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The recent scandal centered around the Washington Teachers’ Union (“Membership Has Its Privileges,” 1/24; Loose Lips, 1/10, 1/24, 2/14) and its subsequent takeover by the national union are both a painful episode and an unexpected opportunity to re-examine why the union is in businessamong other things, to improve the conditions and quality of teaching and learning in our public schools. A good teachers’-union contract includes not only competitive salaries but much more.
We can learn from the successes of teachers’ unions in Rochester, N.Y., and Toledo, Ohio. The Rochester Teachers Association contract includes a major school-district collaboration to mentor teachers, allowing a mentor to go to another school, if needed, without losing his or her permanent class assignment. The union helped propel the city to provide funds for the salaries of teachers who take over mentors’ classes. The union also is represented on a panel to select mentors and decide whether new teachers continue in their positions.
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The Toledo Federation of Teachers contract has teacher quality as its centerpiece. The contract has three unifying themes: attracting and retaining quality teachers; professional development in subject-matter knowledge and skills; and teaching and learning standards specifically for increased student achievement.
A new and improved Washington Teachers’ Union will place growth in the academic achievement of our youth as its top priority, and it will play a key role in putting teacher supports fully in place, such as new-teacher support (induction), professional development, and better conditions for teaching and learning.
As an active public-education-reform collaborative of diverse stakeholders in the District of Columbia, DC VOICE (District Community Voices Organized and Informed for Change in Education) hears story after story from principals and teachers on how school progress is hampered by an uncoordinated and inefficient central human-resources system. It is time for the union’s inaction and lack of foresight about recruitment and hiring of quality teachers to stop. It is time for our teachers’ union to become a national leader in helping to raise student achievement. It is doable, and the community wants to work with the union to make it happen.