Journal of Educational Controversy


Monday, April 11, 2011

Union vs. Anti-Union Movement: Forum on the Controversy over the Role of Teacher Unions to take place on April 20th at WWU

The Woodring College of Education at Western Washington University will sponsor the 13th Annual Educational Law and Social Justice Forum at 5:30-7:30 p.m., Wednesday, April 20 at the Wilson Library Presentation Room on WWU’s campus. The forum will discuss the topic of whether teachers unions are a benefit or an obstacle to the education of students.

Panelists will include: Mary Lindquist, president of the Washington Education Association, William Lyne, president of the United Faculty of Washington State and member of the Washington Education Association Board of Directors, and Liv Finne, Director of Education at the Washington Policy Center.

The forum is sponsored by Woodring’s Journal of Educational Controversy and Center for Education, Equity and Diversity, and is co-sponsored by the Whatcom County Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington

Below are position statements by the panelists.



By Liv Finne
Director, Center for Education

Unions are private organizations of people who join together to advance their economic interests, and every worker has a right to join a union as a basic part of the freedom of association.

 Today, however, unions are a powerful force in public education and their consistent objection to meaningful reform makes them the primary obstacle to the changes needed to improve the education of children. Here are some of the school reforms that unions oppose:

• Allowing local communities to open public charter schools.
• Retaining the best teachers by basing layoffs on performance, not seniority.
• Promoting high-quality teachers with raises based on merit, not time served.
• Rewarding top-performing teachers with year-end bonuses.
• Allowing higher pay for teachers who take on the most challenging students.
• Allowing higher salaries to meet the demand for more math and science teachers.
• Making it easier to fire bad teachers.
• Lifting the ban on letting any qualified professional, not just people with special certificates, teach in a public classroom. State law allows private schools to hire the best person as a teacher, without mandates or restrictions. With few exceptions a college professor cannot teach in a public high school – she doesn’t have the right certificate.
• Letting principals hire and fire teachers based on what’s best for children, not what’s convenient for adults.
• Allowing parents to evaluate teachers and using this input to set raises and teacher assignments.

We need an honest conversation about how to improve our schools. Our research shows schools with the most effective learning environments for children are led by great principals who choose a team of highly effective and committed teachers. (See “Eight Practical Ways to Reverse the Decline of Public Schools,” by Liv Finne, December 2008).

The best schools create a learning environment that is based on high expectations and hard work, and that promotes a culture that values academic excellence. In general unions oppose letting school principals control spending, benefits, salaries, hiring and work assignments in local schools. Promoting excellence in community leadership and in classroom instruction is key to student learning, but these meaningful school reforms are not possible as long as unions oppose them. For these reasons, unions represent a serious obstacle to improving education for all children in Washington state. 


Mary Lindquist, Washington Education Association President

​Teachers’ working conditions are students’ learning conditions. No one understands those conditions better than teachers, and teachers’ unions are teachers organized and working together to improve our students’ learning environment.

​A recent Harvard Educational Review article highlighted the positive correlation between strong unions and better student SAT and ACT scores. Why? Teacher contracts address critical issues such as class size, teacher quality and team collaboration.

Critics of unions regularly demonizes teachers not in an effort to improve education but as part of a broad, well-organized and well-funded effort to undermine public confidence in public sector unions. Such efforts exaggerate the failure of public schools, do nothing to improve education and ignore the real threat ---- chronic under funding of our schools.

​What’s at stake in this debate is whether or not public education should remain robustly public. Teachers’ unions protect all students' opportunities by remaining committed to the high quality, publicly funded education that fuels the economic prosperity.

William Lyne, President of the UFWW

The so-call education “reform” movement regularly demonizes teachers not in an effort to improve education but as part of a broad, well-organized and well-funded effort to privatize and exploit the education “market” for profit. Efforts to exaggerate the failure of public schools, decrease the funding of public education, and blame teachers do not improve education, but they do create the conditions for the exploitation of students and families for private interests.

Editor: For an update and elaboration of William Lyne's position, see his later post, "Who Breaks a Butterfly upon a Wheel."

Editor:  A second event will occur on the WWU campus a week later on Wednesday, April 27th at 5:30-7:30pm.  A workshop on Civil Rights in Schools 101 will be take place at the Center for Education, Equity and Diversity in Miller Hall room 005 on the WWU’s campus.   Linda Mangel, staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington, will facilitate the workshop on possible topics like bullying and harassment, truancy, discipline, the achievement gap,  rights of pregnant students, disparate discipline, athletics. cyberbullying, cell phone searches.  This event is also sponsored by the Journal of Educational Controversy and the Center for Education, Equity and Diversity and co-sponsored by the Whatcom County Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington.

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