Teachers' unions have lost allies

Teachers’ unions are losing their allies, writes columnist Ruben Navarrette Jr.

. . .  journalist Carl Bernstein, who, in a cable television exchange that went viral on the Internet, verbally pummeled American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten. The confrontation took place after New York flunked out of the Obama administration’s Race to the Top competition for hundreds of millions of federal education dollars because teachers unions refused to sign on to the state’s action plan.

“The perception is that you all, over the years, have put job security in front of the welfare of kids,” Bernstein told Weingarten. “There is something to that perception.”

Yes, there is.

Many Americans are losing their jobs or taking pay cuts, writes Navarrette.

There is little sympathy for organizations that — by virtue of brute political force — keep demanding more public money and less accountability without giving an inch.

. . . The public schools operate on our dime. The students are our kids, and whether they succeed will help determine our country’s future. This makes us major stakeholders who deserve to have a voice in how this enterprise goes forward.

Indiana won’t apply for second-round Race To The Top funds because the teachers’ union won’t support the reform plan, State Superintendent Tony Bennett announced yesterday.  Rick Hess hopes Arne Duncan will make it clear that union support isn’t a make-or-break for RTTT applications.

About Joanne

Comments

  1. Ponderosa says:

    Top performing states and nations have strong teachers’ unions. This is a red herring.

    Let’s get behind a core knowledge curriculum.

    Joanne, lay people need to be educated by insiders like you. Unions are a plausible-seeming scapegoat in lay persons’ eyes; responsible insiders should explain why they’re not the main problem.

  2. Richard Aubrey says:

    Pretty straightforward.
    That said, my wife and I will be retiring on Michigan’s public school pension system. I have a working familiarity with pension funding and actuarial issues.
    There are two possibilities: The plan was fully funded all along.
    They planned on taking it out of the taxpayers in real time.
    Not anywhere enough money paid through the years to make case one. Not close.
    Leaving case two.
    Thing is, negotiators can kick the can down the road in this way, get all kinds of credit for negotiating–everybody gets benefits sometime and by the time the bill comes due, the negotiators are retired or dead. The next generation’s problem.
    Much easier to send the bill down the road and look like a hero to the union members who–not excluding teachers–have been taught to think there’s no such thing as a shortage of money, just mean ol’ CEOs who won’t let the poor working folks have any.
    Were I czar and in possession of a time machine, I’d go back to, say, 1940, and forbid forever and ever any guaranteed post-retirement benefits. Take the money saved, pay it in real time, and let the folks look out for themselves.

  3. It’s good to see that the Obama administration, like the Bush administration, is independent of the teachers’ unions.

  4. (Ponderosa): “Top performing states and nations have strong teachers’ unions. This is a red herring.”

    Well, North Dakota is tops by some NAEP measures, and Idaho, Iowa, Wyoming, and Virginia do pretty well. According to this chart these are all right-to-work States.

    Also, we have:…
    Caroline Hoxby
    How Teachers’ Unions affect Education Production
    “I find that teachers’ unions increase school imputs but reduce productivity sufficiently to have a negative overall effect on student performance. Union effects are magnified where schools have market power.”

    “Strong” is a matter of degree, I suppose.

    Here’s TIMSS 4th and 8th grade Math scores, by country.
    According to this (p. 11), Singapore’s labor law contains these provisions…
    “Collective bargaining agreements may not include the following subjects:
    The hiring of employees;
    The assignment of tasks that are consistent with the terms of employment;
    Transfers that do not adversely affect the terms of employment;
    Promotions;
    Termination due to redundancy or reorganization; and
    Issues of dismissal and reinstatement, unless resulting from anti-union discrimination.”

    Taiwan:…Here’s a brief look at Taiwan’s labor law…
    “Defence industry workers, fire fighters, teachers, civil servants, doctors and Medicare personnel, defence industry workers, and domestic employees are still not permitted to form trade unions. Army personnel and police are also not permitted to form or join trade unions.”

    Hong Kong (same source): “Strikers have little protection. In April 2001, the government introduced amendments to the Employment Ordinance that ostensibly increased the protection of workers against dismissal for participating in strikes. However, the amendments only ensure that, were a worker to be dismissed for strike action, he or she would have the right to sue the employer for compensation. There is still no legal entitlement to reinstatement, even if a worker is found to have been unfairly dismissed for participating in a strike…The law still does not guarantee the right to collective bargaining. The HKSAR Government has persistently refused to implement the recommendations of the ILO Committee of Freedom of Association (CFA) on introducing legislation for the objective recognition of trade unions for the purpose of collective bargaining.”

    Further:…
    Gerard Lassibile and Lucia Navarro Gomez,
    “Organization and Efficiency of Educational Systems: some empirical findings”
    Comparative Education, Vol. 36 #1, 2000, Feb., pg. 16,
    “Furthermore, the regression results indicate that countries where private education is more widespread perform significantly better than countries where it is more limited. The result showing the private sector to be more efficient is similar to those found in other contexts with individual data (see, for example, Psucharopoulos, 1987; Jiminez, et. al, 1991). This finding should convince countries to reconsider policies that reduce the role of the private sector in the field of education”.

