For teach­ers, this tool not worth it

The Oklahoman (Sunday) - - OPINION - BY GREG FORSTER Forster is a Fried­man fel­low at EdChoice (

Ok­la­homa should fol­low the ex­am­ple of other states that are mov­ing away from col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing in K-12 ed­u­ca­tion. It’s not just bad for kids, it’s bad for teach­ers.

I’m not against unions. My wife worked for a union for years, vol­un­teer­ing long hours as an em­ployee ad­vo­cate in com­pany dis­pute res­o­lu­tion. The union was the only pro­tec­tion in her work­place from cor­po­rate mis­treat­ment and con­tract vi­o­la­tions.

But col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing and rep­re­sen­ta­tion sim­ply isn’t a good fit for K-12 teach­ers. Doc­tors and lawyers don’t union­ize. The na­ture of the work they do doesn’t per­mit the stan­dard­iza­tion, con­trolled pro­cesses, and highly spec­i­fied work out­puts that are nec­es­sary for col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing to be ef­fec­tive.

Teach­ers are like doc­tors and lawyers. Stan­dard­iz­ing the work they do into a one-size-fits-all mold cre­ates ma­jor headaches. But col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing de­mands stan­dard­iza­tion, so pro­cesses and out­puts can be ne­go­ti­ated.

The stan­dard­iza­tion de­manded by col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing is a ma­jor fac­tor in all the com­plaints we’re ac­cus­tomed to hear­ing from pub­lic school teach­ers — use­less pa­per­work, un­rea­son­able rules, rigid sys­tems, dys­func­tional bu­reau­cracy. In a 2009 study of na­tional data from the U.S. Depart­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion, I com­pared pub­lic and pri­vate school teach­ers. The dif­fer­ence in teacher work­ing con­di­tions was dra­matic.

Pri­vate school teach­ers, un­hin­dered by the stan­dard­iza­tion of col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing, were much more likely to have a great deal of con­trol over se­lec­tion of text­books and in­struc­tional ma­te­ri­als (53 per­cent to 32 per­cent); con­tent, top­ics and skills to be taught (60 per­cent vs. 36 per­cent); per­for­mance stan­dards for stu­dents (40 per­cent vs. 18 per­cent), cur­ricu­lum (47 per­cent vs. 22 per­cent) and dis­ci­pline pol­icy (25 per­cent vs. 13 per­cent). Pri­vate school teach­ers were also less likely to re­port that var­i­ous cat­e­gories of stu­dent mis­be­hav­ior dis­rupted their classes, and four times less likely to say stu­dent vi­o­lence is a prob­lem on at least a monthly ba­sis (12 per­cent vs. 48 per­cent).

Col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing does bring a mod­er­ate in­crease in pay. The Ok­la­homa State Depart­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion re­ports that in 2016-17, the av­er­age high school teacher made $39,319 and the av­er­age el­e­men­tary school teacher made $37,851. (This was be­fore this year’s $6,100 av­er­age pay raise.) In the same year, ac­cord­ing to the Ok­la­homa Pri­vate School Ac­cred­i­ta­tion Com­mis­sion, the av­er­age pri­vate school teacher salary across all grades was $36,947. Pub­lic school teach­ers also get bet­ter ben­e­fits and have job se­cu­rity pro­tec­tions.

But teach­ers don’t live by bread alone. I found that pri­vate school teach­ers are more sat­is­fied with their jobs, even at some­what lower pay.

They were much more likely than pub­lic school teach­ers to agree that they planned to re­main teach­ing as long as they could (62 per­cent vs. 44 per­cent). They were less likely to agree that they only planned to teach un­til re­tire­ment (12 per­cent vs. 33 per­cent), that they would leave teach­ing im­me­di­ately if a job with a higher salary were avail­able (12 per­cent vs. 20 per­cent), that teach­ing “isn’t re­ally worth it” be­cause of the stress and dis­ap­point­ments (6 per­cent vs. 13 per­cent) and that they some­times feel like teach­ing is a waste of time (9 per­cent vs. 17 per­cent).

We should re­think whether teach­ers are well served by col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing. Teach­ers don’t like our one-size-fits-all schools any more than par­ents do.

Greg Forster

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