Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Study: Florida Teachers Union "Weak"

The Fordham Institute, a conservative think tank, ranked the Florida Educators Association 50th out of 51 unions (including Washington, DC) in overall strength. The organization based this ranking on relatively low membership numbers and the union's inability be victorious in fighting legislation it opposes, such as the merit pay law and pension reform.  Here's an excerpt from the Orlando Sentinel:

Florida's teachers union is among the weakest in the nation, working with limited resources and a "feeble reputation," according to a new national study released today.
The Florida Education Association, however, called the study by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute "laughable" and of little value.
"It's a right-wing think tank, and you have to question, what's the political game?" said Andy Ford, the association president.
The institute, headquartered in Washington, is conservative-leaning and focused on overhauling education. It believes "too many American children receive an inferior education," particularly those from low-income families. It blames the problem, in part, on school districts "too often held hostage by adult interest groups, including but not limited to teacher unions," according to its website.
The institute took on the study "because everyone knows that teacher unions matter in education politics and policies, but it's hard to determine just how much they matter — and whether they wield greater influence in some places than in others," reads the forward to the study.

The study ranked Florida's union 50th out of teachers unions in the 50 states and Washington, D.C. Only Arizona's union was rated weaker. Hawaii had the strongest teachers union in the country, the study said. Other strong unions were in the West and Northeast, while other weak ones were also in the South.
Nationwide, union influence "may be waning at the state level," the study found, noting that in the past few years more states have adopted policies not in line with union priorities.
The Florida union ranked low in part because the state, with its right-to-work law, limits union power. That means Florida's has lower membership and more-meager financial resources than many other unions.
The Florida Education Association has about 56 percent of the state's teachers as members. In Hawaii, nearly 97 percent of teachers are union members.
Florida's union also is considered weak because the state's Republican leadership has adopted laws — such as a new one on teacher merit pay — that run counter to what the association thinks is best.
The goal of the study was to highlight the work of teachers unions, which often goes beyond traditional collective-bargaining duties and includes advocacy and political lobbying, said Dara Zeehandelaar, one of the co-authors.

Andy Ford, FEA President, dismissed the findings, but I find this assessment by Fordham interesting. This is an organization that pushes the privatization agenda. It is most certainly anti-union at its core (or at least anti-teachers union). For it to rank Florida's union as "weak" should dispel the privatizers' notions that the union in Florida controls every facet of education and is therefore to blame for all education woes. This has never been the case, and I would argue that this is not the case even in stronger union states. People tend to ascribe the teachers union with more power than it actually holds. Here are some key elements of education over which the union has little or no control or influence:

  • Employment (hiring, granting of Professional Service Contracts pre-2011, looking for ineffective teachers)
  • Textbook selection
  • Curriculum (Sunshine State Standards, Next Generation Sunshine State Standards, Common Core)
  • Evaluation (System like Robert Marzano and Charlotte Danielson's systems are required by Race to the Top)
  • Student discipline
  • Grades
  • Pedagogy (Marzano and Danielson have more influence now than anyone in Florida)
  • Order of instruction

So, these items impact education more than anything, yet the union has no large influence over the decisions made in these areas. If the unions are fighting for anything in these areas, it is for individual teachers to have more influence in these decisions rather than people with little to no classroom teaching experience. 

The Fordham Institute is pretty much saying that Florida is fertile ground for privatization efforts since there will not be much successful opposition. Will this study force people to recognize the fact that the union is not nearly as possible as they claim?

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