Monday, October 29, 2012

Conservative think tank labels the Florida teachers union one of the worst in the country

Posted by on Mon, Oct 29, 2012 at 5:08 PM

Charlie Crist in 2010 when he announced he would veto SB 6
  • Charlie Crist in 2010 when he announced he would veto SB 6
The Florida Education Association (FEA) is being called one of the worst teachers unions in the country. The report comes from a not-exactly-unbiased arbiter, but from the right-leaning Thomas B. Fordham Institute, led by Chester Finn, a former U.S. assistant Secretary of Education under Ronald Reagan.

In the report, Florida's FEA is ranked 50th out of 51 states (only Arizona ranks lower), which also includes the District of Columbia.

The authors of the study said that Florida's state teacher union "has scant resources, few recent policy successes, a feeble reputation, and few allies in the capitol. Florida's state union is by far the weakest of any state in which bargaining is mandatory."

Mark Pudlow, a spokesman for the FEA, is dismissive of the report, saying the review is as "valid as Fox News rating all other media outlets."

The authors of the report said their study "sheds light" on how teacher unions perform by answering three main questions:

1. What elements are potential sources of a union's strength (i.e., inputs)?
2. How might unions wield power in terms of behavior and conduct (i.e., processes and activities)?
3. What are signs that they have gotten their way (i.e., outcomes)?

The study notes that the FEA has a relatively low membership in comparison to its brethren across the country. Just 55.8 percent of the state's teachers are union members in Florida, ranking them 40th of 51 jurisdictions.

Being a right-to-work state, the FEA is undoubtedly limited compared to more robust teachers unions around the country in terms of its influence. But castigating it for the Legislature's lack of funding for education seems to be a bit of a cheap shot, since the policies of the conservative leaning state House and Senate along with Gov. Rick Scott are hardly congruent with the union's goals, which would be to increase education spending.

In fact, when the union had an ally in Gov. Charlie Crist back in 2010, they were able to stop what was then called SB 6, a bill that proposed merit pay for educators.

The bill returned a year later in essentially the same form, this time called SB 736. With a compliant governor, it easily passed in Tallahassee. Is that a fair comparison of the union, or of the divergent goals of state leadership?

The authors seek to discredit the union by writing that on several occasions, the FEA has sought redress through the courts after disputing bills promulgated by the governor or the legislature.

Finally, respondents indicate that policies proposed by the governor in the latest legislative session were not in line, and the policies actually enacted were not all in line, with union priorities (an unsurprising response given that recently the FEA seems unable to sway lawmakers and has on several occasions turned to the courts instead).

Memo to the Fordham Institute: Since Rick Scott has been elected and the Florida Legislature went further right two years ago, a whole lot of folks have been suing the state.

"If FEA is so weak and insignificant, why do so many politicians and interest groups spend so much time, money and effort trying to thwart our attempts to provide high quality, well-financed and sensible neighborhood public schools that are controlled locally and operated under a rational curriculum that isn't dominated by costly standardized tests and lets teachers teach?" asked Pudlow.

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