Cartoon courtesy of the National Council on Teacher Quality

Cartoon courtesy of the National Council on Teacher Quality

Apologies to all for not having spent much time writing here. There have been plenty of writing projects on my agenda. One of them: A report co-written with the staff of the National Council on Teacher Quality on one of the biggest factors ultimately influencing how students learn — or fail to do so — in the nation’s public schools: Collective bargaining, or the system by which teachers unions and schools hammer out the contracts that govern classroom instruction.

Judging from the skimpy media coverage and the loud rhetoric from school board members and union officials, the perception is that all the terms in teachers contracts — from instructional time to salary scales and dismissal policies — are hammered out by teachers union leaders and school officials in smoked-filled rooms. This isn’t necessarily so. If anything, the terms and clauses are shaped in state legislative chambers, board of education meeting and by other state bodies long before negotiations begin.

The report I have co-authored, Invisible Ink in Collective Bargaining Agreements, offers a sobering analysis of the extent to which state policy actually dictates the conditions under which teachers will work and how will they be paid. More importantly, it shows the extent to which state law actually influences which kind of collegians are lured into the teaching profession, how they are trained and retained, and what teachers focus on in their long-term skills development:

  • More than half of all states mandate salary schedules. Eighteen of them actually tie salary increases to additional coursework, meaning that teachers must gain additional degrees or college credits in order to gain raises. Since there is little evidence that attending additional education school courses will actually result in improving student learning, this is an incentive that does little to keep children in school and on the path towards the kind of high-skilled jobs they need to fulfill their economic destinies.
  • Thirty states require teachers to gain a master’s degree in order to have their licenses renewed. As with the salary schedules, this does little to focus teachers on actually improving student learning and addressing the achievement gaps that help fuel the nation’s dropout crisis.
  • On the other hand, just 15 states offer additional pay for teachers in critical shortage areas such as math and science. There are, in essence, few incentives for either math and science collegians or mid-career professionals with such skills to move into teaching. Only 20 offer additional pay for teachers if they teach in the high-poverty schools (usually urban and rural schools) at the heart of the dropout crisis. As a result, few veteran teachers are willing to take the plunge (or return) to environments that can prove difficult for instruction.

Invisible Ink also looks at the political reasons why states have become the driving force in shaping the teaching profession along with the level of difficulty each of the parties at the heart of the conflict over education reform face in implementing their own visions for improving schools.

Feel free to check out the report and check out NCTQ’s collective bargaining database, an important resource on teacher issues. And I appreciate your comments.