Let me first say that teachers and the union are one and the same. The union doesn't exist without the teachers. Teachers are the decision makers in the union and create the policy to be followed and decide the issues to be addressed.
In West Virginia, WVEA members have been instrumental in crafting many laws and policies that have positively influenced public education and benefited students. When teacher unions are involved, teachers have a voice and that is a positive step to improving public education.
As Professor Paul Thomas of Furman University states, "The anti-union message in public education ... has no basis in evidence." Instead, Thomas points out, "Union states tend to correlate with higher test scores." In fact, states that typically have the highest rating for the quality of their public schools -- Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, Wisconsin -- are states that have collective bargaining and are highly unionized.
Conversely, according to a 2010 study by Matthew Di Carlo, states in which there are no teachers covered under union agreements score lower on standardized assessment tests than the states that have them. Di Carlo says "...if anything, it seems that the presence of a strong teacher union in a state has a positive effect on achievement."
Teachers and teacher unions are certainly not an isolated factor in improving student achievement, but play a key role in student success. Historically, WVEA and its members have fought for equality of opportunity in public education, adequate funding for our public schools and policies designed to improve student achievement.
Teachers are in the classroom because they are dedicated and want to make a difference in the lives of children. A recent New York Times article pointed out the average elementary teacher in the United States earns about 67 percent of the salary of an average college-educated worker in the United States. The Times also points out, the ratio of teacher pay to that of other college graduates is wider in the United States than in most other developed countries.
Countries, like Finland or Norway, are constantly cited as examples of model education systems. In those nations, teachers are highly unionized, highly respected and well paid. It is an honor to be a teacher in many nations. In West Virginia, teachers are often thought of as the enemy.
Let's stop pointing the finger of blame at teachers and teacher unions and begin talking about some of the real issues that are confronting our public schools!
Lee is a special education teacher at Princeton Senior High School in Mercer County with 22 years of classroom experience. He is currently on leave to serve as the elected president of the WVEA.