Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Teacher contracts not so inflexible

Seattle, WA - Collective bargaining agreements are not necessarily the boogey-man barriers to reforming the nation's high schools as many educators believe, according to a new study from the University of Washington.

Teacher union contracts often contain provisions that allow more flexibility in such areas of personnel management as scheduling, transfer, assignment, and layoff than is commonly believed.

Contracts also often include provisions for waivers or side agreements (memoranda of understanding) that give educators the opportunity to adapt to special or changing circumstances.

It's true that union contracts contain restrictive provisions that can hamper reform initiatives, said Mitch Price, research consultant at the UW Bothell's Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE), who led the study.

It's also true, he continued, that because so many administrators, union leaders, and others perceive contracts as inflexible, the perception overtakes the reality. That perception leads to practices that may be more rigid than the actual language of the contracts require, language that the parties have agreed to and signed.î

Price, an attorney with a master's degree in education, said the study also found that many teacher union contracts contain language that is ambiguous. Such language may provide entrepreneurial educators the opening to initiate reforms while serving to limit those inclined to be more cautious, he observed.

The new report was compiled from interviews with educators in California, Ohio, and Washington, conversations that focused on legal barriers to reform of high schools. Researchers then examined a total of eight collective bargaining agreements in districts within the three states: Los Angeles, San Francisco, Oakland, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Columbus, Seattle, and Tacoma.

Additional material came from case studies of Washington and Ohio conducted as part of CRPE's five-year School Finance Redesign Project, completed this past summer.

"Teacher Union Contracts and High School Reform" was produced by the Center on Reinventing Public Education at the University of Washington Bothell, with funding by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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