Education Week - January 29, 2014 - (Page 19)

Collective-Bargaining Case Takes Spotlight at High Court Implications mulled for teachers' unions By Mark Walsh The U.S. Supreme Court has now heard arguments in a case with the potential to shake up the collectivebargaining landscape for teachers' unions and other public-employee labor organizations. Harris v. Quinn (Case No. 11- 681), argued Jan. 21, is a relative sleeper involving eight Illinois home health-care workers (out of 28,000 in the state) who declined to join the union and object to paying agency, or "fair-share," fees for being represented by one. Anti-union advocates asked the justices to overrule a key 1977 precedent that authorizes public-worker unions to collect service fees from nonmembers for costs related to collective bargaining. William L. Messinger, repre- senting the objecting workers on behalf of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation of Springfield, Va., told the justices that the 1977 decision, Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, should be discarded because compulsory fees infringe upon the First Amend- ment free-speech and -association rights of the objectors. President Barack Obama's administration joined the state of Illinois and public-employee unions in arguing against disturbing the labor-law landmark. "There is very substantial ... contractual reliance throughout the country on the constitutionality of Abood," U.S. Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr. told the court. Signals From the Right In Abood, the high court upheld a Michigan law that designated a single union as the exclusive bargaining agent for Detroit teachers. Adopting some of its precedents on private-sector "union shop" agreements, the court said teachers in public school districts could be required to pay union fees related to collective bargaining-but not for the union's political purposes- whether they joined or not. The Illinois case comes amid a backdrop of growing challenges for public-employee unions, from declining membership numbers to efforts in several states to roll back collective-bargaining rights. "This potentially could be a very big deal," Joseph E. Slater, a professor at the University of Toledo and a scholar of U.S. labor history, said in an interview. Two years ago, in Knox v. Service Employees International Union, the court ruled 5-4 that publicemployee unions had to get nonmembers to opt in to special dues assessments in certain circumstances. Writing for the majority in Knox, Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. invited further challenges to the status quo in public-employee unionism when he wrote that "our cases have substantially impinged upon the First Amendment rights of nonmembers." The national "right to work" movement picked up on the signal, and is advancing several cases designed to test the viability of precedents such as Abood. A group of nonunion teachers in California is challenging that state's collective-bargaining law for teachers. The Abood precedent, unsurpris- ingly, gets support from teachers' unions. The National Education Association and its affiliate, the California Teachers Association, filed a friend-ofthe-court brief in the Supreme Court saying Abood was rightly decided and remains viable. (The American Federation of Teachers didn't file its own brief in the case, though the AFL-CIO, of which it is a member, did.) The Illinois home-health workers serve under a Medicaid program designed to encourage the states to de-institutionalize some people with disabilities. The workers were getting paid about $7 per hour, with high rates of turnover and low morale, when Illinois decided to make them state employees for collective-bargaining purposes and to certify a union (the Service Employees International Union) as their bargaining representative. Worker Turnover In rejecting the challenge to the service fees by the objecting health workers, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, in Chicago, held that the state largely controlled the employment of the program's homehealth workers and thus Abood applied to their collective-bargaining arrangements. The National Right to Work foundation appealed, and significantly broadened the potential impact of the decision by asking the court to overrule Abood. During the Jan. 21 oral argu- ments, there was as much discussion about teachers and their unions as there was about the home-health workers. Justice Alito suggested that a nonunion teacher opposed to the union's goals of keeping the tenure system and rejecting merit pay would nonetheless see some of his service fee go to support such goals. Justice Anthony M. Kennedy questioned charging nonmembers for teachers' union advocacy for smaller class sizes and shorter hours, matters that ultimately affect the size of the government workforce. "Is not the size of government a question on which there are fundamental political beliefs, fundamental convictions that are being sacrificed if a nonunion member objects to this line of policy?" he said. Justices Elena Kagan and Stephen G. Breyer, who voted for the union's side in the 2012 Knox case, both expressed support for Abood as a matter of stare decisis, or adhering to precedent. Justice Kagan told Mr. Messinger he was making "a radical argument" for ending compulsory fees that would essentially compel a rightto-work environment in all states, Kagan said. Even if the court were to go as far as overruling Abood, Mr. Slater of the Toledo Law School said "there will still be public-sector unions around." A decision in the case is expected by late June. SIG Receives Makeover Via Budget CONTINUED FROM PAGE 15 year, even as it poured additional resources into other programs, such as Title I and special education. Separately, 42 states and the District of Columbia have received waivers from the NCLB law-and in doing so had to spell out how they planned to intervene in their lowest-performing schools. Even for foundering schools receiving no SIG money, waiver states had to promise to implement interventions that closely mirror the most popular- and least stringent-of the four SIG models, known as "transformation." Those interventions include extending the school day and putting in place teacher-evaluation systems that rely on student outcomes. The Education Department has already cited a handful of waiver states for failing to stick to their turnaround plans. