Teachers jailed for, well, NOT teaching...
December 4, 2001 6:57 AM   Subscribe

Teachers jailed for, well, NOT teaching... (NYT link) I live in Middletown, but I think this is interesting for the general crowd. Aren't teachers allowed to strike? Should they be forced to return to work without a contract? Should they be thrown in jail because the school board won't work with them on a contract?
posted by rich (39 comments total)
The main issues are; 3 years ago, the teachers held a strike because they didn’t have a contract. The school board forced a contract on them and they signed it. Now that contract is up and they feel like they were taken advantage of last time, so they are sticking to their guns.

The head of the school board and the head of the local union absolutely hate each other, which contributes, I think, to the groups negotiating effectively.

But for the judge to start jailing teachers, in alphabetical order, because they won’t work without a contract seems heavy-handed and wrong.
posted by rich at 6:58 AM on December 4, 2001

Iowa has a law banning teacher strikes.
posted by trioperative at 6:59 AM on December 4, 2001

My wife went to Middletown South. She can't believe this is happening. I agree that the kids need to be taught, but just like Excite@Home, the teachers need some leverage power.
posted by adampsyche at 7:10 AM on December 4, 2001

interesting grammatical blip:

"About a-thousand teachers"

posted by o2b at 7:14 AM on December 4, 2001

Eliminate the mandatoriness of union participation, let teachers be free agents, keep the PTA out of school curricula. Then throw out the fixed-rate, seniority-based pay scale and let the teachers compete and be rewarded (with no artificial ceiling or floor).

Oh, and fire the strikers. But dont' jail them.
posted by yesster at 7:30 AM on December 4, 2001

Mad. Utterly mad.
posted by salmacis at 7:33 AM on December 4, 2001

"Oh, and fire the strikers. But dont' jail them."

Jawöhl, mein Führer!

How exactly does one measure something as arbitrary as teacher performance and base a pay scale around it? I've had teachers from whom I've learned lots but others found ineffective.

You could also suggest standardized testing, but then teachers in poorer districts or with an especially dim class will earn less.
posted by Harry Hopkins' Hat at 7:40 AM on December 4, 2001

Oderint, dum metuant.

Seems like the judge's strategy for teacher motivation.
posted by dlewis at 7:41 AM on December 4, 2001

And this is why many intelligent, hard working people don't want to be teachers. Our society doesn't respect them enough to pay them decently. But we do require them to continue their education throughout their career. And we do hang them with "social responsibility" that entitles judges to force them to work.

In general, unions form because employees are not treated fairly. They don't spontaneously arise because workers feel like paying union dues and submitting to yet another hierarchy. And union members aren't likely to give up the only power they have on the promise of good treatment by local school boards. The good treatment comes first, lasts a convincing amount of time, and then, maybe, the unions will lose support.
posted by Red58 at 7:56 AM on December 4, 2001

Teachers are inherently insane; no rational person would want the job.
posted by aramaic at 8:03 AM on December 4, 2001

Whenever I hear a judge put a reporter in jail for defending his sources, I get the same feeling that this thread's link gives me: utter disgust. The first ammendment is the right to exercise free speech, and includes the right to choose whether or not to talk. If we had decent public education in this country, maybe judges would know this.

I was appaulled to find how little my favorite high school teacher made when I was a kid, and am disgusted that nothing's changed since. There's going to be a local law or ordinance thing here in my city that will be on the voting ballot in a few months. Districts that don't have many kids don't want their taxes to go toward education in other districts in the city. I have no children, but better education for our young people improves the entire city - not just those districts - and it improves our future. It's bad enough we pay teachers as little as we do.

Everybody wants to go to heaven but no one's wants to pay the entry fee. Or words to that effect.
posted by ZachsMind at 8:23 AM on December 4, 2001

There is a fundamental flaw in how US education system is designed. That is: property tax = school funding. This creates a situation where parents (and non-parents alike) will consistently vote to choke off financing to schools while, in the same breath, demanding greater accountability, better teachers, better facilities, etc... To get an idea of how absurd this sytem is, imagine what our country would be like if it was the military that was funded by property tax instead, and school funding came from general taxes.

My wife is a teacher. Her district has actually commissioned studies to figure out how to attract PhD's to secondary school teaching jobs! Perhaps if teachers were paid what they are worth (or even close to it) a lot of the 'problems' whould just disappear. The system we have inherently limits schools to the meagerest of budgets, except in very wealthy areas. So long as we have this system it is the landowners, who are unwilling to pay a enough property tax, who are the problem. An even better system would be to abolish the connection between property and education and instead federalize the funding of schools.
posted by plaino at 8:49 AM on December 4, 2001

Teacher strikes are also illegal in Florida. We still have teacher unions mind you, but they just handle contract negotiations. They have no teeth.

