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

A new study for the National Bureau of Economic Research says that teachers' unions are good for retaining quality educators and improving education.

Eunice Han wrote:
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.
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Robert Stuart
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Re: teachers' unions raise teacher quality and educational attainment
This is just fantastic! (Not because I'm in favor of unions, per se, but because I'm in favor of anything or any measure that improves teacher quality).
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Michael Pustilnik
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The problem with this article is that it was written by an economist with no concept of what the teaching profession is actually like.

I am a teacher with over six years experience. The article makes a bunch of assumptions about teachers which are false.

The article argues that the problem with teaching is that there are "bad" teachers (or "ineffective" teachers) that need to be gotten rid of, because once they get tenure, it is too late to get rid of them. As if teachers were like apples, and you need to separate the tasty apples from the rotten apples before you bake your apple pie. Then it is too late. whistle

This is in fact total gibberish. Teachers are human beings with tremendous potential to learn and grow. Teaching is a difficult profession where skills are refined over a period of years. Experience means everything in teaching. Teachers improve the fastest during their first three years, but even for an experienced teacher, there is always a new technique to be learned, or a skill to be refined. A beginning teacher that appears to be "bad", will almost always become an effective teacher after a few years experience, provided that they stick with the profession.

Are there teachers who don't care about whether a student learns or not? I am sure there must be a few out there, but I have known over 100 teachers, and only one or two fit in that category. Every other teacher I have known really was trying his or her best. Yes, they made mistakes, but these mistakes were due to inexperience. And yes, I did (politely) tell them what they were doing wrong, and how to correct it.

Now, about tenure. The truth is that a principal can always get rid a teacher that he feels is wrong for his school, regardless of tenure. The simplest way is to simply ask the teacher not to come back next year. This will usually work. If that doesn't work, there are ways to encourage the teacher to leave.

"Getting rid of bad teachers" is the wrong approach to improving education. Training teachers to become more effective, and encouraging them to stick with the profession until they do, is the right approach.

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A start would be not making the College of Education one of the easiest places to get a degree (not saying there aren't highly gifted teachers or that teachers don't have passion for the job). However, we need to increase competitiveness and then we would need to start paying teachers more. That would require U.S. valuing education as a society....which we don't, really.

Maybe when we finally realize that no amount of messing around with free trade is going to bring back manufacturing and slow down automation. Right now we are doing piss poor at educating students at all levels (on average).
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MikePustilnik wrote:
This is in fact total gibberish. Teachers are human beings with tremendous potential to learn and grow. Teaching is a difficult profession where skills are refined over a period of years. Experience means everything in teaching. Teachers improve the fastest during their first three years, but even for an experienced teacher, there is always a new technique to be learned, or a skill to be refined. A beginning teacher that appears to be "bad", will almost always become an effective teacher after a few years experience, provided that they stick with the profession.

While that's somewhat true for average and good teachers, empirical studies have shown that about 25% of school teachers are at high risk for resignation, reduced capacity and engagement; this risk group is constant over the span of 35 work years, most of these "bad" teachers retire early, and the persons who fall into this risk group can be identified by their bad grades/references already in their training phase.

See risk group B in the figure on page four (years on the job from left to right) of https://www.friedrich-verlag.de/fileadmin/redaktion/sekundar...
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Randombias wrote:
MikePustilnik wrote:
This is in fact total gibberish. Teachers are human beings with tremendous potential to learn and grow. Teaching is a difficult profession where skills are refined over a period of years. Experience means everything in teaching. Teachers improve the fastest during their first three years, but even for an experienced teacher, there is always a new technique to be learned, or a skill to be refined. A beginning teacher that appears to be "bad", will almost always become an effective teacher after a few years experience, provided that they stick with the profession.

While that's somewhat true for average and good teachers, empirical studies have shown that about 25% of school teachers are at high risk for resignation, reduced capacity and engagement; this risk group is constant over the span of 35 work years, most of these "bad" teachers retire early, and the persons who fall into this risk group can be identified by their bad grades/references already in their training phase.

