How Ogden (and other districts) can foster excellence in teaching


Imagine a high-performing teacher in Ogden School District. This teacher takes the time to work individually with her struggling students and lets them know she cares about them. She knows the material she teaches backward and forward and has shown an amazing capacity to teach it in ways that connect with and captivate her students.

As a result, her above-average students excel on tests and her struggling students show tremendous growth on those same tests from previous years. For her excellence in teaching, she receives the same compensation as her colleague who goes through the motions in class, is unfamiliar with the material, and has students whose test scores reflect his poor efforts and teaching ability.

This is the absurdity of collective bargaining in public education. Read more

Letter confirms that power is top issue for Ogden teachers union


Last month, I argued that the objection of the Ogden Education Association (OEA), the Ogden teachers union, to the district’s move toward performance pay for teachers was motivated by a fear of losing union power. Well, a new piece of evidence – in the form of a letter from OEA President Doug Stephens to the union membership (hat tip to Holly on the Hill for publishing the letter) – has surfaced to substantiate this claim.

In the letter, Mr. Stephens asks OEA members to do six things to help the union in its opposition to the school board’s decision. Here is a summarized list, but I recommend reading the full letter on the Holly on the Hill blog: Read more

Bye-bye, collective bargaining?


This fall, the Utah Legislature may research the possibility of eliminating collective bargaining for government workers, including employees of public schools. We interviewed Senator Howard Stephenson (R-Dist. 11) and Kory Holdaway, director of government relations and political action at the Utah Education Association, to hear two different perspectives on this issue.

In this video, each explains what collective bargaining is and why he is for or against it. Take a look:


What do you think? Should the Legislature consider abolishing collective bargaining for public employees?

Here’s the script of the video:

VOICE-OVER: Is the collective-bargaining dispute headed to Utah? The Education Interim Committee chairmen, Senator Howard Stephenson and Representative Bill Wright, wrote a letter to legislative leaders asking to study three heated issues, one of them being the elimination of collective bargaining for public employees.

SENATOR HOWARD STEPHENSON: “The Legislature will be looking at whether to prohibit collective bargaining with all government workers or whether to prohibit it to just for school districts and their negotiations.”

VOICE-OVER: Kory Holdaway, the Utah Education Association’s government relations director, explains what collective bargaining means.

KORY HOLDAWAY: “Collective bargaining is where citizens or people within the association or group or union come together and negotiate with their employer for the benefit of the employer and also the employee. It’s both to the benefit of the employer as well as the employee to come together and basically come to agreements as to what’s the best direction for organizations to be moving and what those benefits would look like.”

VOICE-OVER: So is the study of this volatile issue necessary? Why should Utah lawmakers consider the elimination of collective bargaining?

SENATOR STEPHENSON: “Fewer and fewer teachers are joining the unions, and yet many districts in Utah are only accepting negotiations from the union itself. It leaves the other teachers out; it leaves the other teachers to just accept whatever the union negotiators have agreed with the district.”

VOICE-OVER: But Mr. Holdaway disagrees with Senator Stephenson’s assertion.

KORY HOLDAWAY: “We think it would be a mistake to do away with collective bargaining on a number of different fronts, the main one being that it’s an opportunity to have teachers at the table in terms of negotiating what’s best for students and what’s best for education.”

VOICE-OVER: The purpose behind all of this is to improve education of our children. Senator Stephenson believes the elimination of collective bargaining will improve the quality of our teachers.

SENATOR STEPHENSON: “This is an effort to improve schools through competition. It makes sense that the better teachers be paid more; it makes sense that the teachers with training in high-demand areas, such as math and science, be paid more than teachers in low-demand areas.”

VOICE-OVER: So instead of collective bargaining, what do Utah lawmakers have in mind that would better serve our education system?

HOWARD STEPHENSON: “The Legislature will also be looking at performance-based pay, adaptive testing to measure that performance-based pay on, and end the lockstep salary system which we now have which pays teachers solely on longevity and number of college credit hours they have earned.”

VOICE-OVER: However, the Utah Education Association believes performance-based pay can still be discussed alongside collective bargaining.

KORY HOLDAWAY: “The whole notion of performance-based pay and collective bargaining aren’t even related to one another; performance-based pay is something that could be negotiated within a collective bargaining agreement. So to say it’s one versus the other is a faulty notion.”

VOICE-OVER: As for Sutherland Institute’s outlook, Derek Monson explains.

DEREK MONSON: “Reforming a failed collective bargaining process that has failed to incentivize and encourage performance of employees is a good idea. The best way to do it would be as a shift toward a performance-based system of pay, whether that’s for schoolteachers, state employees, or city employees.”

VOICE-OVER: So what do you think? Should the Legislature look at eliminating collective bargaining for public employees? Remember, all public policy changes lives. For Sutherland Institute, I’m Alexis Young.

In-depth interviews help shed light on Ogden education debate


We have been writing a lot about the Ogden School District’s decision to sign its teachers on an individual basis and to move toward a pay-for-performance plan. These steps are important ones that could gradually help change the landscape of public education in the best interest of Utah students.

To help shed some light on why the district made this decision and on what interested parties think about it, we interviewed Noel Zabriskie, superintendent of Ogden School District; Doug Stephens, president of Ogden Education Association; and Derek Monson, manager of public policy at Sutherland Institute. Watch the video here:


As this debate continues, we hope that the Ogden School District, and all other districts and charter schools in Utah, will continue to move toward a system that does more to reward excellence, involve parents and focus on the children it is meant to educate.

