An expanding list of states has joined in legislative battles over the future character of collective bargaining, a territory that was completely uncharted six months ago. A combination of state fiscal crises plus newly elected Republican legislatures and governors, has emboldened the legislatures in the traditionally union-friendly states of Wisconsin, Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio. They are joined by states as diverse as Idaho, Alabama, Tennessee, and Oklahoma. But, what is it all about? Or, more interestingly, what should it be about?
The headline story has been fiscal issues – salaries, retirement and health benefits, and the bargains agreed to by legislatures past. But these issues have morphed into issues more fundamentally threatening to the unions – the right to strike, the ability to bargain about nonsalary issues, and the like. In response, the teachers unions have mounted a concerted counter-attack aimed at restoring their prior position.
The fiscal issues are important, but I do not think they are the most important ones. In a recent article in Education Next, “Valuing Teachers,” I presented evidence about the huge economic impacts of highly effective teachers. A parallel calculation also reveals the huge costs to highly ineffective teachers. To me, this is what we should be talking about. The quality of our teaching force determines the level of student achievement, and student achievement directly determines how our economy will develop in the long run.
(photo credit: mar is sea Y)