Teacher Turnover Is High — Except When Compared With Other Professions

October 19, 2017

Teacher Turnover Is High — Except When Compared With Other Professions. “They came on in the same old way,” the Duke of Wellington said of the French attacks at Waterloo, “and we saw them off in the same old way.”

I was reminded of this line after reading yet another report by the Learning Policy Institute to frighten us into thinking the U.S. has high teacher turnover rates. Their foray into this territory last year was rebuffed by the elementary methods of a) looking at the numbers; and b) comparing them with those of all other professions. Lo and behold, public education employees quit their jobs at a lower rate than virtually any other profession in the United States.

Not to be deterred, this year LPI insists once more that teacher turnover rates are dangerously high, despite the best efforts of organizations like the National Council on Teacher Quality to refute those claims. LPI says “policymakers should pursue strategies that can improve teacher retention in all schools.” What strategies? Higher pay, smaller class sizes, and greater investments in education.

This is an unusual dispute, in that both sides agree on what the rate is. Data from both the federal labor and education departments put the attrition rate — that is, the percentage of employees who leave teaching — at about 8 percent. LPI would prefer it to be around 3-4 percent, the rate it finds in Finland and Singapore.

Rather than go far afield, it seems sufficient to say that comparing the labor economics of the United States with those of two countries whose combined populations are less than that of Ohio is problematic.

But if you want to compare attrition rates, suppose we look at employers who most certainly pay well, have excellent benefit packages, and have enlightened attitudes about working conditions and employee well-being: the two national teacher unions.

I examined the list of employees for both the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers in Department of Labor filings for the most recent two years. Of 539 NEA employees, 52 were gone the next year (9.65%). Of 386 AFT employees, 46 were gone (11.9%).

Those are great rates of retention, but the public school teacher retention rate is better still.

That is not to say that teachers everywhere are, or ought to be, happy with their jobs. Just as we have seen with the teacher shortage issue, teacher retention is not a national problem with the generic solutions LPI provides. In some places higher pay would make a difference; in others, smaller class sizes. There are some places that could benefit from more turnover to make jobs available for a new generation of teachers and/or teachers of color.

Nevertheless, when the 2018-19 school year begins, I expect Learning Policy Institute shortage and turnover studies will come on in the same old way. God willing, I will still be here to see them off in the same old way.

Recent Intercepts. EIA’s daily blog, Intercepts, covered these topics October 13-18:

* The Straight-Face Awards. The New Jersey Education Association’s campaign against the state’s leading Democratic legislator is leading to some really funny takes.

* Hugs and Missing Tweets. AFT embraces NJEA’s nemesis.

* Nevada Infighting Escalates. Masters of their domain names.

* I Don’t Where Kevin de León Will Get the Cash, But I Know Whom He’ll Ask. D-NEA.

Quote of the Week. “For the next year, she combed through public records and yearbooks, reached out to victims, cold-called district officials, and even showed up at their homes to stitch together a timeline that tracked how, over three decades, a school district had repeatedly opted to protect a powerful male teacher accused of abuse, at the expense of children.” – from a Columbia Journalism Review profile of Portland Oregonian reporter Bethany Barnes and her series of articles documenting 30 years of sexual harassment allegations against a local teacher. (October 18 CJR)

NYSUT Secretary-Treasurer Teaches Full Time, Manages Union Finances on Nights and Weekends

October 12, 2017

NYSUT Secretary-Treasurer Teaches Full Time, Manages Union Finances on Nights and Weekends. Teaching is a demanding job. We know this because teachers tell us so, reporting that they spend upwards of 50 hours each week on classroom duties and after-school tasks.

Being an executive officer of a teachers union is also a demanding job. Unions report that their officers work 35 to 40 hours each week.

Doing both jobs at the same time is problematic at best, so school districts typically grant state and national union officers release time while they serve their elected terms. These leaves of absence are routinely extended, sometimes for decades. Districts hire substitutes to replace union officers, and the union generally reimburses the district for that cost. Sometimes the district pays both the union officer and the substitute, without any reimbursement.

Martin Messner was elected secretary-treasurer of New York State United Teachers in April 2014. The board of the 900-student Schoharie Central School District, about 43 miles west of Albany, granted Messner a three-year unpaid leave of absence from his job teaching health and physical education at the junior high and high school.

Messner was re-elected to his post in April 2017, but the board extended his leave of absence only until June. When school started in September, Messner reported for work. District Superintendent David M. Blanchard confirmed to Union Report on Oct. 3 that Messner has “returned to a full-time teaching position.” It’s not clear why the school board rejected a longer leave for Messner this time around.

The NYSUT constitution states that its executive officers “shall be eligible, at the discretion of the Board of Directors, to serve NYSUT on a full-time basis.” This is what Messner did during his first term, but there is no indication that NYSUT’s board was informed of Messner’s return to the classroom, much less officially authorized it.

Messner’s teaching salary is $57,527 this year, according to a public record database maintained by the Empire Center. He also draws about $240,000 in base salary from his union position, according to NYSUT’s Internal Revenue Service filings.

Arthur Goldstein, a United Federation of Teachers chapter leader who blogs at NYC Educator, wrote that his contacts say Messner is doing his NYSUT work on “nights and weekends” and is drawing a NYSUT salary now reduced by the same amount as his teaching salary, or $182,473 a year instead of $240,000.

“And by the way, if my job were treasurer, I’d also be a little uneasy sending out the message that my nights and weekends, after working full time as a teacher, were worth 180K a year,” Goldstein writes in his Oct. 1 post entitled “Nice Work if You Can Get It.”

Messner could not be reached for comment.

NYSUT spokesman Carl Korn told Union Report, “Martin Messner is teaching in Schoharie County, and while he continues to serve as NYSUT secretary-treasurer, it is with a reduced salary.”

NYSUT’s finances are troubled, with roughly $144 million in debt and $413 million in unfunded pension liabilities for its own employees (not teachers whose retirement is covered by the state). In March, one labor advocate referred to the 600,000-member union’s staff pension system as a “Ponzi scheme.”

Messner’s bio boasts of the many positions he oversees for NYSUT: He heads up the Local Action Project and the Leadership Institute; he serves as chair of the Member Benefits Trust, Employees’ Retirement Plan; the NYSUT Plan for Former Employees of NEA New York; the Financial Review Committee; the VOTE-COPE Committee; and the Disaster Relief and Scholarship Fund.

Can he be doing all this while leading kids in jumping jacks?

Perhaps NYSUT is making sufficient accommodations so that Messner can ably perform both jobs full time. But if that’s the case, why are any union officers granted release time? If the secretary-treasurer of the largest teacher union state affiliate in the nation can teach full time, why aren’t union officers in California or Florida or anywhere else returned to the classroom?

It is more reasonable to believe that the man in charge of NYSUT’s money is shortchanging his members, his students, or both.

Recent Intercepts. EIA’s daily blog, Intercepts, covered these topics October 6-11:

* Colorado Mystery. A staff union decertification election?

* Moving Pictures. AFT gets into show biz.

* Weird But Accurate Headline: Labor Union Imposes Trusteeship Over Department of Labor Union. Plus, local labor union officers file unfair labor practice against Department of Labor for abetting national labor union.

Quote of the Week. “[UFT’s ruling Unity Caucus] will come out and call anyone pushing a fragmentation drive real nasty names long before it ever got to the stage where there is a new union. I would expect they would say anyone signing or spreading a petition to make a separate bargaining unit was Hitler, Mussolini, the devil and maybe Stalin all rolled into one.” – James Eterno, United Federation of Teachers chapter leader, curbing any enthusiasm for the idea of splitting off a high school teachers union from UFT. (October 5 ICEUFT Blog)

Top NEA Leader Promises a Progressive ‘Uprising,’ But Is He Part of the Establishment Problem?

October 5, 2017

Top NEA Leader Promises a Progressive ‘Uprising,’ But Is He Part of the Establishment Problem? John Stocks is the executive director of the National Education Association. He is arguably more powerful than the union’s president, who is constrained by term limits.

Stocks was in northern Idaho last month to deliver a speech to the Idaho Conservation League. This isn’t as strange as it seems: Stocks served a term in the Idaho legislature in the late 1980s and still has many contacts throughout the state.

In his speech, Stocks predicted “a tremendous resurgence of people who are going to take back their country.”

“I assure you, in a relatively short period of time, there will be an uprising,” he said. “(It) will in fact fuel a more progressive future. That’s what’s going to happen. When it happens, we need to have the infrastructure in place to take advantage of it.”

Stocks announced this at the Hayden Lakes Country Club amid “a sumptuous catered dinner” and no-host bar. Club membership is $20,000 with monthly dues of $457. The job application to work there states: “If employed, I understand that I have been hired at the will of the employer and my employment may be terminated at any time, with or without reason and with or without notice.”

Stocks was not totally unaware of his environment. “I suspect many in this room have tremendous privilege,” he said. “I know I do, as a white male heterosexual, tremendous privilege, coming from a family that was upper-middle class.” He called on the audience to use their privilege to stand for justice.

It may take a while for the progressive revolution to reach Hayden Lakes, but Stocks has long been committed to achieving it elsewhere. In a 2011 profile no longer available online, his former business partner was quoted as saying: “I wouldn’t be surprised if he walks in there with a 20-year plan in his pocket. And it won’t be limited to the NEA. He’ll be leveraging the NEA to remake America in his progressive vision.”

Stocks may see himself at the forefront of a progressive movement, but he is also a Democratic Party insider. He was instrumental in manipulating the NEA endorsement of Hillary Clinton in the 2016 primaries to shut down supporters of Bernie Sanders. He forwarded a confidential NEA memo to the Clinton campaign after the NEA board voted to endorse her.

Stocks also serves as board chair of the Democracy Alliance, “the largest network of donors dedicated to building the progressive movement in the United States.” After Donald Trump’s victory in 2016, one Democratic strategist said of the group: “You can make a very good case it’s nothing more than a social club for a handful of wealthy white donors and labor union officials to drink wine and read memos, as the Democratic Party burns down around them.”

I don’t know if there will be a progressive uprising. But uprisings of any sort usually do not bode well for those with privilege, money and power, a group to which Stocks assuredly belongs.

Recent Intercepts. EIA’s daily blog, Intercepts, covered these topics October 2-4:

AFT’s Disclosure Report Stirs Things Up. What to do with other people’s money.

* Nevada State Education Association Sets Up Unity Web Site. Unity? Not so much.

Quote of the Week. “No one wants this job. It’s a tough committee. The work can be very discouraging.” – Ben Allen, (D-Santa Monica) chair of the California Senate Education Committee. (September 24 Ventura County Star)

Teacher Hold ‘Em in Nevada, as Fractious Union and Its Largest Local Trade Lawsuits

September 29, 2017

Teacher Hold ‘Em in Nevada, as Fractious Union and Its Largest Local Trade Lawsuits. The Clark County Education Association, representing 10,000 teachers who work for the Las Vegas schools, filed a lawsuit earlier this month against its parent affiliate, the Nevada State Education Association, alleging a breach of fiduciary duty and breach of contract.

Soon after, NSEA and the National Education Association filed a countersuit also charging of breach of contract, as well as unjust enrichment and fraud.

The dueling lawsuits are just the latest in a long series of conflicts between NSEA and its locals, particularly Clark County, whose membership comprises almost half of NSEA’s total. I questioned the outlook for the Nevada union’s survival last March, and now a crisis appears imminent.

The Clark County lawsuit details the timeline of its deteriorating relationship with NSEA and lays out what the local union wants.

Early in 2017, Clark County asked NSEA for “a return on investment analytic assessment” to compare what the local’s members receive from NSEA in return for their state dues. Clark County also wanted a neutral third party to review the last three NSEA budgets. One of the reasons it gave was particularly interesting:

Members of CCEA contribute through dues money to the NSEA’s Advocacy Fund and have a right pursuant to the NSEA bylaws and policies to know how money is being spent in that fund and further to object to any payments made by NSEA to political causes or interests to which those members object.

Clark County maintains that its dues transmittal contract with NSEA expired on August 31. Without such a contract, the local union is still collecting state dues from members and putting the money into an escrow account until the dispute is resolved.

NSEA, which had been willing to let the problem linger, was moved to immediate action by the suspension of about half of its total dues money reaching its coffers. Along with attorneys hired at NEA national headquarters, NSEA filed a countersuit last Friday. In true Nevada style, it upped the ante.

The parent union claims the dues transmittal agreement is still in effect, and that by collecting and withholding state and national dues, Clark County is being unjustly enriched and is violating NSEA’s and NEA’s property rights. The parent unions further accuse the local of committing fraud by continuing to advertise state and national union benefits such as liability insurance, to which its members are not entitled if their state and national dues are not paid.

Deploying the big guns doesn’t seem to have had the desired effect on Clark County. The local’s president and vice president posted this video in response:

The Clark County’s officers repeatedly insist they have no intention of disaffiliating from NSEA and NEA. However, with no money going up the chain to the parent unions, and no parent union services coming down the chain to the local, they are already in a de facto state of disaffiliation.

While such public disputes between local teacher union affiliates and parent unions are rare, this one is not unique. Madison Teachers, Inc. and the Wisconsin Education Association Council had an affiliation agreement dispute that went on for years, including litigation and withheld dues. The dispute was ultimately resolved, and just this year the Madison local moved its headquarters into the WEAC building.

The difference in Nevada is that Clark County is one of NEA’s largest local affiliates, and has clout within the state that is unmatched by any other NEA local in the nation. One could reasonably argue that NSEA and NEA need Vegas much more than Vegas needs them.

All in or fold? It’s high-stakes poker with a multi-million dollar pot.

Recent Intercepts. EIA’s daily blog, Intercepts, covered these topics September 25-28:

Supreme Court to Hear Agency Fee Case. When the facts are on your side, pound the facts. When the law is on your side, pound the law. When neither is on your side, pound the table.

* The Return of the New Jersey Kerfuffle. The New Jersey Education Association’s $1.2 million executive director compensation barely makes the top five of its spending outrages.

The X-Punged Files. A peek into the way the teacher discipline sausage is really made.

* First Set of Iowa Locals Vote Overwhelmingly to Recertify Union. 13 down, about 1300 to go.

Quote of the Week. “I didn’t want to fight with them. I still don’t. I believe in teachers. I believe in collective bargaining. There was resistance to virtually everything we did. I wanted to partner, but they just fought us tooth and nail.” – former Los Angeles mayor (and United Teachers Los Angeles employee) Antonio Villaraigosa, discussing his fractious relationship with the teachers’ union. (September 25 Los Angeles Times)

Union Officers’ Guilty Pleasure

September 22, 2017

Union Officers’ Guilty Pleasure. It’s no secret that I am critical of teacher unions. One would expect that my views would draw the unanimous ire of National Education Association and American Federation of Teachers officers and employees, and I get my share. One state affiliate president referred to me as “a card-carrying member of the dark evil forces.” An AFT activist once accused me of running guns to the Contras in the 1980s. (I was a U.S. Air Force C-130 navigator in Japan at the time so, for him, it was a logical conclusion.)

But from a former NEA president on down, there have been many teacher union staffers and elected officials who have braved the potential embarrassment to let me know that they enjoy and/or appreciate my work. Here are some of them, anonymized because to keep them from experiencing any ill effects from their colleagues.

