While a large percentage of teachers working in the district’s most challenged schools are union members, they did not join the union because they are incompetent pedagogues in need of protection nor could the union protect them in such situations; state law mandates the dismissal of underperforming teachers. They did not join the union to receive any additional rights, privileges, or protections as all DCPS teachers (except those in charter schools) benefit from the provisions of a collective bargaining agreement—union member or not. They did not join because unions demand a specific curriculum or pedagogy; the state and the district do that. Rather, teachers working in the district’s most challenging schools pay union dues because they see first-hand how the state’s test-based “accountability” system and its rigid test-prep curricula are harming students, are unfair to urban teachers, and are destroying teacher morale. They joined their union because it advocates at the state and national levels for meaningful educational change and against yet more testing, school vouchers, and privatization. They joined their union because they find value in teamwork and in having a collective voice. In short, they joined their union because it sees what conservative lawmakers cannot: that it is unjust for states and districts to demand that teachers perform miracles while simultaneously handcuffing them, threatening their careers, and under-funding their schools.
Shine’s argument also runs contrary to other pertinent facts. It does not account for the fact that almost three out of every four teachers in DCPS are union members, that teachers in the district’s best schools (national models of excellence) are also highly unionized, and that many of the district’s most celebrated teachers are long-time union members. Most importantly, it ignores what DCPS teachers and administrators already know: that a teacher’s union status is unrelated to her or his classroom performance. Former DCPS Superintendent Nikolai Vitti—a man Shine himself venerates—recently reminded the public that those who blame unions for the district’s struggles are, quite simply, wrong (EDDY Awards, 2017).
Duval County residents and employees of DCPS face complex and hard-to-correct problems in some of Duval’s schools. However, blaming teachers’ unions for them is nothing more than a red herring that insults the bulk of the district’s teachers.