Utah students learn a hard lesson about union influence in public schools: They’re working to keep a beloved teacher who was laid off according to union rules by Ben Velderman, July 7, 2011, Education Action Group Foundation, Inc. is such an enlightening and ironic story we just had to highlight it. Why enlightening? Children make valid points many adults don’t understand or refuse to acknowledge. Why ironic? Because children have the courage, understanding and moxie to fight a wrong too many adults are unwilling to address. What’s the “wrong?” The willingness of too many “grown-ups” to put the wants and desires of adults (teachers, unions, politicians) above the priorities and needs of students and an unwillingness to fight the “powers that be” to make the necessary reforms to provide the education children need and deserve to succeed in today’s complex and global economy. The full article is available to read Here, but we are pasting our favorite points below.
In February’s massive rallies in Madison, Wisconsin, students were released from class and likely bussed to the capital so they could join the protests. What the unions failed to understand is that student protests can cut both ways, particularly when students start discovering that union contracts and regulations hurt their schools.
When layoffs recently claimed the career of a respected calculus instructor in the Logan City (Utah) School District, a group of high school students asked administrators why one of their best teachers had to go. When the students discovered that silly union rules were to blame, they were not impressed, and decided to do something about it.
At the heart of this controversy is Liz Mott, an Advanced Placement calculus teacher with 21 years of experience with the district, who was let go because she is only a part-time teacher. According to the union’s collective bargaining contract, part-time teachers are “provisional educators,” who are “not entitled to employment beyond the end of the term of the present one year contract.”
The Herald Journal reports that “it was a request to the district by the Logan Education Association to keep the full-time employees first.” It’s a variation of the “last in, first out” policy that bases layoff decisions on seniority rather than teacher effectiveness.
That policy didn’t make sense to the Logan High kids, who created a “Save Mrs. Mott!” Facebook page and urged their classmates to sign a petition appealing the layoff decision. They also encouraged students to email the principal, superintendent and school board members with their request.
But their efforts went beyond a simple letter-writing campaign. On the website, the students brainstormed for ways that the district could “make budget cuts without cutting teachers.” One student asked to see the district’s financial reports, reasoning that “we can’t very well expect to know how to cut … if we don’t understand exactly where (the money) goes.” The students discussed ways to raise enough money to cover Mrs. Mott’s salary, and even researched the legal ins-and-outs of hosting a fundraiser.
Armed with information, the students made plans to attend the June 21 school board meeting en masse. One student leader advised participants to go “dressed in your best attire” and to bring along at least one parent so as to look “as mature as possible and not like a bunch of rebellious kids.” At the meeting, Logan Superintendent Marshal Garrett defended the layoff decision to an overflow audience of students, parents and community members. Garrett explained that teacher evaluations were not used in determining layoffs because they don’t reflect the actual performance of the teachers, reports the Journal.
Students responded that they had no difficulty discerning “good teachers” from the not-so-good ones. If they could identify an effective teacher, why couldn’t the district? Garrett then explained the district had “contractual obligations to our full-time employees,” according to the paper. Charles Saul, one of the student organizers, asked “Does that mean you don’t have a contractual obligation to students?” [ emphasis ours ]
Other students spoke about Mott’s influence in their lives. A former Logan High student said her college success was due, in part, to Mott and the school’s calculus program. “You are cutting our ability to succeed when you cut Mrs. Mott,” she told the school board, according to the Cache Valley Daily. A recent graduate praised Mott for going above and beyond to help students, and said she felt bad for younger students who won’t have the opportunity to study under Mott.
The meeting went on for nearly three hours, and despite the students’ appeals to common sense, they learned that such things don’t matter when weighed against the legal obligations of a teachers’ contract. The school board stood by its earlier decision.
The students may have lost the battle, but stand a good chance of winning the war. According to the Journal, the Logan High Community Council recently voted to allocate $120,500 to the high school, earmarking $40,500 “to hire a part-time advanced placement math teacher.” It appears Mrs. Mott’s job will be saved.
Unfortunately, there are many “Mrs. Motts” who cannot be saved from silly union rules that favor seniority over effectiveness, tenure over common sense.
This story might appear to be only a small town controversy hardly worth mentioning outside of Utah. But it says much about the need for education reform throughout the nation.
The Logan students didn’t mention teacher tenure or seniority by name, but they made it clear that teachers should be judged by their effectiveness in the classroom, and student needs should come before labor contracts. These students know that teachers are not indistinguishable and interchangeable cogs in the educational machine, regardless of union arguments to the contrary.