Friday, August 5, 2016

Walt Amses: Teachers unions do make a difference | VTDigger

Walt Amses: Teachers unions do make a difference | VTDigger:


Editor’s note: This commentary is by Walt Amses, a writer and former educator from North Calais.
With the culture’s ascension to post-factual political discourse, it becomes increasingly vital to clarify myths masquerading as gospel truth because when they go unchallenged, or are endlessly repeated, an inordinate number of people believe they’re true. One such fantasy is the conservative-fueled assertion that collective bargaining and teachers unions protect bad teachers, consequently lowering the quality of education.

Several states have moved to limit the union’s ability to negotiate contracts, scapegoating teachers as the primary suspects in educational decline while ignoring their own bare bones spending that’s decimating school programs and poverty levels that undermine learning for many children. Although this is not necessarily a new right wing initiative, last week’s GOP convention clearly illustrated what a post-factual world might look like, a powerfully frightening vision of a political party creating and then capitalizing on a series of affirmations that are simply untrue.
It would seem our only defense against such post-factual rhetoric is an informed and educated electorate capable of synthesizing what they hear and being able to separate fact from fiction. Our public education system, once the envy of the globe, would be the logical place to acquire such skills, but it is under constant assault from the same people who see America as a wasteland; a dystopia with bands of illegal immigrants and radical Islamists murderously roaming the countryside with one objective — to kill us all.
Of course they would also have you believe that the only rational response is to buy guns, lots lots and lots of guns, ban millions of people for practicing a particular religion, or break up families to deport 12 million immigrants who have lived in this country for decades. And as we evolve through this election cycle we learn that beliefs are strong and in many cases overshadow facts. “Believing” something makes it true. Reality is yours for the creating.
The skill of discernment is taught in school. Identifying the sources of what you say and what you write and why they are accurate. Unlike politicians, students need to back up their statements. They learn what facts are and how they differ from opinions. They learn that just saying something is inadequate. It’s no wonder conservative fabulists undermine education every chance they get; their biggest fear is being exposed as the charlatans they are.
But a research study done in 2015 calls into question the entire foundation of their anti-education initiatives, demonstrating that teachers unions do not lower the quality of education. On the contrary, they actually improve it, as well as reducing the dropout rate and helping ensure unqualified teachers are dismissed during their probationary period. Unionized teachers know that having colleagues who are not up to the task makes everyone else’s job more difficult.
For many districts it’s simple economics. Where collective bargaining is allowed, wages are higher, which encourages more careful evaluations during probationary periods to weed out ineffective teachers, thus avoiding the higher salaries that come if tenure is awarded. Unionized schools also have a higher retention rate of teachers, which raises the level of academic performance since the teachers remaining on the job are far more likely to be highly qualified.
In Finland, which has the highest rated schools in the world, school administrators and Walt Amses: Teachers unions do make a difference | VTDigger: