Given their place as the most powerful public employee union, teachers unions are front and center in the debate going on in Wisconsin. But underneath the high-decibel clashes between tea partiers and public employees unions are some contentious education policy issues reformers, teachers unions, and analysts have debated (and sometimes even collaborated to fix) for years.
Although teachers contracts are often singled out, in practice the rules and regulations most commonly cited as problems by school superintendents, school reformers, and not infrequently teachers themselves, are often found in state law as well. That’s why schools in states without teachers unions tend to operate pretty much like schools in places with powerful unions. In Virginia, for instance, where I served on the state board of education, it would be difficult to tell the difference between most of our schools and schools in heavily unionized Maryland. It’s also why teachers unions are not the only culprit here. They did not unilaterally create these rules and regulations—omeone signed those contracts or passed those laws.
So forget the theatrics in Wisconsin, reform doesn’t have to mean abolishing collective bargaining. But, if we’re serious about having school systems that put student learning first and create a genuine profession for teachers here are five common practices that must change.