  • State affiliate president: “You want to know anything that’s going on in NEA, you talk to Antonucci. No one’s ever told me he got something wrong.”
  • State affiliate executive director: “I’m a huge fan. I read your stuff all the time. We’re sure you have bugs at NEA headquarters.”
  • AFT national staffer: “We don’t agree a lot of the time, but I appreciate your skills as a reporter, and I think a lot of AFT members feel the same way. You’re getting stuff and publishing it before we get it.”
  • State affiliate board member:“I can’t wait to read your next item that I’ll love and piss me off. Good organizations pay close attention to news that is both uncomplimentary and accurate.”
  • NEA headquarters staffer: “Your name was mentioned in a staff meeting today in order to chill blood and strike fear into hearts.”
  • State affiliate vice-president: “Please know that I shall continue to depend on you as the best and most reliable source of information about what’s going on in NEA and AFT – but don’t quote me on that!”
  • State affiliate board member: “Our state president was annoyed that Antonucci gets all the information from our Board meeting almost verbatim.”
  • State affiliate staffer: “I’m very impressed with your stuff. As someone who is intimately involved in a lot of the things you write about, I’m even more impressed that you’re right as often as you are.”
  • State affiliate staffer: “As an employee of an NEA state affiliate, I get more credible information from you than from my employer. I am thinking about circulating your stuff either immediately prior to or immediately after staff meetings just to liven things up!”
  • Local affiliate vice-president: “I’ve always been impressed with your ability to report on events taking place in rooms where you’re not allowed.”
  • State affiliate staffer: “I have worked for the [teachers’ union] for almost ten years. Your reporting on the day to day issues I run into are unmatched by any other source.”
  • State affiliate staffer: “They (sic) must have contacts all over the country. The speed with which they find out what is going on is amazing and frightening.”
  • NEA headquarters staffer: “I don’t want to be tarred and feathered by my colleagues, but I want to tell you that you continually and consistently get it right.”

So if you are a union official or employee that hates what you read in Union Report or on my blog, you are in the majority. But if you enjoy it and maybe even occasionally find yourself nodding your head in agreement, know that you are not alone.

Recent Intercepts. EIA’s daily blog, Intercepts, covered these topics September 15-20:

* Las Vegas Local Denies Plan to Disaffiliate, Still at Odds With State Union. The volcano bubbles…

Flash! Clark County Education Association Files Suit Against State Affiliate. …then erupts…

* Nevada NEA Affiliate Fires Back at Las Vegas Local. …followed by the fallout.

Those Darn Employees. Union board of directors faces staff picket line.

Washington Education Association and Staff Reach Tentative Agreement. Expected.

Polling Is Ammunition, Not Information. Vouchers are very popular or very unpopular. Take your pick.

Quote of the Week. “Nobody – no matter who you are, whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican – is beyond the potential wrath of organized labor.” – Tom Scott, California state executive director of the National Federation of Independent Business. (September 18 Sacramento Bee)

When NEA Speaks to the National Press Club, the Faces Change But the Song Remains the Same

September 14, 2017

When NEA Speaks to the National Press Club, the Faces Change But the Song Remains the Same. Last Friday, National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen García delivered a speech to the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

She denounced the policies of the Trump administration while calling for common ground because “most people are good people — they want something good for kids and their families and their communities. We can argue over what’s a good idea or a bad idea, but time and time again, I’ve seen people come together when you can show them a plan that makes sense.”

Eskelsen García’s plan is “to make every public school as good as our best public schools.” This can be done, she said, through equal access, equal opportunity, and equal respect, but not through “test prep and cutthroat competition with private charters.”

She went on to describe wonderful NEA-supported programs in Texas, New Mexico, Minnesota, and New Jersey.

While the White House might have objected to the tenor of Eskelsen García’s remarks, there was little to stir up the masses outside the Beltway. NEA presidents make periodic visits to the National Press Club, and they usually offer up a similar vision of utopia if only their agenda were followed.

I am cursed with a long memory, and so I recall the original NEA president National Press Club speech. Bob Chase delivered it 20 years ago, and he used the occasion to introduce the concept of “new unionism.”

New unionism was prompted by a dire internal report NEA commissioned from a public relations firm that concluded the union had no credibility in the education reform debate. The firm suggested NEA’s image-improvement campaign “should be launched in a speech by President Chase in which he acknowledges the crisis, says some things for their shock value to open up the audience’s minds (e.g., there are bad teachers and our job is to make them good or show the way to another career), and then details the association’s substantive programs to improve public schools — those already in existence and those that will be expanded or launched in the months ahead.”

Chase did just that. He admitted NEA had been “a traditional, somewhat narrowly focused union” that was “utterly inadequate to the needs of the future.”

