New Lessons for Our Classrooms

Improving the education of African American Students Will Require A Stronger Teacher Workforce. Here's What it Will Take?

To teachers like Thomas, collective bargaining means unions can fight for smaller class sizes, more prep time, and, of course, more pay in order to attract the strongest people to the profession. But Perry says collective bargaining is holding our community over the barrel and running the cost of education through the roof. The fact that it has been dismantled in Indiana, Wisconsin, Tennessee, and several other states this year is a “great and necessary step” toward school districts being able to “run a leaner and more effective academic experience,” he says.  “Teachers unions were good at one time, but I don’t know when that time was, because good to me means improving the quality of education, not guaranteeing jobs and not guaranteeing benefits.”

Marco Petruzzi agrees with Perry that principals need more hiring and firing authority over their staffs, and that the system should be built around kids’ success and not job security for teachers, but he doesn’t agree that all unions are bad. Petruzzi is president and CEO of Green Dot Public Schools, a Los Angeles-based organization that uses a charter-like model to transform low-performing schools. One difference: Principals and teachers at Green Dot schools own critical decisions related to budgeting, hiring, and curriculum customization. This model enables Green Dot schools to consistently outperform comparable schools on nearly every academic performance measure.

“Not all unions are created equal. I think a good union should embrace professionalism and accountability,” says Petruzzi. “To be a professional, you need to not have a 400-page union contract that tells you what to do every minute of the day. That’s actually good for a manufacturing company or a farming community, but you don’t see doctors and lawyers—who are professionals—walking around with 400 pages of how they’re supposed to spend every hour of the day.”  National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel says that it puts student learning first, and it has made huge investments in developing high standards to ensure teacher success  in the classroom.

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