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan had been resistant to changes to the SIG program, which was a political flop even before the Obama administration's grant money hit classrooms at the start of the 2010-11 school year. Conservatives in Congress saw the program as too restrictive, and education organizations opposed provisions in the models that require removal of teachers and principals. But Ms. Nolt had an upbeat response to the newly enacted changes. "What we've learned from schools that have made progress with School Improvement Grants is that there's no single way to turn around a low-performing school. It's always hard work, no matter how it is done," she said. Fallout Uncertain Experts are unsure what the fallout would be if the department does decide to give states a freer hand with their turnaround work. Thomas Dee, a professor at Stanford University's graduate school of education, worries that if states are allowed unfettered flexibility, they may select interventions that don't do much to fix longfoundering schools. "One element of the current program is the notion of really having a kind of regime change, and a clear, dramatic break" from the past, said Mr. Dee, who found that schools that got SIG grants in California posted bigger gains after a year than similar schools that didn't get the cash infusion. But Kate Tromble, the director of legislative affairs for the Education Trust, a Washington group that advocates in support of low-income and minority students, said it will all depend on what states decide to do with the new leeway. "I think it'll be a mixed bag," she wrote in an e-mail. "Some states will use it to do more targeted turnaround efforts in their lowest-performing schools and some states will use it too loosely. That's generally how these things go-some states will take the offered flexibility and do great things, and lots won't." For her part, Ms. Rentner praised the language that would spread out the $2 million in individual turnaround grants over a period of up to five years, as opposed to the three years schools have had until now. In the first year of the program, most schools focused on school climate, she said. The additional time will give schools more opportunity to work on bolstering academics, she explained. Meanwhile, the new "whole school re- form" model brings with it its own set of complications, said Ms. McLaughlin, who is now the president of the Washington-based Knowledge Alliance, which represents education research organizations. Under that model, schools could partner with an outside organization to implement a turnaround remedy that has a strong track record of moving the needle on student achievement. It can be tough to figure out which interventions meet that threshold, she said. "You're asking districts and states to make those judgements," Ms. McLaughlin said. "Can the department maintain a list of programs that meet the evidence level? Or is that too prescriptive? I think there are procedural hurdles." But, she added, such issues are likely surmountable. There could be a role for the Institute of Education Sciences and other federal research organizations in getting out information to school districts, she said. The reluctance on the part of Congress to boost SIG funding-more than the policy change-raises red flags, Ms. Tromble said. "Yes, money doesn't change every- thing, but if turnaround is a federal priority, which it seems to be, ... then you have to fund your priority," she said. "To set a priority and then take the money away sends a very confused message to states about what they're supposed to be doing." Extends the time that schools can receive the grants from three years to five years. SOURCES: U.S. Congress; Education Week LOOSENING THE REINS The Obama administration's signature school turnaround effort-the School Improvement Grant program-could undergo a major reworking under language included in the fiscal year 2014 spending bill recently signed into law. Allows states to submit their own turnaround plans to the U.S. secretary of education for approval, instead of having to do one of four controversial turnaround models that require districts to get rid of staff and school leaders, extend the school day, or experiment with merit pay. The new language: Allows rural schools that continue to use one of the four original turnaround models to modify one element of the plan. For instance, rural schools that choose the most popular model, known as transformation, could opt out of a requirement to extend the school day. EDUCATION WEEK | January 29, 2014 | | 19 Permits schools to use a "whole school reform," model in which they partner with an organization that has a "moderate" track record of success in improving student outcomes. The program must be able to present at least one "well designed" experimental or quasi-experimental study to back up its claims.

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - January 29, 2014

Education Week - January 29, 2014
Ruling Raises Internet-Access Concerns
Cheating Case Implicates Phila. Educators
Graduation Disparities Loom Large
Business Groups Defend Common Standards
Report Roundup
News in Brief
Common Science Standards Are Slow to Catch On in States
Surge in Charter Schools Stirs Concerns in North Carolina
Blogs of the Week
Turnaround Program Receives Makeover In Budget Deal
Some Waiver States Feeling Common-Core Test Pinch
Needy Students, Tech Disparities at Issue
Blogs of the Week
Advocates Welcome New Federal Aid Aimed at Youngest
Collective-Bargaining Case Takes Spotlight at High Court
ANNA E. BARGAGLIOTTI: Statistics: The New ‘It’ Common-Core Subject
BEN ZIMMER & DANIELLA ROHR: Funding Students, Not Bureaucracies, For Early-Childhood Education
CLARKE L. RUBEL: Talking About a Reformation
TopSchoolJobs Recruitment Marketplace
LYNETTE TANNIS: Twice Punished: Education’s ‘Invisible’ Incarcerated Youths

Education Week - January 29, 2014