He said, “America’s public schools do not exist for teachers and other employees. They do not exist to provide us with jobs and salaries.”

Chase went on to follow his PR firm’s advice and say, “there are indeed some bad teachers in America’s schools. And it is our job as a union to improve those teachers or, that failing, to get them out of the classroom.”

Just as Eskelsen García would do 20 years later, Chase called for greater collaboration among stakeholders, but his plan to improve schools contained items quite different from those on Eskelsen García’s list, including higher academic standards, stricter discipline, an end to social promotions, and less bureaucracy. He then described wonderful NEA-supported programs in Indiana, Illinois, and Ohio.

One other 1997 union effort Chase mentioned stands out noticeably today: “Imagine the president of a local NEA union taking the lead in founding a public charter school, a new school that she and her colleagues manage by themselves, without a principal. I just described the work of Jan Noble, president of our affiliate in Colorado Springs.”

NEA’s 1996 Charter School Initiative deserves a retrospective of its own, but as failures go, it didn’t come close to the debacle Chase also touted in his Press Club speech: Disney’s Celebration Teaching Academy in Orlando, Florida.

“It will be for educators what a teaching hospital is for doctors: a place where teachers from around the nation can come to sharpen their skills and be exposed to best practices,” Chase said. “NEA professionals on site will help to shape the curriculum and to direct the academy’s Master Teacher Institute.”

He told the audience that “the Celebration Teaching Academy is exactly what the new NEA is all about: a commitment to lifting up teachers as professionals and to revitalizing public education.” Chase put NEA’s money where its mouth was, contributing $500,000 to the academy.

The academy never got off the ground. It was “stillborn, a victim of educational infighting,” according to a husband-wife pair of journalists, Douglas Frantz and Catherine Collins, who moved with their kids to Orlando specifically to take part in the Disney community and schooling experiment. The experience was so disastrous they wrote a book about it.

In her speech, Eskelsen García emphasized the importance of taking action. Chase was no different. “I deal in practical, concrete, tangible changes. I deal in results,” he said.

“The new NEA is about action,” he told the Press Club audience. “And, on that score, I challenge the American public: Watch what we do, not what we say.”

In the 20 years since, we have watched what NEA does. The evidence suggests there’s no point in listening as it tells us what it’s going to do — again.

Recent Intercepts. EIA’s daily blog, Intercepts, covered these topics September 8-13:

* When the Hand Grenade Gets Lobbed Back. Let’s play “Who’s a Segregationist?”

NEA Director Goes Nuclear in Dispute with New Jersey Education Association. Election kerfuffle could lead to new disclosure requirements for 33 state affiliates.

Trouble in Paradise? Hawaii State Teachers Association employees file ULP complaints against the union.

Quote of the Week. “It’s like buying two new iPads a month and throwing them in the trash.” – Sharon Thornton, a hairdresser from Delaware, describing what it’s like to pay Obamacare premiums without a government subsidy. (September 4 Associated Press)

According to the story, “Some are expecting premiums for 2018 to rival a mortgage payment.” My premiums already exceed my mortgage payment. By quite a bit. They rank as my second biggest expense – just behind taxes.

When Unions Don’t Protect Teachers’ Jobs

September 7, 2017

When Unions Don’t Protect Teachers’ Jobs. The most common criticism of teacher unions is that they protect bad employees. It can often take years and hundreds of thousands of dollars to fire a tenured public school teacher. Sometimes districts don’t even bother trying — even if the teacher is in jail.

But protecting teachers isn’t as straightforward as many believe. The district, the union, and often the union’s insurers all have economic interests that help determine how a teacher termination case will proceed. The teacher may have less influence over the outcome than any of these other players.

Teachers start in a probationary period of two years or more; during that time they can typically be dismissed for any reason or none at all. After completing probation, the teacher receives tenure — or, as the unions prefer to say, due process protection.

Semantics aside, dismissing or reprimanding a tenured teacher must follow prescribed procedures set out in collective bargaining agreements, school district policies, and state law.

