The local story that has grown out of the Bruce Randolph School’s quest for autonomy from Denver’s red tape and union work rules reached the op-ed pages of the New York Times yesterday. Andrew Rotherham, a center-left Democrat reformer who co-runs Education Sector and famously blogs as Eduwonk, writes in the column:
While laws like No Child Left Behind take the rhetorical punches for being a straitjacket on schools, it is actually union contracts that have the greatest effect over what teachers can and cannot do. These contracts can cover everything from big-ticket items like pay and health care coverage to the amount of time that teachers can spend on various activities.
Reformers have long argued that this is an impediment to effective schools. Now, increasingly, they are joined by a powerful ally: frustrated teachers. In addition to Denver, in the past year teachers in Los Angeles also sought more control at the school level, and found themselves at odds with their union.
Most contracts are throwbacks to when nascent teacher unionism modeled itself on industrial unionism. Then, that approach made sense and resulted in better pay, working conditions and an organized voice. Yet schools are not factories. The work is not interchangeable and it takes more than one kind of school to meet all studentsâ€™ needs. If teachersâ€™ unions want to stay relevant, they must embrace more than one kind of contract.
No more a backwater “cow town,” Denver once again makes a national splash with education reform. First, the innovative ProComp teacher pay plan (moment of shameless self-promotion alert: please read my report). Now, school-level autonomy. I think we’re ready for the big time out here.