Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Chicago's Teachers ... Are Teachers Unions Losing Popularity, Even Among Teachers?

{NOTE: First, let's be certain to acknowledge the difference between teachers union officials and their members, the individual teachers. Based on my experience, most union members either don't know much about how unions function or don't pay much attention to it. I assume this applies equally to teachers unions as well.

In any event, I personally like teachers very much, having married one 45 years ago, and neither am I opposed to union leaders as individuals.

That said, I really don't think public sector unions, including teachers unions, do much, if any, good for their members that the members couldn't accomplish on their own. And absent a union, teachers would not have to pay union dues either.}

With that background, let's continue.

Teachers Unions Have a Popularity Problem says this in pertinent part about the apparent declining popularity of teachers unions:

"In our latest annual national survey, we found that the share of the public with a positive view of union impact on local schools has dropped by seven percentage points in the past year. Among teachers, the decline was an even more remarkable 16 points. . . .

In our polls from 2009 to 2011, we saw little change in public opinion. Around 40% of respondents were neutral, saying that unions had neither a positive nor negative impact. The remainder divided almost evenly, with the negative share being barely greater than the positive.

But this year unions lost ground. While 41% of the public still takes the neutral position, those with a positive view of unions dropped to 22% in 2012 from 29% in 2011. . . .

The survey's most striking finding comes from its nationally representative sample of teachers. Whereas 58% of teachers took a positive view of unions in 2011, only 43% do in 2012. The number of teachers holding negative views of unions nearly doubled to 32% from 17% last year. . . . top officials of the National Education Association are reporting a decline of 150,000 members over the past two years and project that they will lose 200,000 more members by 2014, as several states have recently passed laws ending the automatic deduction of union dues from teachers' paychecks.

Teachers' increasingly critical stance toward their unions could have multiple causes. With unions on the defensive in state legislatures—on pension and medical benefits, evaluation systems and collective bargaining itself—some teachers may be concerned that unions aren't fighting hard enough for their interests. Others may be coming to the conclusion that unions are standing in the way of education reform.

But it's important not to overstate matters. Those taking the neutral position on our survey may be more sympathetic to the unions than it appears. To investigate this possibility, this year we gave half of those surveyed just two choices on their assessment of union impact, positive or negative (as opposed to the five nuanced options for other respondents). Among those asked the either-or question, 71% of teachers said unions had a positive impact. When push comes to shove, a clear majority of teachers still support their unions.

When the public was asked to choose between a simple positive and negative assessment, however, it split down the middle: 51% said unions had a negative impact, while 49% said their effect was positive. Whether this indicates a public-opinion tipping point is anyone's guess. But as outsize, underfunded teacher pension and medical benefits wreak havoc on school budgets, unions in Wisconsin and elsewhere are standing on increasingly shaky ground."

Role of Teachers Unions and Chicago's Troubled Condition

As with most polls, there's both good and bad news for whichever point of view you hold. That said, it's also important to realize that teachers are only there to help kids learn and that therefore teachers unions must play a positive role in that regard as well.

Along those lines, Chicago Teachers to Vote on Possible Strike is timely and worth taking the time to read:

"The Chicago Teachers Union said members would vote next week over a possible strike, raising the specter that teachers in the nation's third-largest district could be on the picket line when classes begin in the fall and underscoring the teachers' growing bitterness toward efforts by Mayor Rahm Emanuel's management of the school system.

Union officials announced plans for the vote Friday even as they continue to negotiate with the city over a new contract. The current contract expires June 30. Illinois law requires 75% of the union's 25,000 members to approve a strike.

Union President Karen Lewis said a vote in favor won't require a strike, but rather give union officials the right to initiate one if they cannot reach agreement with the city before the new school year begins.

"We want to avoid a strike," she said during a news conference Friday, but she said Chicago teachers are "tired of being bullied, belittled and betrayed by this district and the city of Chicago."

School district officials didn't respond to calls for comment. But they have said the district faces a $700 million budget hole. The district's operating budget is about $5 billion.

Union and district officials have been locked in a bitter contract dispute for months and remain far apart on salary and other issues. Last week, thousands of teachers marched in downtown Chicago to protest the mayor's contract offer.

The union had asked for a 30% pay raise over two years and said Mr. Emanuel offered a 2% boost next year and then moving to a merit pay system–which the union opposes. They mayor also intends to lengthen the school day. . . .

Union leaders said Friday that they have asked for air conditioning for every school, a guarantee of smaller class sizes, and more art and music classes for students during the longer school day.
Xian Barrett, who teaches world studies at Gage Park High School in Chicago, called the strike vote a "necessary evil" that he hopes will send a "wake up call" to Mr. Emanuel. "It would put us in a position where the administration has to start listening to us," Mr. Barrett said in an interview."

Summing Up

All students are entitled to receive a first class opportunity to earn a first class education.

Concerning taxpayers, the various financial issues must be addressed. In that regard, technological advancements such as online learning can definitely play a major role in both increasing educational opportunities and dealing with our schools' financial issues.

That requires the willingness to change. Here's a proposal about change.

If the Chicago teachers do elect to strike, will taxpayers will be allowed to put any pressure on those same teachers to return to work? Or will they be forced to sit by helplessly and wait for the school district and teachers unions to come to terms?

One example of positive change could be if elected officials, aka taxpayer representatives, asked retired teachers to step in, or even allowed other capable people to volunteer to teach for the strike's duration. Or they could even ask returning military veterans to assume teaching responsibilities  upon their return home. Or give the teaching jobs to recent college graduates.

But of course, none of these things will happen. It will instead be business as usual.

And the public will likely become even less enamored with the state of public education, its costs and its results.

That said, if ever put to a vote, my guess is that taxpayers and parents, as well as many teachers, would elect to try new things in order to give our kids a better education at a lesser cost to the taxpayers.

And by so doing, provide a better future for those students and our nation as well.

After all, isn't that the main idea?

Thanks. Bob.

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