Dale Lee: Unions not opposed to innovation

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Dale Lee: Unions not opposed to innovation
(For the Charleston Gazette-Mail/Daily Mail editorial page)
Unfortunately the Daily Mail editorial page has misrepresented the positions of the West Virginia Education Association and its members with a flawed commentary.

The Daily Mail editorial from Aug. 18, titled “Shortage of teachers should be a top priority,” would have you believe the WVEA favors seniority at the expense of quality and opposes “innovative new ways” of attracting new teachers to our classrooms.

Seniority is synonymous with experience. Research from Francis Huang and Tonya Moon of the University of Virginia indicate that teachers become more effective over time. Teachers continue to gain in effectiveness through their 25th year of teaching and then reach a plateau.

Even experienced teachers who have plateaued were still more effective than beginning teachers in impacting student achievement.

Seniority has not been the only factor in hiring for many years. WVEA was instrumental in crafting the seven criteria used in the state’s previous hiring system.

While seniority was one of the factors, there were six other criteria and all seven were weighted equally in the final determination of who to hire. The hiring matrix was revised again just a few years ago and never once did the WVEA advocate seniority as the sole criteria in applicant selection.

In the past, your ideas for “innovative new ways” of attracting teachers included Teach for America and charter schools. Neither of those are new concepts. They have been around long enough to evaluate their success or lack thereof.

Some states have chosen to end their association with TFA and other are questioning its value. Charters are being reevaluated and in many states reformed after widespread corruption and the lack of positive gains in student achievement.

Unfortunately, this is typical of what happens when the “innovative new ways” to fix our schools come from those who have never taught.

The editorial also supports pay raises based on teacher performance.

So how do we gauge teacher performance? Top education officials admitted at the August state Board of Education meeting that the test is not being taken seriously by a lot of middle school and high school students. Why should teachers be held accountable for tests if students are not?

Or should we leave it to the whim of a single administrator to determine who merits additional pay?

Another worn-out talking point in the editorial asks about paying teachers in “hard-to-fill” locations or subjects a higher rate of pay than other teachers.

The truth is we have vacancies across the state, not just in math and science. The openings are in English, social studies, physical education, elementary education and more. Every subject is now a “hard-to-fill” position.

The editorial also suggests a “better approach” to solving the teacher shortage would be to prepare, support and reward teachers for the work they do and to create “better conditions under which they work.”

Although the editorial writer may not want you to believe it, teachers are concerned about much more than salary, including respect for their profession, student achievement and building great public schools.

Our members are working daily to improve both the teaching and learning conditions of our schools. Simply because they have a different opinion than you about the changes necessary for student success does not mean they are opposed to innovation.

The fact remains that West Virginia ranks 46th among states in average salary for public school teachers, and is far off the mark compared to neighboring states.

That is the primary reason for our teacher shortage, and it causes real recruiting and retention problems for counties.

Dale Lee is a 22-year veteran special education teacher from Mercer County. He is currently on leave as the elected leader of the West Virginia Education Association.