Solidarity Forever?

Andrew Rotherham, co-editor of Collective Bargaining in Education: Negotiating Change in Today’s Schools, gave a neat speech last December to the National Governors’ Association. His main point:

There are two strident talks I could give today to set the stage for the conference. First, I could give a bombastic one, blaming the teachers unions for all the various problems that face public education – for refusal to change, inflexible defense of an unworkable status quo, and so forth. That one would make the critics swoon, but it wouldn’t be honest, because the teachers unions are not the root cause of our educational challenges. In fact, many aspects of teacher contracts that we’ll discuss at this conference are really symptoms of the larger problems we’re facing in public education today. Conversely, I could talk about how the teachers unions are being singled out, unfairly blamed, targeted by forces opposed to their very existence. I could say that there is really no issue here at all and that around the country there are plenty of examples of why these contracts present no problems, and why this is all a witch hunt. That one would make some of my union friends cheer, because I hear that a lot, but it wouldn’t be honest, either. Because, in some ways, the teachers unions – or more specifically, the contracts we’re discussing – are part of the problem facing American public education.

He concludes that we need:

  • More transparency: he argues that there isn’t enough attention given to the specifics of teacher contracts and pay schedules
  • More research: we know precious little about what sorts of pay contracts encourage teachers to perform at their best, and keep the star teachers in the profession; and
  • More participation in the bargaining process by stakeholder groups: Rotherham points out that it’s unreasonable to expect unions or governments to represent children. The former are worried about maximising salaries, while the latter are often worried about minimising the cost to the budget.

One day, I’d love to coordinate a serious discussion about the role of Australian education unions in education policy, but it’s hard to see the major players talking honestly with one another in a federal election year.

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3 Responses to Solidarity Forever?

  1. Sean says:

    Can you give a short summary of your view, Andrew?

  2. Pingback: Club Troppo » Missing Link

  3. spunky diva says:

    re your comment:

    “One day, I’d love to coordinate a serious discussion about the role of Australian education unions in education policy, but it’s hard to see the major players talking honestly with one another in a federal election year”

    i’d love to join you at that discussion. i’ll make the tea and handwrite name labels if that’s what it takes. it’s a policy wonk’s dream, isn’t it, that the sound and fury of polemicism will one day give way to a sort of practical deliberation. or more likely, some crisis.

    i really think that the number of australian public school teachers due to retire over the next 5-10 years will provide the impetus – or ‘crisis’ – that it might take to have the sort of discussion you talk of.

    no matter what actuates it, the more i see of public policy creation (i’m a public [sector] policy person), the more i’m convinced that it’s so important to have ideas ready to go for when the conversation of conventional wisom shifts gear.

    think you are right about the prospects of arranging a forum like this in an election year. but really, given the COAG disposition to embracing education as the be all and end all of human capital development (great theory, but ignores so much non-education related reforms that they could do/aspire to over the next 20 years i reckon), yours is an idea whose time may soon have come.

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