Too often, we think union contracts are just about wages and benefits. What isn't widely understood is how important other provisions are and how they impact student achievement by restricting the efforts of teachers and administrators who really want to make a difference.
Put simply, certain union contract provisions make it difficult for kids to learn.
This article in the Amsterdam News illustrates the point.
But in New York—unlike some other school districts—Weston doesn’t ultimately have complete autonomy over his school. He, like other New York City administrators, is restricted by a stringent union contract that enables tenured teachers who have been in the system for years to fill a vacancy in a school even if the principal has another candidate in mind.
“It pisses me off that I can’t pick my team,” said Weston, who has hired a crop of young teachers over the past few years who are idealistic but have little teaching experience working in challenging urban settings.
“I can’t say, ‘Let me go out. Let me hire. Let me recruit,’” he said.
School reform advocates have long argued that at schools like Robeson, which has had a long history of underperformance, students could benefit from having more seasoned educators in the classroom...But under the current union contract negotiated by the United Federation of Teachers, once a teacher reaches tenure, he or she has the option of transferring to a high-performing school, leaving many underperforming schools in largely poor, Black and Latino communities—staffed with a batch of first- and second-year teachers.
Another provision of the union contract—a massive document that most city parents don’t know exists nor can fully comprehend—does not require that teachers monitor students in the hallway as they pass to and from classes or that they supervise students on the recess playground.
“You think the union is protecting the interest of the students, but in reality, they are protecting the interests of teachers,” said Courtney Harris, a Harlem resident who recently took her daughter out of public schools and enrolled her in a charter school.
Harris isn’t alone. Each year, dozens of parents crowd into city schools urging principals to provide services for their students that the union contract explicitly prohibits teachers from performing. One teacher at a Manhattan school said that she did not volunteer for certain jobs (such as staying after school to sponsor an art and drama club) because it was frowned upon by other teachers active in the union.
“I feel torn,” said the teacher, who asked that her name not be identified. “When we signed up to be teachers, we pledged to give it our all. But some of my colleagues are in this thing for a paycheck."
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