See risk group B in the figure on page four (years on the job from left to right) of https://www.friedrich-verlag.de/fileadmin/redaktion/sekundar...
Hell anyone who has ever been to school knows there are bad teachers who have no respect, cannot teach and cannot control their class.

It is the mentality of "but teachers need time to grow" that enables bad teachers to continue to do a bad job.

Of course the flip side is there are teachers who do grow into the job.
Thus what we need is to end tenure, and make it easier to sack teachers who remain bad after years or decades in the job.
 
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jeremy cobert
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Her premise lies on the method that a 9% decline in teachers salaries should show a decline in drop out rates because school districts like WI can now get rid of bad teachers.

That's a hell of jump in logic and does not take into account labor agreements and state laws, etc, etc.

If pay and unions showed better results, then CA would be killing IA in all areas of education, but for some reason IA is killing CA. In IA teachers make less but they can also opt out the union.
 
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jeremycobert wrote:
Her premise lies on the method that a 9% decline in teachers salaries should show a decline in drop out rates because school districts like WI can now get rid of bad teachers.

That's a hell of jump in logic and does not take into account labor agreements and state laws, etc, etc.

If pay and unions showed better results, then CA would be killing IA in all areas of education, but for some reason IA is killing CA. In IA teachers make less but they can also opt out the union.
Really?

http://www.usnews.com/education/best-high-schools/articles/h...
Quote:

This year, 28.9 percent of Maryland's eligible schools earned gold and silver medals from U.S. News. Connecticut came in second with 24.9 percent, and California came in third with 23.8 percent.


Are you sure you men all?
 
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Jon Badolato
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Teacher's unions help to prevent degradation of the contract during each negotiations phase. Because the Administration and Board of Ed continually try to obtain more concessions and work out of teachers without compensation.
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SpaceGhost wrote:
A start would be not making the College of Education one of the easiest places to get a degree (not saying there aren't highly gifted teachers or that teachers don't have passion for the job). However, we need to increase competitiveness and then we would need to start paying teachers more. That would require U.S. valuing education as a society....which we don't, really.

Maybe when we finally realize that no amount of messing around with free trade is going to bring back manufacturing and slow down automation. Right now we are doing piss poor at educating students at all levels (on average).


I agree that teacher preparation can be improved. One of the major problems with attracting quality candidates to teaching however remains, and that is the shitty salary they get compared to comparable jobs in the corporate world. Currently just about every state in the nation ( including CT. where I live and teach ) has shortages of math and physics teachers for instance. And one of the main reasons for that is due to the fact that if you have a degree in either of those topics there are a whole host of higher paying jobs that are likely available to you than being a teacher. To really attract quality candidates in those shortage areas they really need to start giving them more attractive salaries and/or compensation packages to attract them to tesching and to keep them there if they are good at the job.
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The study determines whether a teacher is a quality teacher based on whether they meet the Highly Qualified Teacher (HQT) standard (p. 14).

This standard doesn't mean that they are a good teacher, it just means they have specific credentials (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Highly_qualified_teachers#Cont...).

So union shops are more likely to have teachers with higher credentials.

Duh. If a union lobbies for higher licensing requirements, they can limit the labor pool and demand higher salaries. Higher salaries mean higher involuntary dues the union can extract.

The improvement of education found in the study is based on drop-out rates (also p. 14). I wouldn't consider this, by itself, to be a success. Having an additional student who stayed in school, but can't do math or write a coherent paper, does not mean we have improved the educational system.
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jonb wrote:
Teacher's unions help to prevent degradation of the contract during each negotiations phase. Because the Administration and Board of Ed continually try to obtain more concessions and work out of teachers without compensation.


A dictionary definition of what a union is that completely ignores what the teacher's union has become.... how adorable.

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jeremy cobert
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slatersteven wrote:
Are you sure you men all?


Yes, Slater. As I said in her premise about using drop out rates to measure success.

http://nces.ed.gov/ccd/tables/ACGR_2010-11_to_2012-13.asp

Iowa is whole 10 points above California. In fact, Iowa leads the nation in lowest drop out rate and is close to the bottom in teacher pay. Her premise is flawed from the beginning.
 
