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Think tank analysis says collective bargaining law needs reforms to improve student achievement


By Sean Whaley, Nevada News Bureau: The author of a new analysis of Nevada’s collective bargaining law says the complex rules have worked to the benefit of teachers’ unions rather than students, making reforms essential to improve the state’s public education system.

In the analysis of Nevada’s collective bargaining law for the Nevada Policy Research Institute released today, author Greg Moo says it is time to revise the rules so real progress can be made on student achievement.

Titled “NRS288 – A Law Against Student Learning,” the analysis says the state statute that requires school districts to bargain with unions over a multitude of issues works against efforts to replace bad teachers.

“Why is it so hard to remove a teacher who’s not teaching and replace that teacher with one who is?” Moo asks in the executive summary of his analysis. “In Nevada, it’s because Chapter 288 of the Nevada Revised Statutes compels school districts to negotiate long, difficult and costly step-by-step procedures that district administrators must follow to terminate a teacher.

“Moreover, NRS 288 requires that school districts must collectively bargain with teacher unions on a whole shopping list of ‘subjects’ – making contract agreements between school districts and teacher unions into cumbersome obstacles to any school district effort to improve students,” he says.

Lynn Warne, president of the Nevada State Education Association, disagrees with the notion that collective bargaining laws negatively affect student achievement. Eight of the10 states that won federal grants to improve student performance in round two of the Race To The Top competition are collective bargaining states, she said.

States with high student achievement rates as demonstrated by graduation rates and  National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) scores are strong union states with collective bargaining laws, Warne said.

Collective bargaining does not stand as an impediment to innovation, to reform or student achievement,” she said.

In his analysis, Moo also points to the salary schedules used to provide pay raises to teachers – schedules that rely on years of service and increased educational attainment rather than performance in the classroom – as a problem area created by collective bargaining.

Eliminating teacher tenure and binding arbitration, where teachers and school district officials submit their differences to a panel of attorneys for a final decision on a contract dispute, would help Nevada move forward on student achievement, he said. The binding arbitration process has a history of favoring labor unions, Moo said.

Gov. Brian Sandoval has proposed some reforms to Nevada’s public education system in the 2011 legislative session, including eliminating teacher tenure. He has not proposed changes to the collective bargaining law himself, but has said he would welcome such a discussion in the Legislature.

Sandoval is also seeking a constitutional amendment to allow for a voucher program so parents could use tax dollars to send their children to private schools, including religious schools. But any such change is several years in the making.

Sandoval also wants a pay for performance plan for teachers, and has proposed ending pay increases to teachers who attain master’s degrees, as part of his budget.

Teachers have said Sandoval’s performance pay effort is inadequate at $20 million statewide.

As the NPRI study notes, a few bills have been introduced in the Legislature to make reforms to the collective bargaining process, although there has been no call yet for an outright repeal of the law as happened recently in Wisconsin.

Sen. Don Gustavson, R-Sparks, has introduced Senate Bill 162, which would revise the mandatory topics of collective bargaining for public employees. Sen. Michael Roberson, R-Las Vegas, has introduced Senate Bill 342, which calls for changes concerning collective bargaining between governments and public employees. The city of Reno is also seeking changes to the law in Senate Bill 78.

Moo’s analysis looks at collective bargaining only as it relates to public education.

The state’s school superintendents, facing the potential of reduced funding for teacher salaries in Sandoval’s budget, have also asked lawmakers for the ability to open up collective bargaining laws so such cuts can be implemented if they become reality.

Assembly Democrats have proposed some reforms of their own, including pay for performance for teachers. Democrats have also proposed a change to the probationary status of teachers in Assembly Bill 225. It would place post-probationary teachers back on probationary status if they receive negative evaluations two years in a row.

Warne said the NSEA is supportive of many reforms under discussion this session, including making pay for performance an element of compensation for teachers. The association also supports extending the teacher probationary period to three years and expediting the process to remove bad teachers, she said.

“Getting rid of a bad teacher, and getting rid of a bad teacher faster, we’re on board with that,” Warne said. “We’ve always said we don’t protect bad teachers, we protect the process.”

It remains to be seen which, if any reforms to collective bargaining or teacher performance, win approval in the 2011 legislative session.

Moo, who has a doctorate in educational policy and management from the University of Oregon, concludes: “It’s time for the makers of the rules to change the rules – so the game can be played as much to the benefit of student learners as to the benefit of teacher unions. As Michelle Rhee, former chancellor of the beleaguered public schools of the District of Columbia, put it, the problem isn’t students, ‘It’s the adults.’ ”

Audio clips:

Greg Moo, author of critique of Nevada’s collective bargaining law for teachers, says teacher tenure is a stumbling block to student achievement:

032311Moo1 :18 is really bizarre.”

Moo says the collectively bargained salary schedule for teachers rewards longevity over performance:

032311Moo2 :24 to do that.”

Teachers’ Union President Lynn Warne says states with high student achievement are collective bargaining states:

032311Warne1 :22 or NAEP scores.”

Warne says collective bargaining is not an impediment to student achievement or educational innovation:

032311Warne2 :06 or student achievement.”

Warne says the NSEA supports reforms, including improving the process to remove bad teachers:

032311Warne3 :10 protect the process.”

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