Labor Pains: Because Being in a Union can be Painful

Hints of School Reform in New York

Teachers unions aren’t the only stakeholders in public education, but they’re almost invariably the most organized ones. One upstate New York doctor is attempting to change that reality, The New York Sun reports. As anesthesiologist David Smith tells the Sun: “There’s only one voice in Albany right now: That’s the voice of the teachers union. They don’t have that right. The people that are affected by the system most dramatically — parents and their children — should have the largest voice.”

Downstate, another reformer’s voice has piped up on a key school reform issue. Ariel Sacks has just finished her third year of teaching middle school English full-time in East Harlem, and she’s rightly distressed that, having been recommended for tenure, she’s reached “what could be the pinnacle of my career.” For teachers to have real professional growth, Sacks writes, they need professional pay — more money for better results. Instead, under New York City’s union salary schedule, “[w]hether I push myself year after year to attain the level of expertise I dream of (and my students deserve), or whether I make no effort to improve at all, I will earn exactly the same pay and have the same very limited career options.”

The biggest hurdle with merit pay (and the one that gives NEA UniServ directors sleepless nights) is measuring student learning well. But teachers must take the plunge regardless of the difficulty, as Sacks writes: “If we don’t, will we ever be seen as true professionals?”