Thursday, December 24, 2015

IN: Let's Try Solo Bargaining

Indiana State Senator Pete Miller is not the first guy to have this idea, but he's the one currently floating it in a state legislature-- let's do away with collective bargaining and let every teacher negotiate her own individual contract.

This is Miller's idea for fixing the teacher shortage. Let's treat teachers fairly, he says. But only when a shortage forces us to, and only some of the teachers. After all, why should I have to pay big bucks for both a first grade teacher and a science teacher when the former are a dime a dozen and the latter are so hard to come by?

I've thought about the solo negotiating approach before, because it seems like an interesting thought experiment. What would schools look like if each contract was individually negotiated?

They would probably look poorer, because at least the larger districts would hire professional negotiators to handle the workload. There are over 2,500 teachers in the Indianapolis district-- exactly who is going to negotiate 2,500 contracts? It's going to be somebody who doesn't have any other job and who was hired just to handle negotiations, which means administration just got bigger.

Or they would look more...well, awkward. In a smaller district, individual contracts would be negotiated by the same people who work as supervisors. I'm trying to imagine the dynamic of, "Yes, I told you last month that you couldn't have another $500 of pay, and now this month I am asking you to take on another extra duty."

And such a system would be sure to breed some intra-staff resentment, as people come to realize they are being paid far less for the same job as the guy next door. "What do you mean you want to borrow my worksheets about subjects and verbs?! Take your extra couple thousand dollars and go buy your own worksheets." And-- as everyone who's served on the front lines of contract negotiations well knows-- it is very easy for negotiations to breed an adversarial relationship. Does it really help a district for teachers to know that one of their supervisor's job is to make sure they never make too much money?

Of course, the current system also results in people being paid different amounts for the same job, but-- and here we get into the weirdities of the human brain-- nobody gets paid "less" than anybody else. Some people just get paid "more." Everyone starts at the same place, and everybody has the same opportunity to move up the ladder. And while I can agree that it's not ideal, I believe that it helps foster the collegiality needed in a school. When you set teachers against each other and make them compete for every dollar, nobody wins.

And they would have to compete, because school funding is a zero sum game. The district has as much money as it has, so if it is going to cough up an extra $10K to hire Rockstar McSuperteach for the science department, somewhere in the system, $10K is going to be cut. "Sorry, you can't have new literature books this year because we wanted to hire a math teacher," is not going to foster collegiality.

Worse, the competition would not even be about who was the best teacher, but who was the best negotiator. Negotiating is a skill. It's a profession. And the balance will always be against teachers, because each teacher will have practice negotiating one contract-- her own-- while the district will have a pro who has handled all the contracts. And really-- is it fair that the same sweet, kind demeanor that makes Quietina O'Introversion such a great first grade teacher will guarantee her a crappy contract negotiation year after year?

In fact, here's what I really imagine happening. Teachers, lacking the time or expertise to handle their own negotiations, will hire someone to do it for them. In fact, they'll probably pool resources so that they can get somebody a little better to negotiate for the whole pool. Kind of like a union.

Meanwhile, districts will get tired of negotiating multiple versions of the contract (and there will be multiple versions-- if I go in there you'd better bet I will also be negotiating for leave time, office space, what duties I will or won't be assigned, etc) as well as managing a host of employees who all have different conditions for their employment. Plus such negotiations would make budgeting too murky and problematic. So districts will develop a menu of contract offerings, a sort of ladder that teachers are placed on

Of course, some districts would just say, "Screw it. We're paying bottom dollar and we'll take whatever is lying around the bottom of the barrel." Just like now.

Miller's idea is that he wants the invisible hand of the market to control teacher pay, but Indiana, like most states with so-called teacher shortages, already has the invisible hand of the market shoved right in their face-- they have a shortage because they are ignoring what the hand is telling them, which is "Make a better offer!" Miller is involved in some negotiating of his own, telling the invisible hand, "Well, what if we just a make a better offer for only a few of them? What's the absolute minimum the market will let us get away with?"

Indiana has some other interesting ideas coming up, like a proposal to trade a free college education for five years of teaching service in the state. But Miller's proposal is a lousy idea that won't really work out well for anybody.

27 comments:

  1. When teachers compete EVERYONE loses.

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    1. Agreed. There needs to be open doors, shared process and materials, true teamwork that is disincentivized when you try to create the competition and "superstar" culture that the business folks want to try to create in education. Collaboration is not encouraged in these types of situations, and the metrics/ big data that is the backbone to the scoring system that they want to use is to the detriment of effective education process. Reformers just don't get it. Or they do, and they are just hell bent on wrecking the system as we know it to force the privatization policy at all costs! Our politicians are just too stupid to do what is right over the big checks they get from the private/ corporate education lobby. Thats why they get their laws/ bills/ and how to guide from lobby mills out there!

