Teachers’ Unions are one of the most controversial issues facing education today. Supporters and critics of teachers unions both feel they have student interests at heart when they argue for or against the issues of unions. Teachers’ unions are designed to protect the rights of teachers by ensuring that they are receiving the compensation and support they need to be able to teach the nation's children. The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) is the primary teacher’s union in the United States. The AFT protects teacher interests through lawsuits and strikes in schools. The AFT has become ineffective in promoting education while protecting teachers. The presence of the AFT in education has resulted in a decrease of quality educators in our public-school system.
The teachers union was created in the 1920s as a way to protect the rights of teachers. The union had difficulty getting membership and becoming influential. This was due to the fact that the profession consisted of mainly women and it was not seen as needing a union. Eventually the union gained influence and became a political force which would eventually determine the way in which our children are taught. The union protected teachers from losing their jobs if students were not performing at grade level. The union has also opposed grading teachers on their performance or providing incentives to teachers who are good at educating children.
The teacher union does not believe in promoting teachers or providing them with incentives for being good teachers. The unions believe that merit pay would be unfair to teachers and would be utilized to fire teachers. This opposition has come despite the fact that evidence shows that professional pay improves student performance.“For years, the unionized teaching profession opposed few ideas more vehemently than merit pay, but those objections appear to be eroding as school districts in dozens of states experiment with plans that compensate teachers partly based on classroom performance” (Dillon, np). As salesmen and other professionals receive bonuses for good performance so should teachers who provide valuable services. Educators are creating future citizens and professionals which makes their services more valuable than any other. Providing incentives to teachers would influence them to provide better education to their students which in turn would improve school performance and outcome measures.
Unions also use strategies which are harmful to schools in order to get their agenda passed. Unions do this through collective bargaining in that every teacher must go along with the demands that the union is making. They often use strikes in order to get their needs met despite knowing that these strikes are harmful to schools. “Those teachers who are willing to join the teachers' union are more likely to use strikes as a means of expressing their discontent; Most of the teachers surveyed agree that strikes have damaging effects on the educational system and the society” (Suh-Luan 173). Strikes are selfish forms of bargaining as parents have to scramble to try and find daycare for their children. Schools also have to try and find teachers who are able to fill in while the strike is occurring. Strikes also use up funding and taxes that could go towards more beneficial causes within the school. The negative impact of strikes is known to unions however they continue to utilize this detrimental approach within the educational system to get their demands met.
The unions also work in conjunction with school boards to ensure that teachers are building student performance. However, this student performance is mainly demonstrated through state tests. Testing has become the main indicator to demonstrate performance over graduation rates. “Teachers' unionization can explain how public schools simultaneously can have more generous inputs and worse student performance...teachers' unions increase school inputs but reduce productivity sufficiently to have a negative overall effect on student performance.“ (Hoxby 671). Students are taught to be able to master the test while not being taught to just learn the concepts. This can be a disadvantage to students who are not being taught to learn and explore their world rather they are just taught how to pass tests. This will impair the student's ability to function as a college student later in life. Unions have motivations to secure funding for their schools and teacher which is predominantly done through showing improvement in state examinations.
Although these reasons indicate the flaws within the system supporters of unions would state that they are beneficial in providing support to teachers. This is especially the case in a position which has predominantly been held by women. “Women teachers’ motives for union involvement (material and security concerns; the nature of teaching careers; and teachers’ abilities to assume responsibility for policies and programs beyond the classroom), and the gendered nature of their experiences in and around unions, offer useful directions for the future of North American teacher unionism” (Bascia, 551). As women continue to experience gender inequality in the workforce the protection of women is still a cause that needs to be fought. However, the union can be improved in providing this support to teachers without harming students.
Teachers unions have become fixed in their own goals and agenda that they are unwilling to compromise in order to improve the quality of education children receive. These unions need to be able to collaborate with other professionals in order to ensure that teachers are protected while students are being educated. The first step would need to be in reforming the way in which unions get their needs met through strikes.“Existing arguments that support increased teachers union involvement in educational policy making assume that collective bargaining is the most important means, or the most legitimate means, by which teachers unions exert influence within the educational policy arena” (Poole, 698). Other approaches have not been utilized by the unions as they believe collective bargaining will be the main way to get their demands met. Rather than utilizing strikes teachers’ unions need to be able to compromise in order to ensure the best interest of the children, teachers, parents, and administrators within the educational system are being met.
Reform within the educational system needs to come from within as teachers need to work with students and parents to provide a better education. Teachers need to make the decision to support their families rather than working with unions for their own interests. Unions are damaging the educational system by not putting education first. However rather than eradicating them, unions just need to be reformed so that they have everyone’s best interests in mind. Through this we could provide improved education for our children and their own children for generations to come.
Bascia, N. Women teachers, union affiliation, and the future of North American teacher unionism. Teaching and Teacher Education, (1998): 14(5), 551-563.
Dillon, S. Long reviled, merit pay gains among teachers. The New York Times, (2007):18.
Hoxby, Caroline Minter. "How teachers' unions affect education production." The Quarterly Journal of Economics 111.3 (1996): 671-718.
Poole, W. L. Teachers union involvement in educational policy making: Issues raised by an in-depth case. Educational policy, (1999):13(5), 698-725.
Suh-Luan, S. U., & Kou-Long, H. U. A. N. G. (1992). Secondary School Teachers' Attitudes towards Teachers' Union Participation and Strikes. Journal of Education and Psychology, 15, 173-214.