Teachers Union National: Cut language keeping experienced teachers out of problem schools

– But, will Jefferson County teachers listen?

The story started on October 1, 2009. That’s when the Wall Street Journal reported the National Education Association’s president, Dennis Van Roekel, testified to the US House of Representatives that his huge union wants its local affiliates to eliminate restrictive contract language that interferes with, if not totally prohibiting, the ability of local school districts to place skilled and experienced teachers in the schools with the greatest needs.

As I reported in an earlier blog, the story then shifted to the Kentucky Board of Education meeting in Frankfort on October 7, 2009.

During testimony to the board on continued low performance of two middle schools in Louisville, Betty Graham, principal of the Frederic Law Olmsted Academy South Middle School, admitted her very challenging high-needs school is mostly staffed with highly inexperienced teachers. Clearly unhappy with that revelation, Kentucky Board of Education chair Joe Brothers then asked, “Is your teachers’ union not allowing you to put the teachers where you need them?” After Graham started to answer with some general comments, Brothers got much more direct, saying, “Quit talking around the subject. What’s the problem?”

Ms. Graham quickly replied, “It’s a contractual issue.”

In other words, the contract with the Jefferson County teachers association is indeed a major impediment to getting the kids in her school the quality of teachers they badly need.

Further discussion revealed Jefferson County’s extremely restrictive, child-hostile contract prevents the school district from directly assigning highly experienced teachers to the school. It even precludes paying teachers extra should they volunteer to go to the district’s most needy schools.

Following some more questions from Dr. Terry Holliday, Kentucky Commissioner of Education, the districts’ superintendent, Dr. Sheldon Berman, stated that the contract also prevented the use of test results for teacher evaluations. Dr. Holliday promptly stated that this little contractual restriction means Jefferson County cannot receive any money from the next round of federal education stimulus dollars. Holliday specifically mentioned a half-million dollar grant that he wants to give to Jefferson County that is in jeopardy so long as the union restriction remains.

So, thanks to the incredibly child unfriendly union contract in Louisville:

– Needy Louisville schools can’t get the quality of teachers they need.

– Teachers who volunteer to help in those schools can get no reward other than personal satisfaction for doing so.

– Extra federal money that could really help those schools won’t go to them.

Listen to the extraordinary comments from Graham, Berman and Dr. Holliday on the archived Web cast of the meeting, available here.

Use the time slider tool in your media player to advance to the 2:01:00 point in the broadcast to hear Ms. Graham’s comments about her inexperienced teachers and the admission that the union contract is a big problem. This discussion completes around 2:07:21 in the Webcast.

The next comments are also interesting, but, if your time is limited, use your media player’s time slider to advance to the 2:16:10 point in the broadcast to hear the exchange between Dr. Holliday and Dr. Berman about the union restrictions on using test scores as a part of teacher evaluations and to hear the consequences of that contract language. It will only take about three minutes to cover this part of the discussion, which does include a hopeful comment from Dr. Berman that he might be able to negotiate side letters of agreement with the union to remove some of these serious impediments.

We hope the teachers of Jefferson County will step up to the plate and do just that. After all, even their own national leadership recognizes the current situation isn’t sustainable, and the union is generating powerful backlash here in Kentucky and across the nation so long as it continues to require policies that block the best interests of children.