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  2. All faculty salaries are individually negotiated at almost every college and university. Uniform payment for faculty would destroy the university: if we wanted to have a medical school, we could not have any humanities departments. If we wanted a humanities department, we would be unable to hire any faculty for a medical school.

    Even within departments, there are wide ranges of salaries. Everyday I work with people paid twice or three times my salary, yet we work well together. Everyday I work with people payed two thirds of my salary, yet we work well together. The key is acting like an adult.

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    1. Many community colleges have salary schedules that determine faculty salaries according to highest degree earned and years of experience.

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    2. You are mistaken. Public universities have salary schedules just as public schools do. I am a faculty member in a large state university system.

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    3. Unkown,

      I am also a faculty member in a large state system (at the flagship institution) and there is certainly no salary schedule like public schools at my institution or any that I am familiar with. Newly hired assistant professors in some departments make more than full professors with 30 years of experience in other departments. That is the only way we can have both an English department and a medical school.

      Perhaps you could post a link to the salary schedule at your institution. It would be interesting to see how it works.

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  3. There's no reason superstar teachers shouldn't be paid $150-200,000/yr. But under the current system they can't. Instead they're paid according to meaningless metrics such as years of service or completion of low value Masters degrees or professional development courses. So great teachers are paid the same as crappy ones. Where's the fairness in that?

    Newsflash: Negotiating your worth is standard in the majority of professions....not just private industry but public universities.

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    1. Who are you to say my master's degree is "low value"? (At least I know how to spell "master's degree".)

      And I suppose VAMs are meaningful metrics?

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    2. and how would we judge the "superstar" teachers... test scores...? Yeah that works out well...

      Why would I cooperate and share with my colleagues if I could raise my pay at the expense of others?

      What about which students and courses I get assigned? Could that impact my "performance" and therefore my pay?

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    3. Paying any K-12 teacher $150,000 per year would almost certainly be a huge waste of taxpayer money. Even a "superstar" teacher can be replaced with someone just as good who will do the job for say $100,000 per year. I'm all for teachers getting paid a decent salary, but $150,000 is absurd. I had many fine teachers in my public K-12 experience as a student. There was no need to pay any of them double what they were already making. What a huge waste of money that would be. My kids are in public schools and they don't even have textbooks right now. I'd rather they had textbooks than overpaid teachers.

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    4. "meaningless metrics such as years of service..."

      I'm glad I retired. I wouldn't want to add any more "meaningless" time to the 35 years I spent working with children.

      "...completion of low value Masters degrees..."

      My masters degree must be low value because many of my students did so poorly on standardized achievement tests...or maybe it was because they were students with learning problems...nah. It's probably the fault of me and the low value degrees I got.

      "...professional development courses..." (I assume the "low-value" modifier goes with those, too).

      Yep...absolutely none of my professional development, over a period of more than 3 decades, was worthwhile.

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    5. If I'm reading these replies correctly, there's no way to tell the good teachers from the bad. There's no way to differentiate between an innovative, energetic new teacher from a 20+year burn out case. If this is true, then why have any different scale in pay at all? One salary for everyone regardless.

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    6. Yeah, you're not reading these replies correctly.

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    7. Are you assuming that new teachers are all energetic and veteran teachers are all burned out? Not my experience at all. And for those veteran teachers who are burned out, have you ever stopped to wonder why? Most professionals don't burn out - scientists usually want nothing more than to do science all their lives. Musicians usually want nothing more than to play music. Why would it be different for teachers? What makes people burn out isn't doing something they wanted to dedicate their lives to, it's not being able to do what they wanted to dedicate their lives to. You show me a burned out teacher (or any burned out employee) and I'll show you a bad administration.

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    8. @ Peter Greene regarding his comment to Michael Brand -
      I think you missed Brand's sarcasm ... or at least his woeful abnegation.

      The point is that there needs to be a way to "differentiate between an innovative, energetic new teacher from a 20+ year burn out case". Peer reviews pretty clearly do not work since almost all teachers are rated the same level of effectiveness. Greene may not like value-added measures using test scores. But they are certainly more defensible than using seniority. And his defense of seniority seems wanting - " Everyone starts at the same place, and everybody has the same opportunity to move up the ladder." In this case, "moving up the ladder" means simply that you continue to have a job teaching for a long period of time. Please demonstrate how seniority is in any way correlated with effective teaching ?

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    9. I'm interested in what makes a "Superstar"? How do you suggest you identify such individuals?

      I'm curious where this money comes from? And what happens to those that are not deemed "superstars"?

      Your business / sales / consultant comp plan methods just do not apply to education....

