Unions -- Good or Bad for Education?

A handful of teachers picket outside Shoop Elementary School in Chicago, Monday, Sept. 17, 2012, as a strike by Chicago Teach
A handful of teachers picket outside Shoop Elementary School in Chicago, Monday, Sept. 17, 2012, as a strike by Chicago Teachers Union members heads into its second week. Mayor Rahm Emanuel said he will seek a court order to force the city's teachers back into the classroom. (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)

Unions have always been a hot topic, but lately they have become a key point in our 2012 presidential election. The teachers union is one of the largest unions in our nation, but has recently been under major fire. They even suffered a crushing defeat in Wisconsin when Gov. Scott Walker took on the unions and won. Taking politicians, lobbyists, and big business out of the equation, are unions good for education? This article will briefly explore both sides of this conversation. It will be up to you to decide the answer.

I am an optimist and I believe there is good in everything. Unions are no exception. I find it sad that we, as a society, need unions at all. It all boils down to respect and trust. If we, as a society, valued teachers and what they do, they would be compensated justly for their value. Administrators would treat their teachers as a valued commodity in their community. Sadly, that is rarely the case. There are still small-minded administrators on power trips that work hard at trying to bully their teaching staff. They try to hide their poor decisions under the guise of educational value, but often these decisions have been made just to be spiteful, hurtful and cruel. Administrators use evaluations to bribe, intimidate, and harass their teachers. Teacher unions protect their membership from these poor administrators and sadly there are these types of administrators still out there.

On the other hand, teachers are one of the only, if not the only, four year college-degreed "professionals" that have the right to unionize and strike. Unions are blocking a lot of good educators from doing the right thing for their students. Contracts have become so detailed that a good idea that would benefit students must be ignored because parts of the teachers' contract do not allow certain aspects of the initiative. For example, if a school wanted to have a special parent night, or after school tutoring, contracts may be so specific that teachers are only allowed to do an after school activity once a year. Even though teachers would be willing to go the extra mile for their students, they are too intimidated by their union to try.

Another large negative for teacher unions is the fact that they protect the bad with the good. Unions protect obviously very poor teachers that give our profession a bad reputation. Administrators have become complacent when it comes to dismissing teachers because they have been trained to fear the unions. Administrators too are intimidated by the unions and fear a loss if a dismissal goes to the court level. I am reminded of the steel industry when the unions demanded so much and made it so hard for the administrators to do their jobs under the rules of their contracts that we almost lost the steel industry in America all together. Is the same thing happening to education?

So which is it? Are unions still needed in the teaching profession? Might they be altered to only be used for certain circumstances or under certain conditions? Should unions go to a county system as opposed to every school district having their own union? Should unions remain the same and continue to fight for those teachers that are oppressed by poor administrators? I don't have the answers, but I sure am interested in hearing what you have to say about it?