Often, the contracts the teachers start the year with are only provisional contracts. Technically, the pay rate the teacher was hired on could change before the year is out. Last year, the contracts for at least one county weren't finalized until April (for the school year ending in June).
posted by ahughey at 8:52 AM on December 4, 2001

Plaino - important point about the funding, being that the town people seem to support the teachers, upset that the judge put them in jail.

They also are yelling about class sizes and lack of teachers.

However, there was only about a 15% turnout last year on a ballot vote to raise taxes by about $.02 specifically to go towards the schools, hire more teachers, increase salaries, etc. It got voted down by about 200 votes or something like that. 15% turnout. I'm sure it was mostly people without kids.

But, what is putting teachers in jail going to do, anyway? It's not like they'll be teaching any classes. It just takes them off the picket line.
posted by rich at 8:59 AM on December 4, 2001

Basic United States civics lesson. We are a society governed by the laws enacted by our democratically-elected representatives. In New Jersey (like most states) teachers are statutorily prohibited from striking. This is the result of a policy decision by New Jersey's lawmakers that the state's interest in educating children outweighs public employees' interest in collectively bargaining. Collective bargaining is not a God-given right, and states certainly have the power to take it away in particular situations.

Because the law of New Jersey prohibits such strikes, the judge had no choice but to enter an order prohibiting the teachers from further participating in the strike. Violating a court order is, itself, a punishable offense (in this case, punishable by imprisonment). A court would have no power if individuals were able to simply disregard its orders without consequence.

And Zachsmind, this is not a 1st Amendment issue. The 1st Amendment is not absolute, there are literally dozens of situations in which we are not allowed to say whatever, whenever, or wherever we want. Violating the law and a court order is certainly one of those situations.

To circle back, if this story makes you sick, the proper recourse is to petition the New Jersey legislature to amend the law.
posted by pardonyou? at 9:05 AM on December 4, 2001

"In general, unions form because "...paint things with a broad enough brush and *whatever*. "if teachers were paid what they are worth (or even close to it) a lot of the 'problems' would just disappear." This implies A:that the same teachers will do a better job if they are paid more, like they are now holding back their 'good stuff', and B:that it's possible to determine what they are 'worth'. If it's QC, via testing, there's going to be money left over in a lot of school districts. "it is the landowners, who are unwilling to pay enough property tax, who are the problem." That was satire, right? Fact is, Property tax is repressive in that it is not based on ability to pay or usage.
posted by Mack Twain at 9:18 AM on December 4, 2001

Mack, I'm not sure your "A" point is valid. If teachers made more money, a better class of applicant would apply for the job. If I'm a bright guy who has a PHd (although I'm not and I don't), I'm not taking a teaching job at a high school when I can make much more money elsewhere.
posted by Samsonov14 at 9:57 AM on December 4, 2001

Well, Mack, I think you missed two points. Pay teachers a fair salary and you'll attract more talented and motivated people. It has little to do with evaluations or QC.

And you determine a fair salary by competing with the marketplace. You know, like capitalism. If you offer a competitive salary (or something even close to competitive) the more talented folks will be more interested.

Now, because teachers have been treated so badly for so long, difficult and awkward union rules have been instituted. It's going to take a while to overcome that. Like I said, treat them well first and then the changes will come.
posted by Red58 at 10:13 AM on December 4, 2001


To clarify: I am not in favor of the property tax-education system. It is a BAD system. However, within that system, it is the voting landowners who determine how well funded the local school is.


A:that the same teachers will do a better job if they are paid more, like they are now holding back their 'good stuff'

is a common fallacious argument because it lacks specificity for the teaching profession and can generally be applied to any profession, i.e.: "Should a surgeon use half as many stitches if he is paid half as much?" Applied to any profession, taken to its logical conclusion, your argument means that no person should earn more than they absolutley need to survive, no matter what they do or how well they do it.

