No, Kids Aren't Cars: Some State Legislatures Take on Teachers Union Power

“Cars are cars all over the world…” goes an old song my parents told me about. While cars are cars, it kind of goes without saying that Kids Aren’t Cars, right? But a new series of online short movies by that name reminds us that it’s past time to move beyond the old assembly-line model of education because “our schools shouldn’t be dropout factories.” Produced by Kyle Olson and the Education Action Group Foundation, the first episode debuts today:

One of the points hammered home in the film is that many school districts are weighted down by the regulated work rules of collective bargaining agreements — reminiscent of the United Auto Workers. One of the key figures interviewed in the film is Indiana state superintendent Tony Bennett (pictured in the video freeze frame above). Interestingly, the legislature in his state is debating a bill that would limit public school union collective bargaining, including what tax-funded policies can be discussed behind closed doors.

Farther south, lawmakers in Tennessee actually are considering whether to go a step further and outlaw teacher collective bargaining:

In Memphis, union leaders say teachers stand to lose duty-free lunches, pay and control over working conditions, such as class size and after-school assignments. Teachers are being advised to flood lawmakers with e-mail and phone calls, said Memphis Education Association president Keith Williams.

Of course, it’s no surprise the state’s teachers union there is lobbying with a full-court press to stop the legislation, known as House Bill 130. The Education Intelligence Agency brings attention to the fact that teachers in Tennessee’s collective bargaining districts make an average of $130 less a year than their peers in the non-bargaining districts. What are those hundreds of dollars in dues getting? Certainly a fair question.

Then I had a thought. A couple years ago Colorado did the big statewide TELL survey of teachers on a wide range of issues, including in relation to teacher working conditions. Look at the answers given by teachers from a non-collective bargaining charter school like Lincoln Academy in Jefferson County. On almost every question you’ll find more favorable responses from the charter teachers than the district and state averages. So I wondered: Has any researcher thought to comb the data and break it down by teachers with collective bargaining versus those without? It could be interesting.

Meanwhile, back to the film and reminding us that students should not be treated as widgets in a union factory model. No, Kids Aren’t Cars. But if I had to be, I’d be a Dodge Viper or Ferrari F40 — and not just a Matchbox car, but the real thing. What do you think??