The recent Chicago teacher strike has fueled the national debate over educational reform and the role of teachers' unions. It appears that the Chicago Teacher Union's most contentious issue is a law requiring that test scores be used to rate teacher performance, which ultimately would impact tenure. It may be tempting to read these media reports and to generalize that what is happening in Chicago is happening in the rest of the nation, but as co-presidents of the Park City teacher association we can assure you that here in Utah the situation is much different.
Earlier this year the Utah Legislature passed a law, Senate Bill 64, which raises the level of accountability for all educators and ties their salaries and tenure to satisfactory evaluations. However, unlike the Chicago Teacher Union, the Park City teacher "union" strongly endorsed the bill and has enthusiastically been promoting it within the district and local community. How is it that such a sweeping public-education reform could achieve so much support? The reason is because the sponsor, Aaron Osmond (R), sought input and collaboration with teachers and the Utah Education Association while drafting his bill.
While it is true that the Park City teacher association is still in negotiations and has yet to finalize a contract (negotiations have been underway since April), the reason is not because we are brutally bickering over teacher union entitlements. Rather the lengthy nature of our negotiations is due to the fact that we are working on a multi-year contract and because we are incorporating teacher evaluations into our contract ahead of the timeline proposed by Senate Bill 64.(Not to mention salary benefits, health benefits and professional development. This is tricky stuff and to do it right takes time.)
Another difference: Park City schools are not broken. PCSD students regularly score higher than the state average and the national average on SAT and ACT test scores, a large percentage of our student body takes advantage of AP classes (nearly 1,000 AP tests were taken by students last year), our pass rate is higher than the national average (81 percent in Park City versus 54 percent nationwide) and our graduates get into the best colleges in the nation.
These numbers are especially impressive when you consider that we are a 3A school. But that's not the whole story. We also offer unprecedented opportunity and support for English language learners, special-education students, artists, musicians and athletes. These results are not by accident. Our district's "new teacher" training lasts three years in which teachers are constantly evaluated to see if they meet the standard of Park City School District. Even after our preliminary three-year period, the expectations remain high. Nobody "coasts" in this district.
The Park City Education Association is not here to enable entitlements to mediocre teachers, but to negotiate a fair contract that supports our top-quality educators and continues to attract and retain these professionals to our district. We believe that by investing in our teachers we are investing in our greatest resource, our children's future.
Ed Mulick and Jim Fleming are co-presidents of the Park City Education Association.