My statement, on the other hand:

if teachers were paid what they are worth (or even close to it) a lot of the 'problems' would just disappear.

applies specifically to the teaching profession. In particular, offering a higher salary would attract higher qualified teachers in fields (like chemistry and biology) where, currently, a much higher paying alternative is available. Teachers who are paid more will on average spend more time preparing for class and less time working a second job or working on political action committees to defend what meager salary they have. Also, a teacher's attitude becomes part of the classroom environment, and a downtrodden teacher has a harder time communicating with and earning the respect of his/her student. All these factors combine to make the classroom a poorer learning environment than it has to be, given the same teacher and students.
posted by plaino at 10:16 AM on December 4, 2001

While you may not like property taxes, Mack, I don't see how they are repressive, or any more repressive than other taxes. You say property taxes are "...not based on ability to pay or usage". Well, "living" in the "house" constitutes "usage", no? Besides, if you can afford a mortgage, you can afford the taxes as well- it's just like when you buy a car and have to factor in the costs of insurance, gas, parking, etc. before purchasing that near-luxury car that you can't actually afford. It's called "personal accountability" and "responsibility": don't live beyond yer frickin' means. Admittedly, a house could rise in value and thus in taxes after you've bought it- although if it rises in value along with property taxes enough to make a big difference, then you should have increased equity; go refinance your house, lower your monthly payments, and get back ahead of the curve.

All that said, I don't think education should be funded so implicitly by property taxes; the standard rant I'll simply reference here is the prioritization of our tax dollars, where taxes go to new Intel factories or MLB stadiums before they're doled out to schools or cops.
posted by hincandenza at 10:29 AM on December 4, 2001

Pardonyou?; I'm not sure if the state law of NJ prohibits teachers from striking.. I've seen a lot of teacher strikes and no one has been put in jail.

I think that it is up to a judge to detrmine if the strike falls under the state's interest clause or not.

Regardless, if the judge is unilaterally bound, he should not be making excuses for certain teachers; he did not put some in jail due to various reasons - such as both parents being teachers so their child would be left alone, physical handicaps, etc..

It seems like he doesn't want to be too unpopular, but wants to push them to go back to work and accept whatever the school board is giving them. If he followed the letter of his ruling, then he'd probably be insanely unpopular, and the outcry would force a settlement.

Right now, he's giving mor epower to the school board.
posted by rich at 10:35 AM on December 4, 2001

Rich, in 1987 the New Jersey Superior Court, in a case called Passaic Tp. Bd. of Educ. v. Passaic Tp. Educ. Ass'n, stated as follows:

It is not the role of the Appellate Division to alter the established law of the State as expressed clearly and unequivocally by our Supreme Court. In the context of teachers' right to strike, see In re Education Association of Passaic, Inc., 117 N.J.Super. 255, 261, 284 A.2d 374 (App.Div.1971). The appropriate tribunal to accomplish such drastic change is the Supreme Court or the Legislature. Since New Jersey public employees do not have the right to strike, it was unnecessary for the trial judge to find anything more than a work stoppage or strike by public employees in order to enter restraints to protect the Board and the public from irreparable harm. We therefore affirm the restraints imposed by the trial judge and turn to the sanctions imposed by him for violation of his orders. The original restraints imposed in the order to show cause were simply a direction to the public employees to cease their illegal strike. Their failure to return to work was in clear violation of the October 10 order. The continued refusal to return to work also violated the October 15 order....Having violated the court's orders, defendants were subject to prosecution for contempt pursuant to R. 1:10-2.
posted by pardonyou? at 10:59 AM on December 4, 2001

Gotcha. Good extract, thanks.

Then the judge should have jailed everyone, including the two parents of a small child, regardless of the extant circumstance that their child would have to become the ward of some other party (such as a relative) during the time of their internment.

Physical handicaps, and the like, as well, should not have made a difference.

I think if the judge would apply the law evenly, the issue over the perceived unfairness of the law as it pertains to teacher's barganing power would be more explicit.
posted by rich at 11:15 AM on December 4, 2001

Can someone explain to me how, if these people have no contract with the school, can they be bound to turn up and work there?
If they have no formal agreement to work x hrs for $x, surely they should be as free as anyone else not to turn up?

Seriously, can someone explain? Sounds wacky.
posted by Catch at 11:25 AM on December 4, 2001

Catch, I think what you're arguing is that the teachers should be allowed to quit. And I don't think there's any doubt about that -- they're not under contract, so they're free to walk away from the job (just as long as they don't expect to come back). However, I don't think any one of these teachers is taking the position that they are giving up their jobs.
posted by pardonyou? at 12:31 PM on December 4, 2001

pardonyou, I didn't mean to argue anything, I really want to know how the law stands, because it is incredible to me that anyone would submit to being jailed for stopping work when under no contract.
posted by Catch at 12:48 PM on December 4, 2001

