Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Unions do their business on taxpayers’ dime

It's the old "fair share" argument, but this time it holds even less water than usual.

The Maryland State Education Association, the union that bargains on behalf of K-12 teachers throughout Maryland, wants to force all teachers — members or not — to pay union dues. The union claims educators owe their "fair share" because it must represent non-union members in collective bargaining and grievances.

At the moment, 10 of Maryland's 24 school districts already require non-union teachers to pay union dues. House Bill 667 would expand the provision to cover all public school employees in the state.

Currently, the bill, which forces teachers to pay union dues as a condition of employment, awaits only the signature of Gov. Martin O'Malley, a Democrat with designs on the 2016 presidential race. If enacted, the legislation would require school districts to negotiate with the MSEA to set a compulsory fee to "cover" non-union members' representation costs.

The MSEA now represents 80 percent of all Maryland school employees, or about 70,000 workers. According to the Maryland Reporter, fees for non-union members average $400 to $500 per teacher. That's an additional $7 million to $8.75 million for the MSEA if this succeeds.

Of course, MSEA representative Adam Mendelson says this is not about money but about "ending the patchwork approach and creating equity among all educators."

But what if teachers don't want this type of "equity"? What if they don't want to join a union? What if they want to negotiate their own contract? Why shouldn't they be allowed to do so?

Moreover, Maryland and most other states already bill taxpayers for representational services provided by government-employee unions to nonmembers. The practice is known as union release time or "official time," and it allows government employees to perform union duties during their workday.

Most Marylanders have no idea how many millions of dollars of their money already go to pay workers to perform union duties. Through the state's Public Information Act, the Competitive Enterprise Institute obtained union release-time records for nine of the 10 school districts that already require forced union dues. Here are the number of days taken for official time in 2011-2012:

 * Allegany County: 81.5 days

 * Anne Arundel County: 209 days

 * Baltimore City: 84 days

 * Baltimore County: 60 days

 * Calvert County: 120 days

 * Charles County: 31.8 days

 * Garrett County: 17.5 days

 * Howard County: 48 days

 * Prince George's County: 322 days

In Prince George's, where schools fall so far short of the mark that lawmakers voted to turn over control of the system to the county executive, one union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, was allotted 3,068.5 hours of release time — at a cost to the district of nearly $90,000. (AFSCME represents bus drivers and nurses for Prince George's County Public Schools.)

In total, the nine districts awarded 973.8 days of union release time, which is equal to nearly 5.5 full school years taken up each year for performance of union duties.

If Governor O'Malley truly wanted to put students first, if he truly valued taxpayers more than unions, he would veto this legislation and force unions to at least enact this system on a county-by-county basis.

But this is Maryland, so don't count on it.


Shorter school days only thwart the young

The career options for state-educated children go hand in hand with reduced teaching time, writes Margot James

Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, is right to be concerned about the length of the school day in state schools. In his recent speech to the Spectator education conference, he presented his case in the context of international competition. China, he pointed out, is the country that puts our young people at the greatest disadvantage in terms of time spent learning. On average, Chinese students are in class for 17 hours per week more than their British counterparts.

However, international competition is not the only reason to consider lengthening our school day. Social mobility is an equally pressing concern. Although only 7 per cent of the population attend independent schools, they account for 70 per cent of High Court Judges, 54 per cent of FTSE 100 company chief executive officers and 54 per cent of leading journalists. A survey of the big professional firms found that they recruited graduates from just the top 20 universities.

Independently educated students attained three times as many A grades at A-level in 2012 as state school pupils. They are also far more likely to be gaining A and A* grades in subjects required by Russell Group universities.

Problems begin at 14, when students choose their GCSE courses, as the independent school pupils are more likely to choose subjects (apart from English and Maths) that are acceptable to the top universities. According to the Sutton Trust, only 30 per cent of state school students apply to a Russell Group university compared with 50 per cent of independent schools. And that is before the difference in grades is even considered.

I have researched the typical day in the state and independent sectors from a survey of state schools in my local borough of Dudley and of 50 leading independent schools. I have also been working with Russell Group universities, including Oxford and Cambridge, seeing the work they do to reach out to state school students to inspire them to study the subjects required by top universities.

Comparisons between the state and independent sector reveal that during term time, far more is expected of independently educated students. The only greater demand placed on state school pupils is the length of the school term: state schools open for 190 days per year compared with an independent school average of 174 days.

But having been educated independently myself, I am shocked at the sight of all the state schools emptying at 3pm; when I visit secondary schools, I am always surprised to find netball matches and school-play rehearsals going on in the middle of the school morning.

Most state schools start at 9am and finish at 3pm, whereas most independent schools start at 8.30am and finish at 4.30pm. Furthermore, many of the latter teach on Saturday mornings. On average, independent pupils work an hour and 45 minutes longer in class per day than pupils in the state sector.

