Got a great email today from a local educator concerned about privatization efforts in Memphis. She argued against closing schools while expanding the charter school footprint. She also forwarded a letter circulating among local teachers - the letter is critical of MEA and calls on MEA to take a stronger stand against the "reform" wave that threatens neighborhood schools and the children in them, the neighborhoods that they support, and the teachers that are an important source of stability for their students.
First, here's the petition against privatization (by something called the Memphis Teachers Coalition): Stop Trying To Privatize Public Education in Memphis.
I've previously written in support of MEA and SCEA, and I do continue my support of the organizations and the future merged organization. I'm a big believer in the important work that teachers' unions do to support strong teachers - by requiring due process for disciplinary issues, by offering professional development training and opportunities, and by negotiating for better working conditions (those working conditions being the same as the students' learning conditions).
I suspect that the reality is that most teachers do not have a lot of contact with their union (slash-education association). There might be a rep in the building, but there has not necessarily been strong, consistent messaging from the union about what they do for an everyday teacher who is not in trouble. In the past couple of years, I've had dozens of conversations with teacher friends where they discount what MEA and SCEA have Done For Them. And in the current political environment (that I read as very anti-union), even Randi Weingarten has acknowledged that “We were focused — as unions are — on fairness and not as much on quality.”
I think many teachers are not aware of (in particular) MEA's efforts on their behalf with the new-ish teacher evaluation systems. Yes, MEA agreed to have student achievement metrics included in teacher evaluation scores, but MEA negotiated the district down from 50% to 35%. Should MEA have stood stronger? Maybe - but these new teacher evaluation systems are happening, and 35% is about as low as the student test score component gets.
I also think that there's lots of room for improvement for MEA/SCEA. Unreturned phone calls, clubbiness, etc. - there are some cracks that they've let folks fall through. I personally know several teachers who contacted MEA for one reason or another and either did not get a response, or were not treated with the degree of professionalism that they expected. In each case, I suggested that they notify either their building contact or the leadership directly. The organization should be given the opportunity to understand their shortcomings and to adjust their practice appropriately (sound familiar?).
My emailer this morning clued me in to some significant pushback against MEA. And I think there's room for that, and likely a need for some of it. But I would encourage the teachers who are dissatisfied with MEA/SCEA to reach out directly to the organization - I suspect that they are more on the same page on these privatization issues than they think. Both MEA and SCEA have lots of institutional memory of how things got to where they are - which is a vital understanding to have as reform in Memphis pushes forward. I feel safe in saying that both also feel absolutely excluded from real engagement with decision-makers both by local practice and, now, by state statute.
For teachers who are dissatisfied, yes, make MEA/SCEA better - a stronger organization with more engaged members, an organization that better supports its members that don't necessarily need its protective functions. But I would discourage you from actively undermining an already embattled organization, or to give those that work against MEA/SCEA's goals any excuse to further marginalize the organization. The reformers and privatizers are better-financed and nearly uniformly united in their goals. Anything less than a united front by Memphis and Shelby County teachers will be detrimental in the overall fight. Don't go that route unless you have to.