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David desJardins
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Elfbane wrote:
A new study for the National Bureau of Economic Research says that teachers' unions are good for retaining quality educators and improving education.


Even if you take the study at face value, its primary claim is that higher wages are good for improving teacher quality. So if you are holding wages fixed and comparing a more unionized environment with a less unionized environment, the study tells you nothing at all about which is better. Of course we pretty much all want higher wages for teachers, but the arguments about teachers unions generally focus on the other things that they do.

The study also argues that granting teachers essentially total job security is good for teacher quality because it increases the incentive to "weed out" bad teachers in the probationary period (which in California, for example, is only about 18 months). As a public policy strategy it should be obvious why this leaves much to be desired. If you are buying furniture for your house, would you be better off with "furniture tenure" that means you have to keep any piece of furniture that you buy forever, because that will force you to be more discriminating about which furniture you buy in the first place? It's kind of silly. We shouldn't be thinking about how to manipulate schools into focusing more on teacher quality out of fear for hiring the wrong person for 30 years, we should be thinking about how to encourage schools to focus on teacher quality because they want better teachers. Regardless of how long they have been teaching.
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jeremycobert wrote:
slatersteven wrote:
Are you sure you men all?


Yes, Slater. As I said in her premise about using drop out rates to measure success.

http://nces.ed.gov/ccd/tables/ACGR_2010-11_to_2012-13.asp

Iowa is whole 10 points above California. In fact, Iowa leads the nation in lowest drop out rate and is close to the bottom in teacher pay. Her premise is flawed from the beginning.
So when you said "all areas of education" you meant "drop out rates".

Sorry I do not speak American English.
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GameCrossing wrote:
jonb wrote:
Teacher's unions help to prevent degradation of the contract during each negotiations phase. Because the Administration and Board of Ed continually try to obtain more concessions and work out of teachers without compensation.


A dictionary definition of what a union is that completely ignores what the teacher's union has become.... how adorable.



Why don't you tell us your version of what the teacher's union has become so we could evaluate your observations to see if they're true to life or just reside in your brain.
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David desJardins
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MikePustilnik wrote:
Now, about tenure. The truth is that a principal can always get rid a teacher that he feels is wrong for his school, regardless of tenure. The simplest way is to simply ask the teacher not to come back next year. This will usually work. If that doesn't work, there are ways to encourage the teacher to leave.


If teachers who aren't teaching effectively just move to a different school in the same district, there's no net benefit for students at all. Indeed, this is one of the sources of inequity in public education: the data shows that the schools with more disadvantaged students disproportionately accumulate the less effective teachers, because they are less vigorous about getting rid of them.

Your response ignores a fact that we know very conclusively: teacher effectiveness varies a great deal. Testing methodologies aren't precise enough for us to measure the exact effectiveness of each individual teacher, but they are plenty for us to measure the variation in teacher effectiveness by aggregating data across many teachers and schools. If it were really true that all teachers have essentially the same potential, and they all make the same effort to improve, then it wouldn't be true that teacher effectiveness varies so much (even when you control for years of experience). *Something* must be going on that causes some teachers to cause their students to learn much more than others. The single most important thing to improve overall student achievement is to understand what that is and to get more of whatever is producing better teachers and less of whatever is producing worse teachers. Pretending that such differences don't exist at all can't possibly lead to good results.
 
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jonb wrote:

I agree that teacher preparation can be improved. One of the major problems with attracting quality candidates to teaching however remains, and that is the shitty salary they get compared to comparable jobs in the corporate world. Currently just about every state in the nation ( including CT. where I live and teach ) has shortages of math and physics teachers for instance. And one of the main reasons for that is due to the fact that if you have a degree in either of those topics there are a whole host of higher paying jobs that are likely available to you than being a teacher. To really attract quality candidates in those shortage areas they really need to start giving them more attractive salaries and/or compensation packages to attract them to tesching and to keep them there if they are good at the job.


Says the mathematics/physics teacher devil.

Seriously though, salary is one reason that I've moved away from pursuing certification to teach chemistry, though the at home workload and state accountability initiatives (I feel they are misguided) fill out the con column more fully for me.