So, although the gap between the state and independent sectors is not as great as the divide that separates British and Chinese institutions, it still amounts to eight hours a week. Young people in independent schools are, therefore, in class for the equivalent of just over one day per week more than those in state schools.

The other big difference lies in what is going on during school hours. In many state schools, most extracurricular activities such as sport and drama take place between 9am and 3pm, whereas in most independent shcools they happen after the bell rings at 4.30pm or during breaks. Of course, such activities are vital to development on many levels; but independent schools do not permit them to interfere with valuable learning time.

Unsurprisingly, then, my research suggests that young people in state schools are attending six lessons a day on average while their independent sector counterparts have seven.

The implications of shorter teaching time are not confined to the field of academic progress. The problem affects young people aiming for an apprenticeship or skills training from the age of 16 just as much as it does a potential university applicant. Employers complain that new recruits find it difficult to cope with the length of the working day.

Critics claim that what matters is not the length of a school day, but the quality of the teaching. But while this is of paramount importance, there is nothing to suggest that teaching quality is fundamentally different between the state and independent sectors. In other words, the amount of time spent in class becomes a crucial factor in driving educational outcomes.

International comparisons are instructive here, not just in the length of the school day but also in the autonomy of schools when it comes to determining the length of their day. In the UK, the only requirement made of state schools in terms of opening times is that they must be open for at least 190 days each year. The OECD report Education at a Glance 2012, which includes all members of the G20, found that only in Indonesia and Britain are state schools free to decide on the length of the school day and teaching time.

Fair access to classroom teaching time is probably the best way forward for improving social mobility at the moment – so Michael Gove was right to place this issue firmly on the agenda.


Australia:  Conservative leader says no need for education funding reforms

Coalition leader Tony Abbott says the federal government’s proposed education changes are too expensive and unnecessary because there is no fundamental problem with the way schools are funded.

Mr Abbott said the changes were too costly in the current budget context and that many things could be done to improve education without spending "vast dollops of new money".

“In the absence of anything which is clearly, dramatically better and affordably, dramatically better, I think we are better fine-tuning the existing system rather than trying to turn the whole thing on its head,” Mr Abbott told Sky News on Sunday morning.

Mr Abbott listed greater autonomy for principals, higher teaching standards and a smaller education bureaucracy as some of the cheaper changes that could be made.

But Mr Abbott said he would maintain the changes to university funding which the government announced earlier this month as a way of paying for the increased money that it wants to give to primary and secondary schools.

"I don’t think anyone should expect those cuts to be reversed," Mr Abbott said.

The Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, told Fairfax Media that Mr Abbott was locking children into "being left behind".

"Mr Abbott stands for cuts to school funding. In backing the current funding system he is backing children being left behind and trapped in schools without resources to give them a great education," Ms Gillard said.

"He is also backing our nation falling behind the educations standards of our region and losing the high-skilled, high-paid jobs of the future to Japan, Korea and China."

Ms Gillard failed to reach agreement with the states and territories last Friday about the $14.5 billion education package based on the recommendations of a taskforce headed by Sydney businessman David Gonski.

Ms Gillard wants state governments to increase education budgets by three per cent a year in exchange for a 4.7 per cent rise in federal funding.

After Friday’s meeting state leaders expressed concerns about giving the Commonwealth a bigger say in education while some are worried the proposed new funding model gives greater weight to independent and Catholic schools.

The Queensland Premier, Campbell Newman, said Ms Gillard could have made a deal on Friday.  "In my view because she is refusing to properly negotiate, she actually pushed people away," Mr Newman said.

Ms Gillard will put her plan directly to parents and principals this week in a bid to create a groundswell of support for the Gonski reforms.

Ms Gillard has given state and territory leaders until June 30 to sign up to the new funding deal.

Mr Campbell said schools would not support Ms Gillard’s plans because they were worried about an additional layer of bureaucracy being imposed on them.

"They are unacceptable and I know when teachers and principals know what Julia Gillard wants them to do, that they will not be as keen on the whole matter unless that is sorted out," Mr Campbell said.

On Sunday, Mr Abbott also said he was working with the Department of Finance to cut the pay of his director of policy, Mark Roberts, who last week threatened to "cut the throat" of the not-for-profit Australian Indigenous Education Foundation, by cancelling its funding, if the Coalition were elected in September.

Mr Abbott said he did not believe Dr Roberts deserved to be sacked but that he had "paid a price" for his "unacceptable" behaviour.

Mr Abbott also repeated his statements from last week when he said he was prepared to consider giving Coalition MPs a conscience vote on the issue of gay marriage after the federal election.


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