The last discovery came shortly after I authored a 2010 report highlighting the widespread lack of accountability for union release time in Colorado school districts. The best coverage we got thereafter (and much appreciated) came from the up-and-coming national organization Education Action Group, but nothing locally. So it was a pleasant surprise last week to receive a call from Denver Post reporter Karen Crummy inquiring about the issue. Less a surprise was her professed difficulty getting accurate records on the uses of union leave from many of the state's largest districts, prompting my comment that ended up in the front-page story:
It's bad enough that they pay for union release time at all, but to not even have a basic level of accountability, especially in these tighter budget times? It's kind of appalling.Yes, I have a problem of understatement that sometimes shows up in printed media stories. But not the same kind of problem that faces the Colorado Education Association's spin machine as this story came up. What else can you make of their official statement quoted in the Post?
The only thing left spinning are heads containing a modicum of common sense. Union meetings, grievance sessions, lobbying sessions and political campaign events may benefit the union and its agendas, but it is pure self-delusion to assert that these activities positively impact student achievement. Perhaps CEA's spin machine should have consulted first with one of its own local union presidents in one of the rare districts where taxpayers don't fund union leave:
But union leaders say the time teachers take away from the classroom for meetings and training on everything from problem solving to teacher evaluation helps students.
"This impacts student achievement. People don't understand the value of our role in helping the district function," said Beverly Ingle, president of the Colorado Education Association.
"The way we look at it is, 'Why would the district pay us not to be in the classroom?' " said Jim Smyth, president of the Mesa Valley Education Association.A fabulous question, one many more people are likely to pay attention to, given the unusually painful budget times district administrators now face. That few if any districts even offer the item of union release time on the budget chopping block menu makes a strong statement about whom the public education system is most designed to serve.