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    10. Well, look who's come to visit again: Mr. Backman, whose daughter attended an excellent public magnet high school and graduated from Princeton, but who doesn't want his taxpayer money going to public education because the Evil Unions are full of people called Teachers who hate children, especially poor children. The teachers in the Evil Unions want to hurt poor children by having teachers earn a decent wage, and we can't have that! No, no, the solution is not to fully fund under-resourced schools, the answer is to get rid of the Evil Unions and public education full of poor-child-hating teachers, so that teachers can be paid a pittance and the money can go to CEOs of charters like Success Academy. Poor parents should all have the wonderful choice of Success Academy, because that gives parents the same choice wealthy parents have. But not to worry, says Mr. Backman, the Demise of the Evil Unions is nigh, and then everything will be hunky-dory. So says Mr. Backman.

      And there's nothing of sarcasm or abnegation in what Mr. Brand says. Mr. Brand, who has an apparently "high-value" -- whatever that means -- Masters of Nonprofit Management, makes his living giving seminars on leadership. He is also an advocate of economic austerity and charter schools.

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  4. I tried individual negotiating with my credit card company. You can imagine how that turned out.

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  5. University negotiation system has worked so well that now a giant chunk of the teaching load is carried by adjuncts who can't support themselves on what they're paid. At the highest levels, corporate titans "negotiate" their worth by "negotiating" with fellow titans to receive pay far beyond what they are remotely worth.

    Which professions negotiate their worth? Doctors who are paid by insurance and government formula? Blue collar professionals? Lawyers who get to move up through the ranks based on how long they've been with the firm? Engineers? Software developers? No, and no. Government officials?

    I keep hearing about this mythical land where people negotiate their worth and their salary, and yet despite knowing folks from a wide variety of fields and professions, I have never yet met someone who had to go in their and negotiate their pay year after year.

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    1. Do you know any consultants or independent contractors? They are constantly negotiating their worth. How about school superintendents? Not yearly, but 2-3 years and even then with buyout provisions if the school board decides they're not providing value.

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    2. In my first career, I managed a staff of engineers, scientists and technicians. We always had a pretty well-defined salary range that everyone fit into, based on their job title and raises were based pretty much entirely on seniority (just like teachers). If someone wanted to jump to a substantially higher pay bracket, they usually stopped being an engineer and moved into management (just like teachers).

      There was only one time when anyone attempted to negotiate a better salary--when they had a better offer from another company. This rarely happened, because everybody's HR department already knew what people in different jobs made and weren't going to pay more than that. And if that worker was worth negotiating with, we had probably recognized their worth and paid them enough not to shop around.

      We also knew that retaining our best people had almost nothing to do with their pay, unless they were paid too little to have a reasonably comfortable life.

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    3. Michael Brand is cracking me up with this stuff. So typical... " do you know any consultants or independent contractors"
      Again, trying to compare education pay/process/management to that of someone that is skilled in business transactions, sales, compliance consulting or maybe even with accounting or finance expertise is NOT the same as teaching children! Education is a unique field due to the difficulties of educating a child. Standard metrics/ "Big Data" can not truly paint the picture, and more importantly, creating a system that relies on creating these metrics destroys the educational process that is vital to the unique methods and age appropriate ways of reaching children.

      People such as yourself are typical with the reform mindset... you just want to apply business/ free-market principles to education and open this up as a "market" to either 1. create profit opportunities, 2. reduce taxes or 3. destroy unions. That's fine and all, just don't do it by destroying public education. let it first prove itself without gutting traditional public schools in the process. If it can stand the test of time, so be it. that would be free market, right? So far, the results just are not there.

      This is all just privatization / anti-union ideology ram-rodding policy with no concern or real understanding of education in the first place. Selling out to the highest bidder/ most lobby dollars. Politics at its worst!

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  6. Not on topic, but Merry Christmas to all of you and all of your household, and may there be a blessing on the children, even unto the the smallest of children, in the coming year.

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  7. I think people are assuming that by negotiating individually, they will be judged by more just criteria and their bosses will be able to pay them their "true" value. I see no reason for this to be so. This confuses all sorts of things -- one being teaching ability with "market value."

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  8. As an FYI, in 2011 the Indiana legislature passed a law which reduced the items allowed in teachers' collective bargaining. No longer can teachers bargain any working conditions; Only salary and benefits. There is no bargaining anything about class sizes, curriculum changes, teacher assignment procedures, transfer procedures, or anything that's not money.

    This came after news reports of every teacher negotiations covered ONLY money issues and rarely spoke about compromises teachers would make on salary in order to reduce class sizes, ensure adequate planning time, or other student-related content.

    Oh...and this effectively prevented local school boards from negotiating those items as well.

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  9. Super-Star teachers need a bare minimum of one decade to maturate. Teaching is so much more than structuring learning experience around behavior modification paradigms.

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  10. New teachers have to negotiate their pay in my school district after the "reform" slate of School Board Directors were able to seize control. Of course, most teachers don't know how to negotiate if they have any experience, so they either take what they're offered or decline and walk away. If they're new to the field they often take the offer unless they happened to apply somewhere else that offered more. Meanwhile, if you're already with the school district, they refuse to negotiate with you.

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