The Teacher-Contract Rat's Nest

By Liebmann, George | The American Enterprise, January 2001 | Go to article overview

The Teacher-Contract Rat's Nest


Liebmann, George, The American Enterprise


The veto power that teacher unions hold over educational decisions through their union contracts is a major obstacle to school improvement. Here are some of the harmful provisions common in many teacher contracts across the country.

* In some states, teacher pay increases automatically with seniority up into the thirtieth year. This soaks up funds that could be better used for merit pay or higher salaries for the best new teachers. The Labour government in Britain proposes ending automatic teacher pay increases at the tenth year--an example worth copying.

* Very few U.S. school districts provide added pay for superior performance. Tony Blair's government in Britain, by contrast, seeks to provide merit incentives in the $5,000-$7,000 range for half the teaching force, plus a fast-track reward of $10,000 to $12,000 for honors graduates who enter teaching.

Our unions strenuously resist any connection between pay and classroom performance. The largest teachers' union, the National Educational Association, recently &dared that "Merit pay or any other system of compensation based on an evaluation of an education employee's performance is inappropriate" At long last, one major school district--Cincinnati--has implemented a merit-pay system anyway.

* Union contracts encumber teacher evaluation by limiting its frequency (say, to once every five years), limiting unannounced classroom visits, and requiring unfavorable comments be deleted from a teacher's file after a certain period. The result: Only a fraction of 1 percent of teachers are ever sanctioned for poor classroom performance.

* Unions have strenuously resisted probationary periods for new teachers. Union contracts frequently give persons serving probation elaborate procedural rights which make it hard to release bad apples.

* Because of union opposition, very few school districts authorize extra pay for teachers in scarce disciplines like computer science. At its last convention, the NEA actually declared, "The Association opposes providing additional compensation to attract and/or retain education employees in hard-to-recruit positions." The upshot in Maryland, to take one example, is that the state recruits only half the physics and chemistry instructors it needs.

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