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Union of Professionals?

I once suggested to a group of graduate students in education that teachers might be considered more professional if each negotiated his or her own contract like doctors or lawyers do.  This was at the end of a discussion about how unions protect their weakest members and how everyone is on the same salary schedule no matter how competent or incompetent.  While my students acknowledged that protecting weak employees reflected badly on all of them, they were loathe to relinquish the job security unions provide.

 A little more than 12% of workers nationwide are unionized, according to a recently released study by the Center for Economic Policy Research in Washington, D.C.  Thirty-eight percent of unionized employees are college graduates. 

 About half of all union employees work in the public sector, and women make up almost half of union membership.

The influence of teachers’ unions on public education has been both positive and negative.  From a positive standpoint, unions have been instrumental in raising teachers’ pay and benefits, making the profession a better draw for talented individuals.  From the negative standpoint, it is difficult to see how schools will ever seriously improve given how hard it is to remove a substandard teacher.  And in states with tenure, the guarantee of continued employment by staying under the radar is little incentive for ongoing professional growth and improvement.

The difficulty of removing poor teachers is one of the biggest obstacles to systemic change.  Protecting incompetence was not what the great majority of good teachers had in mind when they joined their local association.  When only 12% of workers are unionized, one has to wonder why so many of them are teachers.  

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in Practical Leadership are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Scholastic, Inc.