Catch, I think the distinction is that they are not just "stopping work," they are striking (i.e., a concerted effort to stop work en masse in order to leverage a better bargaining position). The former would certainly not be illegal (although it would put the employee at risk for being fired or being deemed to have quit). In New Jersey (and many other states), there are laws against the latter. This is fairly typical in the US (I gather it may be different in New Zealand?)
posted by pardonyou? at 1:15 PM on December 4, 2001

I stand to be corrected regarding 'paying teachers what they are worth=better education'; thanks for pointing that out, although I thought what was meant was paying more to the millions of teachers we already have. ;)
About those property taxes: Income & sales taxes are based on the fact that you earn or spend, therefore have, Money...Property tax on the other hand does not take into account your ability to pay. Many retired folks spend a large part of their small fixed income on property tax. Retired folks are also much less likely to be users of the public school system themselves. Our senior citizens have paid their dues and should not be overburdended by taxation. I don't know the answer to funding, maybe a dedicated lottery or sales tax?
posted by Mack Twain at 1:33 PM on December 4, 2001

striking is not illegal in New Zealand [Grin]
Oh, I know that's not what you meant.

Under our Employment Relations Act a strike may be unlawful if the workers are performing an "essential service", but "affected parties" have to apply to the Employment Court for an injunction to stop the action.

Which takes a while : )

And I don't think teachers are regarded as essential which is surprising.......

And before anyone jumps on me about the essentiality of teachers, I mean- no-one's going to keel over and die because teach' didn't show up for a week.
posted by Catch at 1:41 PM on December 4, 2001

This debate seems to be one that is happening everywhere as the demands being placed on public education increase concurrent with there being a funding decrease.

In Ontario we now have standardized testing (not counting towards grading) and are implementing teacher assessment to ensure subject matter competence. Personally, I delight in the irony of teachers protesting that testing is unfair and that it doesn't properly measure what they know.

The education issue causes me more dissonance than any other issue that I can think of. I have worked in a union shop as temp and actually had to pay dues to fund people pushing for the elimination of my 'kind' while at the same time being used to do all the scut work and cover for vacations. At the same time I generally support the labor movement, having seen how bad things can be.

But I have also been on the receiving end of a public education system where I saw an academic counselor twice in 5 years of high school. Once for an introduction and once for a where are you applying to go after completion meeting. This despite the fact that I failed about 13 courses, had a D average, and in some cases had absences greater than my course. Class sizes were not that large and the teachers still couldn't be bothered. I had one teacher call my parents in Grade 9 (second day!)

So my position is that teachers should have a modified union structure with both performance contingent job security and pay scale. Teaching performance could be based on a combination of student performance, student assessment, parent assessment, peer review, and testing. After all, if teachers can test students and judge their performance I don't see how they can question assessment methods when applied to themselves.
posted by srboisvert at 2:14 PM on December 4, 2001

Getting better teachers is a difficult problem. Simply paying teachers more money is not the answer, because, as others pointed out, the current teachers are probably already doing their best within the limits of their treatment by the government, the public, and the students. Further, these 'better quality candidates' that presumably run around seeking ever more and more personal income--as opposed to settling into jobs that are convenient and play to their strengths, like most people do--are not necessarily the best teachers. People 'just in it for the money' need to be discouraged from teaching, they are not good for the students.

It is personality and aptitudes for explaining concepts and motivating others that makes for a good teacher. While these attributes can be developed, simply dangling money and benefits in front of applicants will not suffice. On the other hand, financially stressed teachers are not good teachers. So, teaching should offer a good enough salary to provide a comfortable lifestyle. Index it to average earnings in the relevant city or state, say 150% for argument's sake. Since the salary comes out of tax money, and the number of teachers is a function of the population which in turn feeds back into tax, teacher salary should be sustainable using this kind of formula. Teachers live in and hence spend their money in the city or state where they teach, so this money is returned to the local economy immediately.

Each school should have at least one teacher counsellor, as well as several student counsellors. Emotionally stressed teachers are not good teachers, and teaching can be a very emotionally stressful profession. Continuing education of teachers should be 'part of the job'. Each individual teacher should be teaching approximately four days a week and learning one day a week, which fits well with a varied curriculum.

While we're on the subject of improving things, that curriculum should be based around rote memorization of key skills (reading, arithmetic, general knowledge) in the early years, and critical thinking, philosophy, literature and basic science in the later years. Compulsory education should teach what a person actually needs to know, give them the skills to find out what they want to know, and instil the habit of doing so.

posted by aeschenkarnos at 2:35 PM on December 4, 2001

Pardonyou: ", this is not a 1st Amendment issue..."

