Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Lay a Little Learning On Me

I’ve been pretty confused about the whole teachers’ right to unions lately. I wanted to know how the states without teachers’ unions compare to the states with them. Not in terms of how the teachers fare so much as the overall education. Here’s some of what I found.

Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Texas, Arkansas, Arizona, and Louisiana are the ten states without teacher unions now.  Virginia is a bit of an oddity in this marginally scientific study y there's one in every group),  but the other nine states are  in the bottom third of poor states. All (but Virginia) are in the bottom third of ACT/SAT scores. But nine of these ten states rank in the top quarter of teacher salary/cost of living index.

So does that mean that well-paid teachers don’t necessarily produce smart students? Well, my little gathering of research can’t prove that. But I believe it has a long finger pointed in that direction. And that is not to say that good teachers don't teach well.  I just don't think good teachers are necessarily well paid or that poor teachers aren't.

I think what we need is teachers to be freed to teach. I don’t think unions do that. I think they just add more bureaucracy.

There was a great idea once to hire people who’d been working outside of education for some time to teach. The idea was twofold. First, it would fill a shortage of teachers. Secondly, it was supposed to create teachers who weren’t boggled down with all the how-to-be-a-teacher rules that hadn’t, for the most part, been working. I thought it was a brilliant idea.

I thought it was so brilliant that I decided to become one of those non-traditional teachers. Evidently, no one had told my school that creativity in the classroom was a good thing. No one told them that the idea was to lay some learnin’ on those chillen. They didn’t like the way I taught.

However, at the end of the year (after the school and I had decided to part ways) my students’ standardized test scores came back. The students I learned with (taught) blew the school’s record out of the water.

I’m afraid that unions don’t do much to free teachers, who could then free students to learn. I’m afraid that they just add another layer of rules of how to be teachers. The silliest, of course being “You can’t fire me, I have tenure.” and “That’s not the way it’s done.” Duh, the way it’s done doesn’t work, so anything else has a better chance.

Administration and the community for whom they work should treat teachers like respected, responsible adults if they deserve it and fire them if they don’t. If the students are learning and working, administration and the community should stand back and let it happen. That’s all. If a teacher is doing a good job he should be rewarded. If he’s doing a bad job he should be strongly encouraged to change careers.

I remain skeptical about needing teacher unions, but I’m sure we need common sense in our schools.

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