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 â€“ 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 â€“ or more specifically, the contracts we’re discussing â€“ are part of the problem facing American public education.
He concludes that we need:
- More transparency: he argues that thereÂ isn’t enough attentionÂ 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 pointsÂ 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 aboutÂ 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.