Maine has had two sets of educational announcements in the last month. One was for the Commisisoner’s plan, focused on customized learning and a performance-based diploma. The more recent came jointly from the Governor and the Commisioner, and focused on four proposed pieces of legislation: allowing public funding be used toward (certified) private religious schools, school choice, teacher evaluation and accountability, and greater focus on career and technical education.
Chris Galgay (president), and Rob Walker (executive director) from the Maine Education Association were at both announcements. News stories focused, not just on the announcements, but on how the teacher union was critical of the announcements.
Nationally, teacher unions have developed quite the reputation of blocking any kind of educational advancement and have become the villain in tales of attempts to improve education for all students.
I have mixed feelings about teacher unions. I think unions should be the defenders of the profession, negotiating contracts favorable to their membership, insuring good working conditions, monitoring evaluation procedures so they are fair and reasonable.
But the reputation teacher unions have is not for defending the profession, but for defending the least professional teachers, protecting mediocre performance, and preserving the right of teachers to do as they wish, not that that is needed to be done.
I suspect that this reputation is somewhat undeserved, but I also know I have experienced myself actions that reinforce this reputation. At a special purpose, project-based learning school I was part of creating, several teachers in the union told us they wouldn’t implement the educational program because the union told them they didn’t have to. When we had a workshop day, had bought all the teachers lunch (which we did as a nice gesture), and told them what time lunch would be served, several teachers came to us and told us that we couldn’t require them to come to lunch because it violated union rules (who had required anyone to do anything? We had just done something nice…)
And I worry that dour expressions of the MEA leadership and the news reports of their critical and negative message are reinforcing that image, as well. And yet, my wife is involved in some very progressive projects of the MEA that demonstrate a very different kind of defending and preserving the profession…
Here is what I wish I had heard from the union:
The MEA and our membership are working hard to insure that every zip code has a great school, so families indeed choose their local school. – I heard the union say they didn’t like school choice because it would take resources away from local schools. A long time ago, in the early 90’s when charter schools were first proposed in Maine, a teacher told me he was against charters because the public schools would just be left with the least desirable students. Yet, these issues would only come to fruition if the local schools were schools people wouldn’t choose. Is the MEA defending undesirable teaching, educational programs, and schools rather than promoting their own vision for creating “Great Public Schools for Every Maine Student“?
The MEA and our membership are working to propose a teacher accountability and evaluation system that is fair to teachers, uses multiple measures, and is based on best practice. – In the past, I have heard the union say that they are against teachers being evaluated based on the performance of their students. This sounds too much to me that the union doesn’t believe that workers (including professionals) should be expected to be effective in their jobs. I fail to see how this helps defend and protect the profession. This also seems rather counter to their own efforts. The Instruction and Professional Development Committee has been working for a while on adapting an evaluation system based on the MTA Teacher Evaluation program, endorsed by Charlotte Danielson and Linda Darling Hamond, and connected to the inTASC Model Core Teaching Standards. The MEA’s own position statement on teacher evaluation reads, “MEA wants a meaningful, high quality evaluation process that is based upon sound pedagogical criteria and multiple evaluation tools. It is in the best interests of students, programs, and career educators.”
Teachers ought to be given the training, support, and resources needed in order to do the job they are being asked to do. – With these new announcements, I heard Chris Galgay say that the MEA is against ineffective teachers being placed back on probation. Again, is the union really claiming that if you aren’t good at your job there should be no consequences? How does this give the message that teachers are professionals? On the other hand, it is a travesty when a teacher who needs help to get good or better at their job is not offered that assistance. Every teachers deserves professional development, coaching, and support, especially is this day of educational change. And it is right and proper for the MEA to be the organization that champions this on behalf of teachers.
In all fairness, I’m responding to what was reported on the news. MEA leadership might have said these exact things and the reporters chose not to include them in their reports.
But I still believe that an organization would earn more power and cred by taking on the issues of the day and being the ones proposing quality solutions, rather that appearing to defend the least common denominator and waiting around for others to propose solutions and publicly denounce them. The MEA is doing some very progressive work, insuring that teaching be a quality profession contributing to the changing educational landscape. But at the same time, they are getting the most press for when they simply criticize other’s work to improve education.
Or is perhaps the MEA simply caught between the days of the old unions that defended their workers no matter what, and the new unions that are trying to create a quality profession…