I'm not suggesting that this is what you are advancing Jon, but do you think the unions would support an increase in salary for STEM teachers over teachers of other subjects on account of the shortage?
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jonb wrote:
GameCrossing wrote:
jonb wrote:
Teacher's unions help to prevent degradation of the contract during each negotiations phase. Because the Administration and Board of Ed continually try to obtain more concessions and work out of teachers without compensation.


A dictionary definition of what a union is that completely ignores what the teacher's union has become.... how adorable.



Why don't you tell us your version of what the teacher's union has become so we could evaluate your observations to see if they're true to life or just reside in your brain.


It starts with what most unions have become: entrenchment of power for the union leaders. That's nothing against teachers in general, it's just politics. But the people in power start first and foremost with keeping themselves in power, and that often comes at the detriment of the rank and file.

They actively fight against mechanisms being put in place that would allow the evaluation of teachers. THAT is how we get such messed up things like standardized testing, the only thing that can get forced through the door. Tests only reveal the final grade. They don't evaluate whether a teacher is a good teacher or not. But there is no in-class evaluation, there is nothing about eyeballs and judgment. It's all just "What are the grades?" To they teach to the tests... tests that wouldn't be as vital if we allowed some form of evaluation for the teachers.

They work to keep the flawed concept of tenure. The discussion started by saying that the bad teachers need to be weeded out before tenure kicks in for them. But why should that matter. If an employee at any other business is exposed as half-assing it a few years into their job, they get fired. Why not with teachers? Why do we have a very finite window in order to determine if a teacher is worth keeping... for life?

So do they collectively bargain? Yes. Yes they do. By definition, that's what a union is. But the tautology doesn't address the fact that the unions use their positions to buy loyalty and keep the leaders entrenched in power to the detriment of the industry as a whole.

Here's an article that addressed teacher union leadership and what they do to maintain power

from the article wrote:
People have been waiting patiently for the teachers unions to champion school reform since the days of Al Shanker, who served as AFT president from 1974 to 1997. But the reality never seems to match the rhetoric.

In 2008, the NEA unveiled the “Great Public Schools for Every Student by 2020” project, in which the union committed to “creating models for state-based educational improvement,” “developing a new framework for accountability systems that support authentic student learning,” and “fostering a constructive relationship with U.S. Department of Education leadership.”

The last goal has clearly been a failure and no one has mentioned the GPS 2020 project by name in public in more than five years.

In 2011, the NEA put together a Commission on Effective Teachers and Teaching, which actually delivered several levelheaded and worthwhile recommendations. The commission inspired the union to release a “three-part action agenda to strengthen the teaching profession and improve student learning.”

One of the commission’s recommendations was to “address internal barriers to organizational engagement about teaching quality and student learning.” It called on the NEA to “transform the UniServ Program, making UniServ directors advocates for educational issues to advance NEA’s professional agenda.”

UniServ directors are the union staffers who are collective bargaining specialists, political operatives, and experts in the finer points of school finances. A proposal to find a way to make them “advocates for educational issues” was presented to the delegates at the 2012 Representative Assembly. It was overwhelmingly defeated on a voice vote.

The lesson is that while many union members, particularly younger ones, might join the public in hoping for teachers unions that embrace change, the folks who run the unions are comfortable with their traditional mission: the protection of teachers in the workplace and of union prerogatives everywhere.
 
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From my experience the one thing that my Union does that helps the level of teacher quality is they are the primary drivers of getting the district to provide inservice, trainings, and teacher collaboration. The district is not necessarily opposed to these things but they need to be pushed to make sure it happens. My small rural district has the demographics and socioeconomic background more aligned with an inner city school district, and therefore have particular challenges.

I've had the opportunity to be a building rep for the union, so I get a small window into how my local union works...in the meetings I'm in over 1/2 of the discussion centers around how we can help new, inexperienced and struggling teachers to overcome their challenges. We are in a negotiation cycle right now, and yes, some of the concerns revolve around pay and uncompensated expectations, but one of our biggest priorities is codifying the expectations that there are regular, pertinent, and timely instruction and training on curriculum as well as administration support and service to ensure all teachers and struggling teachers get the support they need to improve.

