The Bottom Line Leadership vs Unions

Teacher unions always focus on the needs of their members, not the needs of children. A case in point is the recent strike in Denver. Teachers were out marching for an increase in their pay while students were being used as pawns. An article in states  “The average teacher salary in Denver, which includes incentives, is $62,095. That’s well above the national average teacher salary, which is $55,100, according to federal data.”

What is more disconcerting than the statement above, was the announcement made by the teachers’ union president, Henry Roman, “We will strike Monday for our students and for our profession, and perhaps then DPS will get the message and return to the bargaining table with a serious proposal aimed at solving the teacher turnover crisis in Denver.” The union talks about striking for students, but they are really striking for adults. Pushing for more money while already maintaining a higher average teacher salary than the national level average and arguing it is for the students is deceitful. The unions say it is for the children, but in truth it is actually for them.  The more teachers make, the more dues a union collects.

In his book Every School, Don Nielsen argues that the mission of a union is “to maximize teacher pay, to improve teachers’ working conditions, and to secure and protect teacher employment…they know their mission and they carry it out admirably.”  However, there is nothing in their mission that deals with the needs of students.  That’s where the rub comes in. Management (District and State Education leadership) are focusing on students and the union is focusing on adults. This makes unions a major force to contend with in the ongoing effort to improve our public schools.”

With the unions being one of the most powerful political operations in the United States, it is incumbent upon the education community to match their efforts with effective leadership.  Nielsen describes how effective leadership can address the union issue: “ union constraint [on efforts to improve our schools] can be accommodated if there is effective leadership at the principal, superintendent and board levels of management. Permanently reducing the negative impact of unions on the effective education of our children can occur only through a radical increase in the competency of leadership in our schools, cities and states.”

So, rather than bemoaning all the strikes, we should be asking, “where are the education “leaders” who are going to put children first and provide a quality education for every child.

Bailey Takacs

Development Program Coordinator, American Center for Transforming Education
Bailey Takacs served as development program coordinator to Discovery Institutes' American Center for Transforming Education and Development team. Bailey has experiences which also include: campaign management and administrative roles with elected officials at the local, state, and federal levels of the government. He holds a B.A. in Politics and Government from Pacific Lutheran University.
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