Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Chicago Teachers Union Panders to Religious Extremists, Calls For Longer Work Day

A group of religious figures recently demonstrated in front of the Chicago Teachers Union headquarters in protest of the union’s resistance to the Longer School Day Pioneer Program. Last week, the Illinois Education labor Relations Board sought an injunction to halt the district’s illegal waiver vote process.

The union rightly fought the violation of their contract and the school district’s attempts to undermine their members’ rights. However, as teachers union typically do, they then capitulated to the demands of the Ed Deformers and religious leaders by saying that they do, in fact, support longer school days, just not illegally imposed ones.

You can read the union’s statement here.

To its credit, the union did ask for “better” work days, with “rich, broad curriculum with art, music, world languages, physical education, civics and science. . .  smaller class . . . sizes, resources, adequate buildings with libraries, air conditioning, heating and cafeterias for our students,” and “appropriate” compensation for extra work.

However, acting as though a longer school day was a fait accompli, they asked that this school year be used to plan for an extended schedule next year.

So what are the problems with the union’s position on this?

The workday and amount of work done by American workers has been steadily increasing over the past thirty years. Americans work on average nearly 200 hours more per year now than they did in 1973, and an additional nine full weeks more than their European counterparts. While this has vastly increased productivity and profits for the bosses, average wages have been declining relative to purchasing power. Put more simply, we are working harder than we did 30 years ago and bringing home significantly less.

Working people and their unions should not just fight to retain or create jobs, but to improve working and living conditions for workers. This means shorter workdays and greater pay and benefits. It means less stressful, dangerous and hectic workdays. For teachers, it also means more paid collaboration time, more paid prep time, as well as smaller classes and better teaching resources. Additionally, it should mean that no reforms should be implemented unless they have a proven track record and the support of a supermajority of the teaching staff.

In the case of longer school days, there is little evidence to support its ability to significantly raise test scores or graduation rates. Longer school days do provide more state sponsored, tax funded childcare hours for parents. At the secondary school level, they allow high achieving students to take more electives, sports and advanced placement classes. They even allow struggling students to take more support classes and retake classes they have failed. But longer school days do not provide food, housing, clothing, healthcare for poor students. They do not erase the effects of years of living in poverty, lead poisoning, low self-efficacy or poor motivation.

Many, including the union, argue that longer schooldays are fair, as long as teachers are compensated for it. However, since teachers are not compensated fairly for the hours they currently work, how could it be fair to pay the same (or lower) rate for the extra time? Or would they be paid time and a half or double since it would be overtime? The latter, while a little more reasonable from the teachers’ perspective, is highly unlikely under today’s economic conditions and anti-teacher sentiment.

Yet, even if they were paid double for overtime work, it would still be unreasonable to require all teachers to do it. Good teachers already work far more hours than they are paid for. A typical teacher contract compensates them for working from 7:45 to 3:15 (or there about). Yet most teachers start working far earlier and stay far later. They take work home and grade papers at night and on weekends, making mincemeat out of the 40 hour work week. Many also volunteer to sponsor clubs or meet with students during their “duty-free” lunch.

Of course teachers and their union representatives want to do the very best for their clients, the students. However, this does not mean we should accept every criticism or reform proffered by outsiders simply to appear compassionate, reasonable or acceptable. For those in the “helping” professions, we need to remember that more is not necessarily better for our clients. If we are overworked and stressed we may become less effective at our jobs and do a disservice to our clients.

But it is not just about our clients. We need to remember that we have our own needs and are entitled to demand and fight for them (e.g., having the time and energy to spend time with our families or have a life outside of work). Teachers should be demanding shorter working hours, not longer. If a longer school day truly is in the best interests of children, then we should demand that schools be funded sufficiently to hire extra staff to teach during those extended hours.

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