Opinion
Education Opinion

Why Teachers Unions Are Losing Support

By Walt Gardner — August 17, 2012 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Teachers unions have been called practically every bad name under the sun for so long that it seemed impossible to add to the list. At least that’s what I thought until I reflected on events unfolding in California, particularly in the Los Angeles Unified School District. On that basis, I’d now like to add another name: oblivious. Let me explain.

In June, a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge ruled that the district had been violating children’s rights to an equal educational opportunity by ignoring the Stull Act of 1971. That’s because the act required student test scores to be used in teacher evaluations. The court, however, held that the details of teacher evaluation be collectively bargained. But then Assembly Bill 5 was reintroduced. If passed, it would leave the court’s decision “moot by gutting that provision of the Stull Act” (“Sorry, teachers, test scores should count,” Los Angeles Times, Aug. 16). Its resurfacing at this time can only be attributed to the efforts of the California Teachers Assn., widely considered to be the state’s most powerful union.

Adding to my dismay, United Teachers Los Angeles sent messages to 38,000 teachers and healthcare professionals on Aug. 13 urging them to avoid participating in the district’s voluntary performance review system that includes student test scores. The system is an experiment that uses standardized test scores as one factor in determining teacher performance. Last year, approximately 700 teachers and principals at 100 schools participated. UTLA defended the messages at this time for three reasons: test scores are notoriously unreliable for high-stakes decisions; state standardized tests will be gradually phased out over the next three years; and the system was created in the absence of negotiations (“LAUSD, teachers unions spar over voluntary evaluation system,” Los Angeles Times, Aug. 16).

As readers of this column know, I’ve long supported teachers unions. I haven’t changed my view. But the events described above are going to backfire by turning off voters who are on the fence. I don’t blame them for their new disaffection. Why should teachers who willingly want to take part in an experimental program be discouraged from doing so? Even though standardized test scores have been found to be unreliable in identifying effective instruction (“Problems With The Use Of Student Test Scores To Evaluate Teachers,” Economic Policy Institute, Aug. 29, 2010), I believe there is a need for further confirmation to settle the matter once and for all. By taking the position it has, UTLA is unwittingly shooting itself in the foot. Its action will be seen by many as further proof that teachers unions exist primarily to protect its members, rather than to serve students.

The leadership of teachers unions across the country needs to realize that public schools are at an historic crossroads. Whether they will even exist decades from now is uncertain. If they somehow manage to survive, however, I don’t think they’ll be recognizable. That’s why teachers unions need all the support they can muster. They’re certainly not going to get it by repeating what is taking place in California. It’s no way to win friends and influence people.

The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner’s Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.


Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
Attendance Awareness Month: The Research Behind Effective Interventions
More than a year has passed since American schools were abruptly closed to halt the spread of COVID-19. Many children have been out of regular school for most, or even all, of that time. Some
Content provided by AllHere
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
Ensuring Continuity of Learning: How to Prepare for the Next Disruption
Across the country, K-12 schools and districts are, again, considering how to ensure effective continuity of learning in the face of emerging COVID variants, politicized debates, and more. Learn from Alexandria City Public Schools superintendent
Content provided by Class

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Schools Get the Brunt of Latest COVID Wave in South Carolina
In the past few weeks, South Carolina has set records for COVID-19 hospitalizations and new cases have approached peak levels of last winter.
4 min read
Two Camden Elementary School students in masks listen as South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster talks about steps the school is taking to fight COVID-19, Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021, in Camden, S.C. McMaster has adamantly and repeatedly come out against requiring masks in schools even as the average number of daily COVID-19 cases in the state has risen since early June. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins)
Education More States Are Requiring Schools to Teach Native American History and Culture
Advocates say their efforts have gained some momentum with the nation’s reckoning over racial injustice since the killing of George Floyd.
3 min read
A dancer participates in an intertribal dance at Schemitzun on the Mashantucket Pequot Reservation in Mashantucket, Conn., Saturday, Aug. 28, 2021. Connecticut and a handful of other states have recently decided to mandate students be taught about Native American culture and history. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
Education Judge's Temporary Order Allows Iowa Schools to Mandate Masks
A federal judge ordered the state to immediately halt enforcement of a law that prevents school boards from ordering masks to be worn.
4 min read
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks to reporters following a news conference, Thursday, Aug. 19, 2021, in West Des Moines, Iowa. Reynolds lashed out at President Joe Biden Thursday after he ordered his education secretary to explore possible legal action against states that have blocked school mask mandates and other public health measures meant to protect students against COVID-19. Reynolds, a Republican, has signed a bill into law that prohibits school officials from requiring masks, raising concerns as delta variant virus cases climb across the state and schools resume classes soon. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Education Hurricane Ida Deals New Blow to Louisiana Schools Struggling to Reopen
The opening of the school year offered teachers a chance to fully assess the pandemic's effects, only to have students forced out again.
8 min read
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021. Louisiana students, who were back in class after a year and a half of COVID-19 disruptions kept many of them at home, are now missing school again after Hurricane Ida. A quarter-million public school students statewide have no school to report to, though top educators are promising a return is, at most, weeks away, not months.
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021.
John Locher/AP