Here’s the script of the video:

VOICE-OVER: In a move that has sent waves throughout Utah, the Ogden School District will not be negotiating with the Ogden Education Association for the teachers’ 2011 through 2012 contract. Noel Zabriskie, the superintendent for the Ogden Board of Education, explains why the district has made this decision.

NOEL ZABRISKIE: “Based upon the information that we released earlier, we had been in contract negotiations with the education association for 14-15 months; we did not reach contract agreement. Essentially, the contract ended, the school year ended, and feeling the sense of urgency to move this direction, and the board approved a new contract and asked the teachers to sign.”

VOICE-OVER: Teachers were told to sign and return the individual contract by July 20th [2010] or their jobs would be advertised as open for hire. Over the next six years, the district plans to replace “steps,” or the practice of giving raises based on years of experience, with a new system of performance-based pay.

NOEL ZABRISKIE: “We’ve had a downturn in the economy and the revenue picture has been pretty tough; we haven’t been able to fund “steps,” or longevity pay. And as the board looked at those kinds of things, realizing perhaps we need to be a bit more accountable relative to what the teacher is being able to do rather than just spend one more year within the Ogden School District.”

STAND UP: Doug Stephens, president of the Ogden Education Association, disagrees with the district’s decision.

DOUG STEPHENS: “The ‘sign or you lose your job’ is shocking, it’s so uncharitable. You’re talking every teacher in the district is being threatened, and every teacher in the district isn’t doing a bad job.”

VOICE-OVER: Stephens says the district abandoned them and has left the members of the association frightened.

DOUG STEPHENS: “The district is saying that we will include you, but their past actions in the last two weeks aren’t really indicative of that. And so it makes us very cautious; in the past we have always collaborated together, we have always tried to work out whatever challenges that we face. But this is frightening; it’s like we reached a tough place, and rather than sitting down and trying to find a solution to the tough situation that we were in, that we feel like the district bailed on us and didn’t want to include us anymore.”

VOICE-OVER: The superintendent said the contract sent to the teachers asks them for their input to help create this new performance-pay system.
NOEL ZABRISKIE: “First of all, the contract doesn’t talk about the performance-pay piece, what we put forward is this is a target of where we are heading, so sure they are signing on board to help create that if they choose to, but that in my mind is no different than any other teaching situation, any other school system: ‘Sign on board, we can’t tell you all the things you’re going to have to do while you’re doing your job, but here is the framework.’ ”

VOICE-OVER: Derek Monson with Sutherland Institute explains that teachers will be contributing to this process.

DEREK MONSON: “One of the big points that has been brought up is how the teachers don’t have input into this process, and groups like the unions have portrayed it that way, and I think that is inaccurate and misleading. The teachers signing their contracts will have input over the next several years with the district directly into how this performance-measurement system will be implemented and what will be used. That’s the purpose of these contracts that they’re sending out is to get the teachers’ input.”

VOICE-OVER: Sutherland Institute commends Ogden School District’s decision; they believe the focus should always be on providing the best educational experience for children and parents.

DEREK MONSON: “A system that drives outcomes of children and that uses payment and incentives to push for better outcomes and better results, is a great thing, and that’s what we should be encouraging in our education system.”

STAND UP: Ogden School District is on a path that will reward great teachers and help other teachers improve, which, in the end, will help more children succeed. And that’s something we can all agree on. For Sutherland Institute, I’m Alexis Young, reminding you that policy, good or bad, changes lives!

Ogden rally raw footage, empowering parents, NCLB


Today in Ogden, an estimated 400 people protested the Ogden School District’s decision to forgo collective bargaining in favor of a contract made on its own terms. You can see footage of the protest here, taken by Alexis Young, Sutherland’s multimedia reporter:


Notice the signs that read “Teachers Are Not The Problem.” We agree. The problem in Ogden is not the teachers. The problem, at least one of them, is that the teachers union as an organization has not been able to reach an agreement with the district for several years running and is now concerned about losing more power. Read more

Uproar in Ogden: middleman frets about losing its clout


Much ado has been made by several groups (e.g., here and here) opposed to the Ogden School District’s (OSD) decision to move to a performance-based pay system for teachers.

Photo credit: Joe Rowley

A key part of their objections is a perceived lack of teacher involvement in the decision of the district to move towards a performance-based pay system.

First, a little clarification. When the opponents to the OSD plan say “teachers,” what they really mean is the “union” (aka the teachers association). To these groups, the union is the teachers and vice versa, though, in reality, many individual teachers have different interests and different views than the union as an organization. Read more

Ogden School District: a radical approach to teacher pay?


The Ogden School District is offering its teachers a take-it-or-leave-it employment contract (including a 1.6 percent raise) which each teacher must sign individually by July 20 or risk becoming unemployed.

Ogden High School; Photo credit: Pitamakan

The district decided to act on its own after an impasse in contract negotiations with the Ogden Education Association earlier this year.

The district also wants to phase out its use of “steps” for pay increases based on years of experience in favor of performance-based pay. Predictably, Utah’s teachers’ unions are up in arms over these changes, likely because it limits their bargaining power. They also believe the district’s actions show that teachers are “not well-respected.”

Is the Ogden School District’s choice to sign teachers individually and offer merit pay radical? Read more