The Denver Post reports today that Senate President Peter Groff, D-Denver, has filed a piece of legislation that already has started to cause shockwaves among the education establishment:
A bill that would give traditional Colorado schools the flexibility to operate more like charter schools and allow them to be removed from union agreements was introduced into the legislature Thursday.
Senate President Peter Groff, D-Denver, submitted the “Innovation Schools Act of 2008,” which would give schools control over their budgets, hiring decisions and length of the school day and calendar.
The bill would relieve schools from, among other things, having to follow state statutes regarding teacher pay and hiring.
“There is a laundry list of things that impairs and impinges innovation in schools,” Groff said. “The question we have to be asking is, ‘What is in the best educational interest of the child?’ “
Controversy, however, lies in a section that says schools can be removed from the teachers union collective bargaining agreement. Teachers in the school must vote on whether to drop out of the contract, and those who don’t agree may be transferred out of the school.
Yes, therein lies the controversy. Not a controversy for Republicans and some leading Democrats, including Sen. Groff, who recognize the potential for real and significant reform. Recent events centering around an autonomy request from Denver’s Bruce Randolph School (and later from Manual High School) help to make the case.
What this entails is a significant threat to the centralized power of teachers’ union officials, which their carefully parsed response in the Post story hints at:
The Colorado Education Association, which represents 38,000 schoolteachers in the state, has reviewed the bill.
“There is no research to show that abandoning state laws and collective bargaining improves student achievement,” the union said in a statement. “We oppose several parts of (Groff’s bill), including the waiver of state laws guaranteeing fair evaluation and dismissal procedures and the waiver of locally bargained contracts.”
But there is research that shows the harmful effect of many collective bargaining provisions. CEA officials may want to review one or more of the following pieces:
“How Teachers’ Unions Affect Education Production” (August 1996) by Dr. Caroline Hoxby
“Collective Bargaining and the Performance of the Public Schools” (May 2007) by Dr. Terry Moe
“Frozen Assets: Rethinking Teacher Contracts Could Free Billions for School Reform” (January 2007) by Dr. Marguerite Roza
These reports are not conclusive, but added together they are strongly suggestive of the educational impediments created by some collective bargaining provisions. As Dr. Moe himself has explained, there is a dearth of research in this area.
The problem isn’t that there exists an abundance of qualified research upholding the union’s case. The problem is that not enough research has been done. The research we do have gives credence to the things we have observed, and to what has inspired the leaders of Bruce Randolph School and Manual High School to seek autonomy.
As Sen. Groff’s proposal moves forward, the burden of proof rests with CEA officials and their cohort to explain why we shouldn’t even allow the possibility for some schools to be freed from restrictive state laws and collective bargaining regulations.
If these experiments prove successful, as we have reason to believe many of them will, it will undermine the union’s argument that their interests are perfectly aligned with the interests of students. Their interests may align at times, but when they clash on an important proposal like this one, you can expect union officials to continue standing as a roadblock to reform in defense of their own clout.
The CEA has disproportionate influence on the Senate & House Education Committees through which this bipartisan legislation must travel. What will come first: the narrow interests of some adult education employees and union leaders, or a promising possibility for Colorado’s students?
Keep an eye on Senate Bill 130, The Innovation Schools Act of 2008.