What’s Wrong with RI Education
For anybody who has not already done so, wading through the comment-section discussion appended to my recent post on teachers and education is well worthwhile. Having followed it in progress, myself, I’ve observed a point that apparently needs stressing before such conversations proceed: Unions are not the only problem that requires fixing in Rhode Island’s public education system. Still, it draws too-bold lines of responsibility to state, as the NEA’s Bob Walsh does in the comment thread, that unions “don’t hire or fire/retire [their] members, just represent them between those two points in time.”
Teaching is, by its nature, a rewarding career. Adding in the vacations, breaks, and holidays that it has traditionally promised as perks makes up for much of the difficulty of the work. While most of us will agree that, beyond these attractions, teaching ought to be a very well paid profession, through their undue political muscle as well as their organization of such invidious negotiation tactics as “work to rule,” Rhode Island teachers’ unions have brought the pay, benefits, and security of the job to such a disproportionate level (in relation to other careers) that corruptive consequences have been sure to arise in both the teacher-education industry as well as the hiring process.
At the other end of the teacher’s career, it’s somewhat disingenuous to claim that retirement ends her or his relationship with the union. Teachers never really retire from union representation. And between hire and retire, unions play a role in the problem that mikeinRI, a teacher himself, articulates:
Perhaps the biggest weakness in our schools… are the principals. Not because they don’t try or are incapable, but because their hands are tied by contracts and administrators. We need to restore some power to the principals, to allow them to lead schools in a particular direction, to be advocates for reform, and to reward those teachers who are willing to move forward and work for reform. Those [who] don’t want to, won’t. But the consequences will be financial ones.
Enough is wrong with Rhode Island’s public education system that we could spend endless hours arguing around each other about where best to focus reform efforts, but unless teachers’ unions begin to rethink their role and their self-presentation, they will face a growing clamor for their cessation, punctuated every time any district’s contract is up — even every time somebody’s friend, family, or neighbor finds it necessary to leave the state and every time non-union workers find themselves sighing at their dim prospects for a true retirement at any age.