Education in America

Education in America: Mythbusting Monday – Unions pt. 1

Two relatively small words in the English language can strike fear, rage, and passion like no others.  Those two words are teachers’ unions. As you can probably guess, there are more myths and legends regarding teachers’ unions than we can cover in one installment, so today we’re only going to look at one facet of this Rubik’s Snake.

Myth: Teachers’ unions protect failing teachers. Non-union school districts are able to fire poor-performing teachers easier than union school districts.

Culprits: Everyone from Bill Maher to Arne Duncan to Rush Limbaugh to any comment section on any article even remotely about education.

Fact: Non-unionized states fire as few if not fewer teachers than unionized states.

Georgia ““  7% of teachers in Georgia belong to a union. Experienced teacher firing rate, 1.38%.  Probationary teacher firing rate, 0.25%.

North Carolina ““ 2.3% of teachers in North Carolina belong to a union. Experienced teacher firing rate, 0.6%. Probationary teacher firing rate, 0.3%.

Texas ““ 1.8% of teachers in Texas belong to a union. Experienced teacher firing rate, 1.29%. Probationary teacher firing rate, 0.35%.

Kentucky ““ 7% of teacher in Kentucky belong to a union. Experienced teacher firing rate, 1.95%. Probationary teacher firing rate, 1.39%.

Mississippi ““ 2.2% of teachers in Mississippi belong to a union. Experienced teacher firing rate, 0.84%.  Probationary teacher firing rate, 2.19%.

Massachusetts ““ 99.3% of teachers in Massachusetts belong to a union. Experienced teacher firing rate, 1.57%. Probationary teacher firing rate, 1.88%.

California ““ 87.5% of teachers in California belong to a union. Experienced teacher firing rate, 2.03%. Probationary teacher firing rate, 0.98%.

New York ““ 99.5% of teachers in New York belong to a union. Experienced teacher firing rate, 0.71%. Probationary teacher firing rate, 0.52%.

Oregon ““ 100% of teachers in Oregon belong to a union. Experienced teacher firing rate, 0.85%. Probationary teacher firing rate, 0.3%.

What does this prove?

For one, it shows that it can’t solely be the teachers’ union keeping teachers from being fired.  Every union state has provisions to let probationary teachers go with little or no cause, yet the rates for probationary teachers being let go is as low as (or lower than) that of experienced teachers in nearly every state.

The main thing it proves is that many education critics cherry pick their data.


By [E] Selena MacIntosh*

Selena MacIntosh is the owner and editor of Persephone Magazine. She also fixes it when it breaks. She is fueled by Diet Coke, coffee with a lot of cream in it, and cat hair.

7 replies on “Education in America: Mythbusting Monday – Unions pt. 1”

Fact: (in my state) pre-tenured teachers can really be fired/let-go with little cause. After achieving tenure, it becomes more difficult (but not impossible) to let go of those teachers.

The problem (from personal experience) is when principals and other administrators do not do their jobs when evaluating teachers. My first year teaching I worked at a school where I was evaluated ONCE (out of a required five times). That’s not the union- that’s my district’s fault for keeping a principal who didn’t do his job.

In my opinion that is the bigger problem. In my state, NC, a non-union state, I’ve seen good administrators and bad. Most of them are former band and P.E. teachers since those subjects require very little outside preparation compared to say, teaching math or French. They don’t know much about teaching in the first place, but my high school principal was beyond incompetent. He was lazy and stayed locked in his office most of the day, and I doubt he knew what he was seeing if he ever got around to evaluating teachers. My tenth grade math teacher was so bad I would correct her answer key, show my work, and get points back that she had marked as wrong. I actually wound up teaching trigonometry to my pre-calculus class from the book and our teacher was sitting in the corner saying “So that’s how you do it.” Now, any good administrator would have been able to see that she had no idea what she was doing, right? Then they would have taken action against her, right? ARGH.

The main thing it proves is that many education critics cherry pick their data. This could be the concluding sentence for every one of these education articles. Or every article about education ever.

To add, it is the teacher’s unions who are coming up with fair plans for teacher dismissal. They don’t want bad teachers in their ranks either. AFT has advanced a new framework that would require a decision to be made within 100 days (remember that story about teachers languishing in arbitration for years?).

Here is the conference speech where AFT President Weingarten introduced the plan (pdf)

NYTimes coverage:

In the district where I worked, the union, all the teachers and the administration worked together to create a teacher evaluation program that’s tough, fair and comprehensive. And it was fantastic! It gave teachers real feedback that could easily be translated to measurable goals. Every teacher wants every student to come to him/her as prepared as can be, a dud teacher in the line makes everything harder. My union was always working with the district to help them streamline the evaluation process and make it easier to let the duds go.

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