The Oak Ridger has an article “Proposed education bills shortsighted, counterproductive” by Steve Reddick, president of the Oak Ridge Education Association and is available to read in full Here.

TNSC would like to respond to a few of Mr. Reddick’s comments.  Mr. Reddick’s first comment for dissection:

For one thing, they [current education reform legislation] seem to have nothing to do with improving student learning or promoting the Race to the Top reforms that Tennessee’s schools are committed to making. Rather, they seek to abolish professional negotiations, change the tenure process, and to disable the Tennessee Education Association by restricting its political activities and eliminating payroll deductions for its members’ dues payments.

First let’s address the collective bargaining legislation, Senate Bill 0113 & House Bill 0130.

In the private sector, unions bargain with owners to redistribute company profits. Governments make no profit. The only thing government workers bargain for is more tax dollars which they use to elect the government officials they bargain with.  If you’re a candidate you want the votes and campaign contributions from the teachers unions. The problem arises when these politicians sit down to bargain over the pay and working conditions with the very unions who helped to elect them

Further, it is through political patronage, not collective bargaining that the teachers unions protect their members – from competition. The unions enjoy a monopoly on nearly $600 billion in annual government education spending.  The NEA and AFT minimize competition by using their resources to influence the election of sympathetic school board members and members of state legislatures or to gain political influence over the election of the governor or appointment/election of the state superintendent or commissioner of education.

Therefore, the current legislation will serve to break this anti-trust power brokering between politicians and the teachers union and return control to the tax payers, individual teachers and their employers and parents and away from teachers unions and the politicians beholding to them.

Mr. Reddick comments on the tenure changes in Senate Bill 0624 & House Bill 0367.

And what about tenure? Contrary to popular belief, tenure does not provide teachers with permanent job protection. Under current Tennessee law, a teacher can be dismissed without cause (or not rehired) at any point during their three-year probationary period. The granting of tenure does not make teachers unremovable from the classroom. It simply means that administrators and boards must follow due process so that tenured teachers are not removed arbitrarily and without cause.

Frankly, these bills don’t go far enough.  Tenure should be eliminated completely.  Only those performing a job to standards should keep said job.  No where in the free market will you find tenure.  It is an institution which the free market economy will not suffer.  Serving for x number of years should not give anyone the right to retain a job if they are failing.  How many among us would give our job our best daily effort if we knew we couldn’t get fired for failing, not trying or not caring?  Tenure only serves to protect the bad, lazy and sometimes dangerous teachers by making it nearly impossible to get rid of them due to onerous rules to be followed and hoops to be jumped through.  Tenure not only damages the students stuck with a bad teacher, but burdens the teachers who must mop up after their failings.  Teachers should be treated as the professionals they are.  They don’t need tenure.  There are numerous civil recourses to be taken if unfairly dismissed.

Mr. Reddick comments on ending the compulsory state collection of union dues.

…eliminating payroll deductions for its members’ dues payments.

There is absolutely no reason the taxpayers of Tennessee should bare the administrative costs of collecting and processing union dues.  Let the union be responsible for and bare the expense of this administrative task.

Of the current legislation and education reforms he asks:

Why this? Why now?”

To this question we agree.  Why now?  Why not at least 30 years ago?  For the past 40 years our answer for abysmal student scores and graduation rates has been to spend more and more money despite getting flat or no results yet expecting a different outcome.

TEA leaders partnered with the General Assembly in the special four-day session that launched Tennessee’s Race to the Top application. Local association presidents signed Memoranda of Understanding and TEA representatives worked closely with legislators to craft workable reform ideas into the new First to the Top law.

Mr. Reddik somehow thinks we should applaud TEA for helping attain Race to the Top funds.  This “sacrifice” served to get more “money” for education.  Hardly a “sacrifice” on their part.  Some might say that is the job of the union – to get more.

Backed by their union, Tennessee’s teachers, it seems, are self-serving, ineffective, greedy, and unremovable from the classroom.

We should not even have to articulate this, but it seems many teachers are listening to the propaganda of the unions and believe this battle is directed towards teachers.  It’s NOT.  Everyone knows and loves a teacher.  This battle is against the stranglehold of the unions and their very effective efforts to block any meaningful reforms in education.  As we said, it is through maintaining monopoly control of education spending that the unions serve their teachers best.  They fight any and all efforts in giving parents educational choices.

For these key reasons, it is both critical and logical that teachers remain a part of every discussion regarding educational policymaking and reform at both the local and state levels. To deny teachers a continued voice in local and state policymaking discussions about learning/classroom conditions makes no educational sense and even less political sense.

Teachers and their input are vital to the education reform debate, but let them do so as professionals, not as pawns in the power brokering monopoly control of the union leadership-funding politicians and pushing social agendas which teachers may not agree with.  Teachers under union control serve more as cash cows than having any real voice in the education reform dialogue.

For the Legislature to sow divisiveness and discord in its relationship with teachers at this crucial time is not only counterproductive. It’s enormously distracting. Our combined mission is urgent, and it demands respect, cooperation, and collegiality. We are all stakeholders in this system, and we are partners, not combatants, in the reform process. Let’s start acting that way again.

It is not the legislator, any legislation, teachers or parents causing divisiveness.  It is the union leadership trying to maintain power and control and their refusal to allow meaningful reform that has caused this divisiveness and failures in the Tennessee education system.


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