Nearly every public school teacher in the USA belongs to a teachers' union. The unions have big lobbies in Congress, and donate lots of money to legislators, so they are favorable to the union agenda, which happens to be, keeping current members of the union employed. The teachers unions are responsible for laws that make it extremely difficult to fire teachers who receive tenure, and it only takes teachers two years to be granted tenure in most states. They also require that new teachers get certification, increasing the cost of entering the profession, even though education degrees have little effect on teacher performance. They are also responsible for a pay structure which rewards teachers for getting college degrees and for experience, neither of which correlates very well with teaching success. They oppose school choice, which would allow more parents to send their children to private school (or neighboring public schools) and provide competition for the public school system.
The end result is that the teaching profession is resistant to any force which would make it better. In part because successful teachers are not rewarded, mediocre teachers are comfortable and there's no incentive to improve performance anywhere.
The obvious losers are the kids, especially poor kids, who are receiving a worse education than they could get, and dropping out of high school in large numbers (the nationwide graduation rate in 2006 was 69.2). I'm not saying that we can get students to like school if we encourage better teaching (our brains are not designed for thinking
), but we might be able to improve on the percentage of Americans that can accurately summarize data from a table
(currently, 11%), compete in the modern workforce, and lift themselves onto a higher income track. The teachers unions will tell you they support "education," but that's wrong - they only support education as much as it helps keeps union teachers in jobs. That's why unions exist.
So when the new head of the Education Department, Arne Duncan, gives a speech to one of the largest teachers' unions
in the country, making the tiniest hints at positive steps we can make, to improve our nation's education system and give our kids, and other people's kids, a more prosperous future.
The LA Times article included these gems:
A group in the California section of the audience booed loudly when Duncan praised Green Dot Public Schools, which independently operates more than a dozen schools within the Los Angeles Unified School District with union contracts.
has increased attendance at its schools, made its campuses more safe, boosted graduation and college attendance rates,
and standardized test scores. The founder, Steve Barr, "has mobilized thousands of black and Hispanic parents to demand better schools,"
resulting in Green Dot's takeover, and subsequent improvement of, a horrible Los Angeles high school. Not to mention that Green Dot is one of the only independent school systems that actually uses unionized teachers. But rather than use their success as a model for our own failing schools, let's boo and hiss.
Not that the crowd was won over Thursday. "Quite frankly, merit pay is union-busting," said one educator to loud applause during the question-and-answer period.
I agree that merit pay is union busting. But if you're a good teacher, what is there to be afraid of? And why isn't the half of the teacher union that contains good teachers saying, "Yes let's have merit pay, please! I want to get paid what I'm worth!"
Union members are not dumb; it's an easy mistake to accuse people that you disagree with as lacking in general intelligence. They've found excellent ways to protect their members, ensuring they have good benefits, high salaries, and protection against getting fired. It's natural for them to continue to protect their interest, and even to develop rationalizations for why teachers union policies are good for the country, and for education in general. But reading about the reaction to Arne Duncan's speech makes me feel sick to my stomach. He's trying to help, but faces massive opposition from dinosaurs like the teachers unions. Let's hope they go extinct soon.
Here is another example of how unions are bad for students; a union in Massachusetts voted to turn down
an $860,000 grant, to help students improve their AP scores, because some teachers would have been paid more than others. I cannot believe that we as a country tolerate this sort of behavior.
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