Survey Finds Disconnect Between Teachers and Union Interests

July 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.


  1. Students First offered me a gift card if I post a positive comment about the parent trigger. Way to buy support, corporate ed reformers!

    From: Catherine Robinson
    > Date: July 26, 2012 9:58:12 PM EDT
    > To: Catherine Robinson
    > Subject: rapid responses needed – and a contest!
    Hi all,
    … starting right now, there will be a monthly contest for the best rapid response. The more comments you leave on blog posts, the more times you can enter! Post a polite and persuasive pro-reform comment and email me the link so I can check it out.

    That’s all you have to do!

    At the end of the month (August 26th at midnight) I will announce the winner. Not only will that winner get a gift card to the restaurant or store of choice, but he or she will also be promoting the cause of real and transformative change in public schools! What could be better?

  2. Here are some examples of character attacks by Ms. Rhee:

    I have to say this was the best laugh I had all day today! A representative of a group that receives funding from every far rightwing organization in the country to the tune of millions of dollars, whose founder sits on every rightwing Republican Tea Party governor’s reform committee, who works hand in hand with crooks like Jeb Bush, whining about a “well-funded” pushback? The martyr schtick doesn’t fit well here, does it? Especially in light of the scandal Students First blew up around themselves over the scam. If this is how she handles herself when the heat turns up a little then maybe she needs to rethink getting involved with a corrupt PAC and toting water for discredited leader like Rhee. Politics today is hardball and you should really wear a glove. . . .

    You want to see character assassination? Try when Michelle Rhee claimed she fired 266 Washington D.C teachers for the following reason: “I got rid of teachers who had hit children, who had had sex with children, who had missed 78 days of school. … Why wouldn’t we take those things into consideration?” That statement was factually incorrect. When pressed by the union and the D.C. council, Rhee eventually admitted that only one teacher out the 266 fired had been accused of sexual impropriety. Oh, well – one teacher, 265 teachers — it’s close, right? As you note in your post, Diane, Michelle Rhee engages in smearing and slandering teachers all the time – that’s her claim to fame, the broom that put her on the media’s radar, if you will. If the woman claiming she has had her character assassinated wants to really see character assassination, she just needs to watch a Michelle Rhee interview.

  3. I think many parents would like accountability and would like to start with an elected community school board.
    In the City of New York, parents, and students, have suffered from more than 10 years of so-called “mayoral control” . This experiment has reduced democracy and has resulted in a centrally-controlled entity that is neither open, nor accessible, to most parents or students.
    Not unlike the centrally-planned and centrally-controlled systems of the former Soviet Union, this system relies on cloudy rulings, significant confusion, and constant “newspeak’ to discourage and dishearten the hard-working citizens. The New York City exercise in mayoral control is quickly showing itself to be a tool to transfer taxpayer monies from the public coffers to the private pockets of those who already have more than enough.
    The exercise seems to have a strong focus on beating up poor people who have schools located too close to Central Park — the real estate in Manhattan is “too good for poor people” — if the Educrats can churn the pot and remove public schools from the community, and transfer the publics’ schools to Charter entities which control parent participation and a not accountable to either the Mayor or his Chancellor, it is another means to encourage the poor, especially the poor with high needs children, to go elsewhere.
    Let us start with transparency, accountability and responsiveness at the highest levels. Revise the State Law to allow the parents of the students to decide matters pertaining to local community school districts. We have “central” administrators controlling school admissions, enrollments and funding who have never met my students, and quite likely any students. This is abuse of the public trust in the worst way.
    Enough with 10 years of anti-union malarkey.

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