3/2/08

Alternatives to teachers union exist

Free our teachers from the union. Introduce them to the Association of American Educators — an alternative, non-union organization that gives them benefits without burden. If you can afford to, offer to pay the nominal fees for a favorite teacher or two in order to show support. Teachers in every state may join (www.aaeteachers.org).

Teachers comprise any community’s most important professional community. They earn their higher educations and certificates in order to accept jobs that pay ridiculous wages and garner inadequate respect. They do so in order that commerce and industry will thrive with an educated workforce. Think a brain surgeon is more important than a teacher? Think again, unless you want an unschooled doctor digging into your skull.

In a perfect world, all teachers would work for competitive private schools that excel by attracting and rewarding the best, most dedicated and innovative professionals. In the world we have, however, most teachers work for government under contracts that encourage mediocrity. The contracts mostly represent the interests of a union that no longer cares much about kids, education or teachers.

Throughout the country, most teachers belong to the National Education Association, which is broken down by state and local chapters. Dues typically exceed $600 a year, which can be tough for teachers supporting families on wages that average $40-some thousand a year.

In some school districts, the union assumes membership and takes dues from a teacher’s wages unless the educator jumps through hoops to opt out during a short window of opportunity. The union has never succeeded at getting teachers the wages they deserve, and it typically works against efforts to reward excellence with above-average pay. The only tangible benefit most teachers see for their dues is liability insurance to cover lawsuits.

The workforce must be better prepared than ever to compete in markets that guarantee nothing and reward energy, quick thinking and ingenuity. Teachers are trying to respond by creating ever-improving, competitive schools — charter schools and neighborhood schools alike. But the union — stuck in the old world of institutionalized entitlement — gets in the way.

Take, for example, the experience of teachers at Denver’s Bruce Randolph Middle School. Principal Kristin Waters and her heroic staff lifted the inner-city school from among the worst in the state to one of the best, using what the Rocky Mountain News called “out-of-the-box strategies.”

Realizing the union resisted most innovative measures, Waters and her staff sought to free the school from union rules that were holding it back. For example, they wanted the freedom to determine how much time children should spend in school each day. But the union — supposedly dedicated to the interests of education — balked. Union leaders wanted to maintain control over a variety of everyday decisions at the school, including hiring practices, thus impeding progress.

The American Association of Educators, by contrast, is designed for today’s more competitive, progressive schools. It offers teachers twice the liability coverage the NEA sells, with fees that are less than a third of the union dues. Teachers can pay-as-they-go, and may opt in or out at any time. Money collected in excess of the cost of liability coverage pays for continuing education courses offered through major universities — open to members and non-members alike. None of the money goes to fund activism or political lobbyists.

The NEA is yesterday’s union, with no place in the cutting edge classroom. To usher in a new era, introduce teachers to the Association of American Educators — a non-coercive association designed around modern educational needs. Young minds are too important for an outdated union to waste.

(desertdispatch.com)

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