It is very rare for a teacher with tenure to be fired simply because he or she is not very good in the classroom. Cases that result in termination usually involve misconduct of some sort, like inappropriate contact with a student, intoxication at school, or excessive absences, among other offenses.

After a series of warnings and documentation, the district may decide to terminate the teacher; in most cases the union will intervene by filing a grievance alleging violation of the contract, bias, or a similar charge.

One of the union’s primary purposes is to provide job protections for teachers. They are highly motivated to perform this function because it demonstrates the union’s value to other members. And because grievances generally do not require the services of an attorney and can be handled by a staffer (because they are procedural rather than legal) the task of filing a grievance is usually performed without undue delay.

If the district doesn’t respond by backing off from the discipline or dismissal action, it advances to arbitration or termination hearings, the teacher normally requires some form of legal representation. This can be provided by a union attorney or a private attorney contracted by the union.

What isn’t commonly understood by the public, or even by teachers, is that the union has wide discretion to pursue, or not pursue, the defense of its members. If the union and/or its attorney determines that they are unlikely to prevail, or the costs may be excessive, they may counsel the teacher to resign, transfer, or accept a lesser punishment.

If the union is paying for the individual teacher’s representation, it makes the final decision. Occasionally, a teacher faced with dismissal or discipline decides to forego union representation and hires his or her own attorney in order to maintain some control over decision-making.

So while school districts complain about the costs and time involved in teacher dismissal cases, unions also incur costs and time loss. Cases often proceed to resolution not necessarily based on their relative merits, but on cost-benefit calculations made by both sides.

Unions provide teachers with protections not only against employers, but against parents, students, and any other individual who might file suit. Sometimes these cases overlap with teacher discipline or dismissal cases; in that event the school district and the accused teacher are usually on the same side.

The National Education Association provides $1 million in liability insurance. It touts this member benefit when recruiting teachers, and denies it to those who only pay agency fees.

Lawsuits against teachers are rare, but typically involve parents claiming teachers have discriminated against, mistreated, or abused their child. Some states have laws that provide liability protections for school employees and/or limit the extent of damages paid. NEA’s insurance provider specifically states that its coverage kicks in only after all other insurance sources are exhausted.

The insurer also states that it will “investigate, defend, negotiate, and settle any claim even if such claim is groundless or fraudulent.” Once again, the entity paying the price decides how to pursue the teacher’s case, even if it means settling a charge against the teacher that is fraudulent.

Teachers might even face criminal charges for a work-related incident, such as abuse of a student. In such cases NEA coverage includes up to $35,000 reimbursement of attorney fees — but only if the teacher is ultimately exonerated or the charges are dismissed.

Teacher liability insurance is a battlefield in right-to-work states where NEA and the American Federation of Teachers have to compete for members with other, non-union teacher organizations. All parties use their policies as a selling point, but insiders admit that the value of what they’re offering is overhyped.

The former president of the Texas Federation of Teachers called high levels of liability coverage “an expenditure of money that does no good for anybody.” The Oklahoma Education Association general counsel admitted that its liability policy “has only paid a handful of claims, none over $50,000 since 1980.” An unaffiliated teacher union in Georgia called liability insurance from rival unions a “scam.”

Unions constantly battle the public perception that teachers are guaranteed jobs for life. But they also benefit from the fact that their members have much the same perception. For many of them, job protection is what keeps them paying union dues year after year. It is only the small number of teachers who have to draw on that protection who discover its limitations.

Recent Intercepts. EIA’s daily blog, Intercepts, covered these topics August 31-September 6:

* Billion Year Contract. Member for life?

Washington Education Association Employees Set Strike Date of Sept. 27. But it probably won’t come to that.

Why Wait Months for Union News? Get your Labor Day news on Memorial Day.

Two Things People Love Until It’s Time to Pay Them. Actions speak louder than polls.

Quote of the Week. “I was still in high school in the ’70s when these elections took place.” – Lynette Claeys, a UniServ director for the Iowa State Education Association, describing when most teacher unions were certified as exclusive bargaining agents in the state. A new Iowa law requires union to hold a new certification election prior to contract expiration. (September 4 Quad City Times)