Many students are asking what is collective bargaining and why do so many people believe it is the reason for the budget problems in education. The truth of the matter is that collective bargaining can be quite vital whenever it is used in terms of insuring that students in the schools receive the best education possible.
The history of collective bargaining can be linked to the mid 1800’s when the National Education Association (NEA) united to make sure that all children received a free public education. The organization, compiled of teachers, worked diligently to improve the standards of education for children and also to improve the working conditions for teachers. Eventually, via bargaining which presently includes the school administration, school board members, and the teachers, school improvement has occurred.
Improvements linked with the students include class size, safety within the schools and classrooms, and, in some instances, rights that students should have when attending school. One very serious example of what can be lost if collective bargaining is destroyed is larger class sizes.
A contract is usually drawn up during a negotiations process between the teachers’ union and the administration/school board. The contract does stipulate the salary scale (levels of salary increases according to various college degrees and number of years experience) and benefits (including insurance coverage, etc.). However, in districts that are student centered contracts also can stipulate that class size not exceed a certain number based on the grade level. If collective bargaining is taken away then the worry of educators becomes there will be no avenue to use on behalf of students. Class sizes that may have been a maximum of 20 students for primary grades, for example, could be increased to save money.
It is important that Education majors read more about the process of collective bargaining and how, in many cases, this process can be beneficial to maintaining what is needed to provide the best education to students in schools. The possibilities exist that certain districts with poor administrators and powerful school boards could take advantage of its absence and begin to change the schools in such a way that success in teaching is highly jeopardized.
As far as the link between collective bargaining, the best salaries, and the best teachers…that is something that can be debated. In the case of schools where salaries are not high, there is evidence that dedicated teachers still provide a great education for their students. The other side of this debate is that lower salaries can also cause the best high school graduates to pursue other careers that do pay well. It becomes imperative that educators continue to work with administrators and school board members to create innovative and cost efficient budgets that will promote success for students and support for teachers. In other words, in my opinion, collective bargaining needs to be redefined and everyone linked with education needs to return to the primary goal of education…to educate every child regardless of economic and social status.
My suggestion is that Education majors ask questions regarding the collective bargaining process and whether this is still in place in a district/private school where they may be applying. They need to be more knowledgeable with regards to the working conditions of the schools they may be pursuing as future places for employment.
For more information regarding collective bargaining and the impact of budget cuts on education, go to:
(History of National Education Association)
(one opinion regarding collective bargaining and student achievement gap)
(information regarding the debate over collective bargaining)
Donna Hupe teaches ED 101 – Field Experience I and has been a Pre-Student Teacher/Student Teacher Supervisor at Saint Vincent College for the past five and a half years.