Welcome to Laurie Goodman's blog. I use this space to share news and opinions about education and schools in Ridgewood, the state of New Jersey and the nation, in addition to other issues I'm personally interested in. I invite you to share your thoughts, feelings, questions or opinions, too, by posting comments on any blog entry. Please observe basic courtesy -- keep your comments focused on issues, no personal attacks or bullying, please. Contact me directly at: lauriegood@mac.com

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Law & Order: Special Teachers Unit.

What a coincidence. Tonight I’m in a hotel room prior to a meeting with a client tomorrow, so I sat down to do another read through of the District’s contract with the Ridgewood Education Association (REA = teachers). Just a little light reading. I also had to watch the series finale of Law & Order – the last episode ever of one of my favorite shows. I love the “ripped from the headlines” stories. As I’m watching the episode develop, I realize just which headlines this episode was ripped from. The bad guys in tonight’s Law & Order? The teachers’ union! Wow, they really went for it, too. In a nutshell, the plot involved an impending school bombing (which the detectives discovered by reading a blog, btw), and they figure out it’s a teacher making the threats. But the teacher’s union reps will not help the police find the identity of the bomber. They plead with various union leaders, lawyers and teachers, to no avail. The union head actually uses lines like, “Sorry, I’ve got to enforce the terms of the association’s agreement.” And then DA Jack McCoy yells at the union lawyer “We’re trying to save lives here…get out of my way!” Wow. Symbolism much? In the end, one brave teacher gave up the bad guy’s name, the frustrated teacher/bomber (who was upset about being wrongfully accused of assaulting a belligerent student) was captured, the police saved the day, and all ended well. It was a great episode and just reinforces how issues of teacher contracts, compensation, benefits, performance, evaluation, tenure, etc., are such hot topics of conversation. I mean, once you play a major role in a Law & Order storyline, you’ve become fully ensconced in the zeitgeist. And I thought it was pretty crazy that I happened to be reading our teachers’ contract at the same time.

By the way, there always seems to be a feeling of mystery surrounding the teachers’ contract. While negotiations are usually confidential, and while Board conversations regarding negotiations happen in closed-door Executive Sessions, the actual contract itself is a public document. You can read our current REA contract (as well as the RAA contract, RAES contract and Dr. Fishbein’s Superintendent’s contract) on the District website (click here).

If you’re interested in learning more about teachers’ contracts in general, I can recommend two very interesting websites:

TR3: Teacher Rules, Roles and Rights
In 2007, the National Council on Teacher Quality launched the database "TR3" which catalogs teachers contracts in the nation's largest school districts and allows users to analyze contracts from 100 districts in 50 states along major dimensions. The database has been hailed as a landmark step forward in understanding the role of contracts in the development and reform of human resources policies in education.

Explainer: Understanding Teacher Contracts
This interactive "explainer" puts two teacher contracts side by side so that readers can see what these often mysterious documents look like, and compares the differences and similarities in layman's terms in 10 key areas such as teacher pay, evaluation, the rights of teachers' unions, etc. It also includes a brief history of teachers' collective bargaining.

I found both of these sites to be really interesting and helpful, especially in providing perspective and a look at alternative approaches to common issues.

As conversations about teacher contracts unfold and become more significant across the country, in New Jersey, and here in Ridgewood, understanding what contracts actually contain and how they differ from one another will help everyone -- from BOE members to administrators, staff, parents and taxpayers -- to make sense of competing claims and to evaluate various policies and terms.

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