Are teachers unions the new UAW?

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Sometimes organizations don’t realize how good they have it until public support for their positions erodes, the good will vanishes and the bottom suddenly falls out.

The United Auto Workers found out the hard way after enough people learned about members’ lavish compensation, and worse, getting paid while on furlough—all while cranking out cars consumers felt were inferior to foreign brands. This was a union once backed by cacophonies of honking horns at strikes.

A development Thursday in the skirmish between Indiana school chief Tony Bennett and the Indiana State Teachers Association raises questions whether ISTA is edging dangerously close to a similar tipping point with Hoosiers.

Bennett had brusquely demanded that ISTA throw massive support behind paying teachers for performance before he would go back to the Obama administration to ask for a big education grant. The administration rejected Indiana’s first proposal because teacher support ran at only about two-thirds when Delaware and Tennessee, which won money, were overwhelmingly supportive.

How did ISTA respond to Bennett’s desire to base 51 percent of teacher pay on student performance? Start over.

Most people sympathize with teachers’ objections to performance pay: Children aren’t widgets. Too many come from families that don’t value education. Social problems rip at the education experience.

People also get why ISTA exists. School boards would savage teacher pay. Administrators can be capricious. Board members and administrators would hire friends and relatives over qualified professionals.

But is ISTA really helping itself by going to war with Bennett? Especially when tens of millions of dollars could have been funneled into Hoosier schools?

Consider that the public is just as aware of stagnant test scores, summers away from class, and fending off pay cuts at a time when everyone else takes it on the chin. People also hear more and more about incompetent, burned-out and lazy teachers.

Recall that Obama, not exactly a union-hating Republican, is the one dishing money to states that adopt pay-for-performance. So public sentiment is swinging toward merit pay.

Which raises another prospect for ISTA this fall. Ironically, Republicans are leveraging anger at the Obama administration to try to take back control of the Indiana House. If they succeed, they’ll likely have locked down both the executive and legislative branches of state government.

With a General Assembly, the superintendent of public instruction and a popular governor agitating for merit pay, where would ISTA turn for support?

If ISTA fell back on voters, would voters instead ask how ISTA is contributing to the solution?

What are your thoughts? Is ISTA backing itself off a cliff?


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