Opinion

Gary Beckner: Teachers want reform, even if unions don't

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Opinion,Op-Eds

For America's hard-working educators, great teaching and common-sense reform aren't simply policies or ideas backed by bureaucrats or legislators. Teachers are living the realities of the classroom every day. In order to promote positive change in our system, we must listen to the educators on the front lines.

For too long, individual teacher voices have fallen on deaf ears in favor of the self-preserving agenda of the teachers unions. But the public is beginning to recognize that unions, focused primarily on maintaining a system of forced dues and political power, may not have the best interest of students or even teachers in mind.

Teachers are not synonymous with unions, the way union leaders suggest; rather, they are individual professionals with ideas and opinions to bring to the education reform dialogue. According to a survey released last week by the Association of American Educators, the largest national nonunion professional educator organization, educators do not stand in solidarity with union leaders to protect the status quo. The vast majority of classroom teachers want to see students succeed at all costs, and they are supporting reform efforts like never before.

One of the most prominent themes in education reform has been the concept of raising the bar for incoming educators. Sixty-two percent of AAE-member teachers agree with the idea that just as lawyers must pass state bar exams to practice law, teachers should pass a test that measures their potential to be effective.

While the union-backed establishment has spent decades designing a system that exclusively calls for more dues-paying members, teachers aren't buying increased hiring as a cure-all to school reform. AAE members do not support the current system of uncontrolled hiring and flat-lined enrollment. In fact, 59 percent of AAE members would support a small (one- or two-student) increase in grade 4-12 class sizes to make more money available for teacher pay, more technology in the classroom and other educational programs.

With regard to school choice, AAE members support certain laws that advance choice and promote options for all stakeholders. Sixty-nine percent of survey respondents support the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program that awards annual scholarships to needy District children to attend a participating private or parochial D.C. school of their parents' choice. The program has received notable bipartisan support in Congress and is considered one of the most prominent choice systems in the country.

Similarly, 68 percent of member educators support an Indiana law that provides a tax credit to parents who send their children to a private or parochial school of their choice. Another 74 percent of survey respondents support Arizona's Empowerment Scholarship Accounts, which allow parents of students with special needs to use state education dollars in schools that meets those needs.

Furthermore, as new technologies make it possible for students to learn at their own pace, states across the country are implementing polices that offer and encourage online learning. According to the data, 64 percent of AAE-member teachers support a Florida law that guarantees access to online course work. Another 67 percent of survey respondents agree with a Virginia law that requires students to take at least one online course to graduate.

These powerful data demonstrate that teachers' unions are out of touch with the opinions of many classroom teachers. It is this disconnect that has caused thousands of teachers to leave unions for nonunion professional associations like ours, which offer many of the benefits they need without the union baggage.

In considering new common-sense reforms as we move forward, policymakers and other stakeholders need to know that hundreds of thousands of classroom teachers are indeed agreeable to policies that put students ahead of labor union interests.

Gary Beckner is executive director of the Association of American Educators.

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