Survey Finds Disconnect Between Teachers and Union InterestsJuly 25th, 2012
By B. Jason Brooks
The Washington, D.C.-based think tank Education Sector’s new report Trending Toward Reform: Teachers Speak on Unions and the Future of the Profession examines teachers views on policies that impact their jobs and their views of the unions that represent them. This rare glimpse into the attitudes of those who are on the front lines of education uncovers a growing disconnect between the interest of teachers – which rightfully is in favor of policies that allow them to best meet the academic needs of students – and the interest of teachers unions, which primarily is a focus on creating and preserving strong political influence. Some noteworthy results include the following:
- Despite unions’ insistence on lifetime tenure being a “sacred cow,” 61 percent of teachers would be willing to give it up altogether and 63 percent view tenure as a “formality that has little to do with whether a teacher is good or not.”
- A majority (54 percent) of teachers support measuring teacher effectiveness by, in part, assessing the growth of student knowledge while in their classrooms. Teachers are becoming increasingly supportive of the idea of student assessment-based teacher evaluations, with support growing by 5 percentage points over four years.
- 62 percent of teachers believe unions fail to attempt to “identify ineffective teachers and retrain them,” a responsibility that two-thirds (67 percent) feel should be a priority for the union.
- Nearly half (49 percent) of teachers don’t think that their unions “expand the career ladder” by rethinking new roles and responsibilities of teachers, a teacher-centered reform that unions should embrace and negotiate into district contracts. In just four years, 20 percent more teachers have become critical of how the unions have handled this issue.
- 46 percent of teachers surveyed said that unions do nothing to “update teachers on new instructional methods” and 47 indicated that unions fail to promote adequate job training at all.
To little surprise, an overwhelming majority of surveyed dues-paying teachers approve of the union’s noncontroversial roles, such as filing grievances (81 percent), protecting against unfair treatment (77 percent), and negotiating contracts (77 percent). This basic functional role has remained the core of union support for years.
What is both very interesting and quite clear in this report, however, is that teachers unions’ public policy positions are no longer reflective of the beliefs and desires of most teachers. A pivotal moment for the future of teachers unions is at hand, as the report appropriately concludes:
Whether unions really can provide bread and butter protections for teachers and also advance dramatic reforms to the teaching profession remains an open question. If they can, now is the time to do it. In the coming years, the viability of the union will be determined by whether teachers perceive them as being part of the problem or part of the solution for public education.
Contributions to this story were made by FERA education policy research intern Ethan Brooks-McDonald.
B. Jason Brooks is director of research at the Foundation for Education Reform & Accountability and may be followed on Twitter at @bjbrooksNY.