CAMBRIDGE, Mass. – There are teachers out there fighting for the best interests of students.
They’re not doing it through their disingenuous unions, who always claim “it’s for the kids” but mostly act on their own behalf. They’re doing it by banding together and joining reform organizations that allow individual teachers to be more involved and proactive in education policy decisions.
According to a new report featured in the Spring 2013 issue of Education Next, a growing percentage of teachers – particularly younger ones – are fed up with the ineffective and archaic system of top-down union rule and are joining new groups and devising new initiatives that will benefit both teachers and, more importantly, students.
In the report, “Taking Back Teaching,” author Richard Lee Colvin details how new teacher organizations springing up across the country are recruiting successful teachers and offering them incentives and opportunities to become more involved in education policy and make their opinions heard.
Organizations such as Educators for Excellence, Hope Street Group and Teach Plus are helping teachers mobilize on each of the three essential fronts in this new “teachers’ voice” movement.
Preparing teachers to push for change
These organizations are working to keep good, effective educators in the profession by providing them with opportunities to get involved in leadership positions, both in their schools and districts.
Teach Plus – with 8,000 members, the largest of the teacher advocacy groups – sponsors a program called the Teacher Turnaround Team (T3), in which teachers earn a stipend for taking on leadership roles in school improvement initiatives.
The organizations encourage and preparing classroom teachers to push for the implementation of controversial but necessary new policies.
For example, Hope Street Group – a nonpartisan, national think tank and consulting firm that focuses on public policy issues including health care, employment and education – sponsors a fellowship program that awards $5,000 stipends to teachers who get involved in promoting reform, like the implementation of thorough and challenging teacher evaluations.
The third aspect of the teachers’ voice movement is encouraging teachers to pressure their local unions to become more democratic.
A recent example occurred in November 2011 when a group called New Teachers Los Angeles (NewTLA) helped elect 85 moderate delegates to the historically radical 350-seat House of Representatives of the United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA), the decision-making body of this particular union.
“Regardless of the approach, all of the groups unabashedly acknowledge that some teachers are more effective than others and that even the best teachers want to keep improving their practice,” Colvin writes.
Faith in unions is failing
The teachers’ voice movement is still relatively new, but it is gaining momentum quickly. Teachers union officers would love to have the public think otherwise, but in reality, a large percentage of the unions’ own members are losing faith and jumping ship.
As Colvin bluntly states in his report, “Union membership is failing.”
According to Colvin, a national survey conducted in 2011 by Education Sector found that more than 40 percent of teachers want unions to focus more on teacher performance and student achievement. Another study by Harvard’s Program on Education Policy and Governance concluded only 43 percent of teachers have a positive perception of unions.
Union stalwarts are still largely resisting the teachers’ voice movement and the organizations supporting it.
According to Colvin’s report, “Leo Casey, a United Federation of Teachers vice president, said he doubted that Educators for Excellence has as many supporters among New York teachers as it claims. Most teachers, he said, are opposed to being judged based on student test scores and believe that the current seniority system is fair and necessary.”
This statement demonstrates how truly out-of-touch the unions are. Fortunately the teachers’ voice movement is surpassing union cronyism as the en vogue approach to tackling tough education issues.