The agreements that arise from collective bargaining establish the respective rights of school management and the employee union. Usually, the more language included in an agreement, the more restricted the school board and administrators are in making decisions.
Too many school boards have agreed to include in collective bargaining agreements subjects that hamper their ability to make timely and crucial decisions that affect the delivery of educational services. The end result is that administrators and teachers both become bound by a rigid and cumbersome set of work rules and procedures.
Michigan law mandates bargaining only "in respect to rates of pay, wages, hours of employment or other conditions of employment." But the collective bargaining process itself seems to invite the creation of a whole host of work rules.
Frederick Hess and Martin West aptly describe the result of collective bargaining:
"The contracts are long, complicated, and replete with both tediously detailed and needlessly ambiguous restrictions on administrators. The 199 collective bargaining agreements for teachers on file at the Bureau of Labor Statistics in January 2005 averaged 105 pages in length. And the topics covered in those pages extend far beyond bread-and-butter questions of salary and benefits; there are dozens of clauses covering a district’s ability to evaluate, transfer, terminate and manage the workload of teachers, all having potentially serious effects on the management of schools and student achievement."
Besides being cumbersome, these complex requirements have also led to an ineffective and time-consuming accountability process for many districts. The burdensome contractual requirements for the evaluation, discipline and discharge of employees have frequently led administrators and school boards to determine that the cost of maintaining high standards of employee professionalism is too high. This leaves ineffective or even incompetent teachers in the classroom, to the great detriment of students.
When school boards move too much decision making into the collective bargaining agreements, they may very well remove the accountability that was the goal of bargaining the provision in the first place. This is a tragedy. Toward the end of his life, Albert Shanker recognized that accountability is essential to providing quality education:
"The key is that unless there is accountability, we will never get the right system. As long as there are no consequences if kids or adults don’t perform, as long as the discussion is not about education and student outcomes, then we’re playing a game as to who has the power."
The same holds true today.
Sandra Feeley Myrand: "Collective bargaining is not inherently bad for quality education. It is the bias of those who are doing the bargaining that causes the problems. When a chief spokesperson is unwilling to compromise or sees the union’s position as the only solution, the quality of education in a school district can be compromised. The union leadership insists that public demonstrations of dissatisfaction are shown — limited out-of-classroom teacher involvement; T-shirts, signs, shows of colors, etc.; misinformation to parents and the community; an erosion of faith in teachers and the entire educational organization. These demonstrations of lack of faith in the leadership of the organization not only put pressure on the board and administration, but also diminish the public’s view of educators."