such changes nationwide, and tenure-bashing hitting a strong chord in “Waiting for Superman,” it’s likely that teachers see the writing on the wall. They’ve got to give a little—or they’ll see lawmakers take matters into their own hands.

And that’s never good. Just ask any school administrator or school board member about legislative fiats.

Certainly other local union affiliates are worried—or, if you’re an optimist, teacher attitudes are realigning with the rest of the nation, enough that the union leadership is coming around, too.

Most recently, school districts in Pittsburgh, New Haven, Conn., and Washington, D.C. have taken steps to revamp their teacher pay plans. This summer, D.C. teachers agreed to a voluntary plan that would trade job security for big salary gains based on performance.

In Pittsburgh, district and union officials agreed to school-based and individual-based  pay-for-performance plans, plus a salary schedule that puts more focus on student performance than teacher credentials.

The question now is whether this is the beginning of big-time change. Certainly the nation’s mood is ready for it. According to a Time magazine poll this summer, 64 percent of Americans think teachers should be evaluated in part on their students’ progress on standardized tests, 66 percent oppose tenure, and 71 percent support merit pay.

Of course, I have my own question: After years of complaints that tenure rules and traditional salary schedules have stymied school reform—stopping administrators from getting rid of bad teachers, for example—will these new teacher contracts make a difference? I hope so.

Then again, there are a lot of schools in high-poverty areas—schools where even a good teacher can only succeed with the right support and leadership.

So will we find these new contracts are only the first step of many that must occur to close the achievement gap and turn around low-performing schools?

Del Stover, Senior Editor

Naomi Dillon|October 7th, 2010|Categories: American School Board Journal, Governance, Policy Formation, Teachers|Tags: , |

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