Sure the master organization, in my case NEA/WEA has deficiencies and often times we feel frustrated with what they feel are important, our local union has a major focus on teacher improvement, retention, and as a result student growth.

One anecdotal observation I've made is that the more you talk about student growth as a measure of teacher competence the more you create a uber stressful workplace that creates fear and standardized test preparation rather than true authentic learning. If you place the worth of an individual on the shoulders of 23 4th graders that person will freak out and panic.
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jeremy cobert
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slatersteven wrote:
So when you said "all areas of education" you meant "drop out rates".


yes, they are not ahead in that one.

slatersteven wrote:
Sorry I do not speak American English.


apology accepted.
 
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My best friend is a public high school teacher. He chose that line of work because he gets 4 months off a year and almost total job security, stuff no private sector job offers, especially at entry level. Now he owns a house and takes multiple international vacations annually. Not exactly what I'd call underpaid or struggling.
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SpaceGhost wrote:
A start would be not making the College of Education one of the easiest places to get a degree (not saying there aren't highly gifted teachers or that teachers don't have passion for the job). However, we need to increase competitiveness and then we would need to start paying teachers more. That would require U.S. valuing education as a society....which we don't, really.

Maybe when we finally realize that no amount of messing around with free trade is going to bring back manufacturing and slow down automation. Right now we are doing piss poor at educating students at all levels (on average).


It would also help if the College of Education classes would teach you how to teach instead of being a complete waste of time. Same with a lot of teacher continuing education classes.

You'd think that educators who teach how to educate would know how to educate, but they don't.
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Jon Badolato
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Quote:
become: entrenchment of power for the union leaders. That's nothing against teachers in general, it's just politics. But the people in power start first and foremost with keeping themselves in power, and that often comes at the detriment of the rank and file.


You've been watching too many movies. At the district level the "leaders" are other classroom teachers who volunteer to be in the negotiations committee or the grievance committee etc... They are paid no money for their efforts and there is no stipend of any kind for the work that they do for the other members of the union. They really don't have any "power" beyond that.
Not sure why you have the idea that their position or work is a detriment to the rank and file. Again, at least at the district level the leaders of the union are classroom teachers just like me with the same contract as me under which they work as a teacher as well. Whatever happens contractually for me also happens for them. They don't get any special perks for doing Union work for other members of the Union.
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Jon Badolato
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Quote:
They actively fight against mechanisms being put in place that would allow the evaluation of teachers. THAT is how we get such messed up things like standardized testing, the only thing that can get forced through the door. Tests only reveal the final grade. They don't evaluate whether a teacher is a good teacher or not. But there is no in-class evaluation, there is nothing about eyeballs and judgment. It's all just "What are the grades?" To they teach to the tests... tests that wouldn't be as vital if we allowed some form of evaluation for the teachers.


Our district ( and most in this state, not sure about where you live ) has a pretty comprehensive evaluation plan. I get observed three times a year in my classroom while teaching.I develop a plan of improvement for my classes and I am checked on progress toward the goal at several points during the year. I have to also set a communication goal ( mainly for parents ) etc...

I would wager the process I go through and the work I do to obtain an excellent evaluation is at least as rigorous as anything that's done in the corporate world and in some cases even more. My brother who works as a a construction engineer doesn't have to do any planning, he doesn't meet with his supervisor multiple times each year to discuss and show progress. He just does his job, has one meeting at the end of the year where they decide what his bonus and raise is going to be and he's done. And his bonus frequently amounts to what some of our athletic coaches earn for working an entire season coaching one of the school teams !

And teacher's unions in my state and district have not been fighting against evaluation plans as can be seen above. We've just been fighting against terrible ones like basing our evaluation primarily on a standardized test like the SBAC which is one of the things you are railing about ( and rightly so ). It's not the end all and be all of knowledge and isn't necessarily a good gauge of whether or not a person can be successful in life or a career of their choosing.
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