You're talking to a man who believes we have the inalienable right to scream "fire" in a movie theater. I understand the reasons for the "exceptions" to the law, but each exception simultaneously restricts inalienable rights of humanity. We tolerate these exceptions in order to co-exist in society.

If teachers believe they are being paid unfairly, they have the right to strike. They also have the right to petition grievances, as described in the constitution, but no one should be forced to work if they feel they're not being properly compensated for their effort. That's called involuntary servitude, and such mistreatment is supposed to have been fixed by the 13th ammendment.

Even if you're right and this is not a first ammendment issue, it is a constitutional issue. Teachers shouldn't be forced to work for unfair wages.

Bottom line: Public education is failing in this country. The reason is because public education rarely pays for itself, unless the school in question has a popular sports team. Public education is a money pit. You throw money in the hole and hope the cattle comes out of the barn successfully milked.

Solution: privatize the education system, and have both private and federal organizations monitor progress. Federally certified scholastic systems and systems given a seal of approval by any organization which the public respects would attract more citizens who have children they want to have schooled. Taxes wouldn't go to funding education. Only people who have children would be funding their own children's education. Teachers would be paid based on what the industry could bare. Successful teachers would get better wages. Everyone's happy.

Not quite.

New problem: Only those with money would be able to educate their children, which would cause the country as a whole to decline in education. But hey. The teachers would stop striking. =)
posted by ZachsMind at 3:00 PM on December 4, 2001

The number of jailed teachers has jumped from four to fifty-one with the jailing of another forty-seven teachers today. I expect we'll see headlines here in Monmouth County about more teachers for the rest of this week and into next week. The teachers' union and board of education in Middletown have had a really bad relationship as long as I can remember, and I graduated from Middletown North 20 years ago.... The board has a long history of mistreating teachers. I don't live in Middletown any more, and I haven't kept up with this issues, so I can't really say what the problem is, but based on past history, I don't have a high opinion of the board.

I drove by my old high school yesterday, which is also the site of the Board of Education offices, and was surprised to see no picketing. I guess everyone was in Freehold for the hearing.

This whole thing is appalling.

Incidentally, the strike is not about pay, in my understanding, so the comments about paying teachers a decent salary, while interesting, don't really apply to this particular strike.

An earlier article in our local paper here says that our jail can hold 1,328 prisoners, so they're prepared for as many teachers as the judge decides to jail.
posted by geneablogy at 4:43 PM on December 4, 2001

ZachsMind - your idea could work. The monies collected that were previously going to teacher saleries could be set aside for the childeren of families who can prove they are financially unable to cover the costs to send their children to school.
Inna perfect world...
posted by Nauip at 4:53 PM on December 4, 2001

One day a group of teachers is going to get tired of this kind of thing and they're all going to actually quit, not just strike. Unfortunately it will probably have to get to that point before real solutions are implemented.
posted by Nothing at 1:19 AM on December 5, 2001

So these teachers, stoked and fueled by their collective time in jail are going to come out having learned a lesson? Punishing the potential patriotic inculcators of our children? You might as well keep them locked up. This judge is an idiot. He is simultaneously jelling a nascent labor movement as he presumably thinks he's padding his judicial future. He's allowing these teachers, in a time rife with soon to be deleted civil rights, to gather a head of steam. A head of progressive steam at that.

Then presumably, these teachers will eventually return to tell these kids about how fraudulent the whole system is anyway. And more so now, now that they've been to jail for being patently AMERICAN. Does this judge think Bush will give him a nod, as Hitler did his worshippers in his time, for an entry level fascist designer position in the field of Homeland Security?
posted by crasspastor at 2:56 AM on December 5, 2001

I'm only semi-serious.
posted by crasspastor at 3:00 AM on December 5, 2001

The funny thing is seeing people say 'What are these teachers doing? Teaching our kids its ok to break the law?'

When I could think of other things, like;

"What are these people doing, showing our kids that our teachers and their eductaion means nothing to us?"

"What are these teachers doing, teaching our children that it is an American right to stand up for what you believe in, and that you should stick to your principals, even if it means you are going to endure hardship?"

It's making my head hurt how stupid this judge and the school board are.
posted by rich at 8:23 AM on December 5, 2001

A brief update. (CNN Coverage)

I do agree with rich's observation regarding the judge:

Then the judge should have jailed everyone, including the two parents of a small child, regardless of the extant circumstance that their child would have to become the ward of some other party (such as a relative) during the time of their internment.

Physical handicaps, and the like, as well, should not have made a difference.

posted by DBAPaul at 10:05 AM on December 8, 2001

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