5 ways teacher unions have bargained to help their students


by Tim Reed

Teachers are used to hearing the same old song and dance: “We love you, but hate your union.” What many people fail to realize is that the unions are the teachers, and bargaining isn’t all about teacher pay and benefits, but also about helping students achieve success. Below we highlight five examples of local NEA affiliates that are using their bargaining power to affect directly the lives and educations of their students.

  • Broad Acres Elementary School, MD: Broad Acres Elementary school, the highest poverty school in the Montgomery County school district, where 90% of students receive free and reduced price lunch, was on the verge of being taken over by the state in 2000, before the Montgomery County Education Association and the district entered into a partnership [ed note: pdf link] to help improve student achievement. Teachers were asked to give the school a three-year commitment, work until at least 6 every Wednesday, and add 15 days to the school year. Sixty percent of teachers made the commitment to stay, and within three years the school had met Adequate Yearly Progress.
  • Shawnee State University, OH: With online or “distance” courses growing in popularity, some college faculty unions are bargaining contracts that ensure students get the same high-quality experience over the Internet that they receive in brick-and-mortar classrooms. For example, at Shawnee State University, the NEA-affiliated local union’s contract [ed note: pdf link] makes sure online courses don’t enroll more than 26 students unless the instructor agrees to a bigger load. That way, every student can still get the level of attention that will make them successful.
  • Wicomico County Schools, MD: Educators at Wicomico County Schools realized that a small mentoring program that started in 1994 with only 27 participants was paying real dividends and decided to take it to the next level. To do so, they had language added to their contract [ed note: pdf link] that allows educators to give up their planning time in order to serve as mentors. The little program that started off with only 27 participants now serves more than 700 students and produces impressive results. In 2010, 41% of participants improved their grades, 46% their attendance, and 27% their behavior.
  • Special Education Programs: Across the country, NEA affiliates have bargained to help improve outcomes for special education students. Many states currently either have no limit, or an unreasonable limit, on the number of students who can be enrolled in an individual special education class, leading to overburdened teachers and students with little-to-no individual instruction time. NEA affiliates have sat down at the table with districts to ensure that mandatory special education class-size limits are enforced and codified in contract language to avoid the inevitable achievement drop that comes from placing special needs students in larger classes.
  • Seattle, WA: The Seattle Education Association and the Seattle Public School District agreed to a new contract in 2010 [ed note: pdf link]that continues their historic, collaborative Partnership for Closing the Achievement Gap. As part of this agreement, the union and the school district created a professional growth and evaluation system to help improve teacher practice and boost student achievement. The new approach combines objective and subjective measures of teacher effectiveness. It also demonstrates that the national debate over academic excellence and accountability can be resolved without misusing student test data. Every teacher is part of a professional learning community where best practices are discussed and goals are set.

These are only five examples of ways that teachers’ unions are stepping up at the bargaining table to improve student achievement. Has your local union bargained to help your students? Let us know in the comments below!


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