Emily Cohen, Kate Walsh & RiShawn Biddle [305K PDF]:
NCTQ takes a close look at the governance of the teaching profession and finds that state legislators and other state-level policymakers crafting state laws and regulation, not those bargaining at the local level, decide some of the most important rules governing the teaching profession.
As a number of big school districts around the country such as San Diego, Broward County, and Philadelphia hammer out new teacher contracts over the next few months, both sides will no doubt bring laundry lists of “must-haves” to the bargaining table. The common assumption is that the important action happens when district administrators and union representatives sit down at the bargaining table. Yet the reality is that well before anyone meets to negotiate a collective bargaining agreement, many issues will have already been decided.
State legislators and other state-level policymakers crafting state laws and regulation, not those bargaining at the local level, decide some of the most important rules governing the teaching profession. Though the teacher contract still figures prominently on such issues as teacher pay and the schedule of the school day, it is by no means the monolithic authority that many presume it to be. In fact, on the most critical issues of the teaching profession, the state is the real powerhouse. State law dictates how often teachers must be evaluated, when teachers can earn tenure, the benefits they’ll receive, and even the rules for firing a teacher.
A recent example out of New York State illustrates the growing authority of the state legislature in shaping rules that were traditionally in the purview of the local school district. Last year New York City Public Schools sought to change the process for awarding teachers tenure by factoring in student data. The local teachers’ union, the United Federation of Teachers protested the district’s new policy, not through a local grievance (because the union, by state law, had no say on tenure issues), but by lobbying state legislatures to pass a bill that would effectively make the district’s action illegal.1 Guided by the heavy hand of the state teachers’ union and the UFT, the New York State Legislature blocked New York City’s tenure changes by embedding a provision in the 2008-2009 budget that made it illegal to consider a teacher’s job performance as a factor in the tenure process.2 The placement of the provision in the large, unwieldy budget virtually assured the union of a win, as few legislators or the governor would have been prepared to have the budget go down on the basis of a single provision.