    Numerous lines of evidence support the following generalizations:…
    1. As institutions take from individual parents the power to determine for their own children the choice of curriculum and the pace and method of instructionn, overall system performance falls.
    2. Political control of school harms most the children of the least politically adept parents.

    Collective bargaining by school employees reduces the range of options available to parents, by imposing a uniform process. Also, teachers unions support compulsory attendance laws, child-labor laws and minnimum wage laws, which reduce opportunities for on-the-job training.

    (Ponderosa): “Let’s get behind a core knowledge curriculum.”

    Humans are not standard.

    (Ponderosa): “Joanne, lay people need to be educated by insiders like you. Unions are a plausible-seeming scapegoat in lay persons’ eyes; responsible insiders should explain why they’re not the main problem.”

    I was a teacher for ten years in the Hawaii DOE. System insiders (most significantly, employee organizations) are the main barrier to reform.

    Unions protect the laziest workers. The best protection a good worker has is a competitive market for his services.

  5. Malcolm, I don’t think the problem is necessairly the unions themselves. Unions in the private sector, where consumer are able to make free choices, don’t have anywhere near the amount of influence as unions in the public sector, where consumers are not able to make free choices. That’s where the problem is. Compare the auto unions to the teacher’s unions. The automobile industry, unlike the education industry, is subject to competition. The auto workers unions, powerful as they are, as nowhere near as powerful as the teacher’s unions. One solution would be to subject education to market forces, and take it out of the control of the state. Another solution would be to eliminate the labor laws, and allow workers to voluntarily organize themselves. Bashing the teacher’s unions might be satisfying, but it doesn’t really get to the root of the problem.

  6. The vast majority of union teachers are already working hard –often frantically so. The reason they’re not achieving much is the dominant underlying educational philosophy in this country that is deeply prejudiced against inculcating organized bodies of knowledge. Rote learning of core subjects is the mother of high-level reading comprehension and thinking. All the structural reforms in the world (e.g. weakening unions, increasing charters, adding technology) will not get us to this Promised Land unless we start to get serious about transmitting core knowledge. Even if I grant that Malcolm’s cherry-picked data show a negative union influence, it is a tiny effect. Curriculum is the heart of the matter.

  7. SuperSub says:

    Ben’s right and Malcolm’s wrong. As ‘powerful’ as the unions may seem, I have yet to see a school district and union shrug off an organized movement by parents. Malcolm’s citations cannot be applied to the US education system because there are too many other confounding factors.
    The problem is instead a systemic malaise that affects everyone involved in education –

    Students who are focusing more on socialization and think attendance guarantees a diploma

    Parents who don’t want to be bothered to supervise their children’s education and resent teachers for stepping in to discipline their children when they won’t.

    Administrators who are in permanent CYA mode and consistently delegate their responsibilities to teachers so they can pass the blame, resulting in policies that are unfocused and teachers who are swamped with non-instructional work.

    Ed Schools who are trying to make themselves a unique stand-alone discipline by promoting sham research that often conflicts with proven psychological and behavioral knowledge

    Teacher’s unions who consistently elect the least competent and/or the most uncooperative to union leadership posts, resulting in unions who do little but antagonize the district and give teachers a bad name.

    Politicians who further burden the public with ever-growing educational regulations that drive up taxes and do more to hurt education than improve it.

    Many of the countries that are viewed to have successful education systems lack more than just teacher’s unions. Schools are under the control of the faculty and local administrators. Teacher certification is based more upon content specialty and not knowledge of educational ‘theory.’ Parents understand that it is their children’s responsibility to conform to the standards of the school and not the other way around. Students realize that working in school is necessary to succeed in life.

    Just as the court system is designed to be as free from influence from politicians and popular fads, so should our educational systems be resistant to change. It the the duty of our schools to shape society and not the other way around.

  8. SuperSub says:

    Rewrite of last paragraph-

    Just as the court system is designed to be as free as possible from political influence and popular fads, so should our educational systems be resistant to change. It is the the duty of our schools to shape society and not the other way around.

  9. Pondarosa said…”Top performing states and nations have strong teachers’ unions. ”

    Corralation or causation, Pondarosa?

    Top performing states also have a disproportionate number of parents with college and advanced degrees and higher income levels.

    Unions are the main problem because they prevent real reform and freeze into place a rigid industrial age system that disadvantages the disadvanted. They do this for their own self interest.

  10. (Steven): ” I don’t think the problem is necessairly the unions themselves. Unions in the private sector, where consumer are able to make free choices, don’t have anywhere near the amount of influence as unions in the public sector, where consumers are not able to make free choices.”

    That’s Hoxby’s point about market power. The Hawaii DOE operates a single State-wide school district. The HGEA (our local white-collar AFSCME subsidiary) collects dues or agency fees from all clerical personnel and administrators in the DOE. The UPW (the blue-collar AFSCME subsidiary) collects dues or agency fees from janitors and cooks. The HSTA (our local NEA subsidiary) collects dues and agency fees from teachers, librarians, counselors, and “resource teachers”. The unions make life miserable for agency-fee payers. I’d bet that all those wretched inner-city majority-minority districts are unionized.

    (Ben): “The vast majority of union teachers are already working hard –often frantically so.”

    So? What matters it how much sweat pours off teachers’ brows if their task is not worth doing? Suppose the curriculum was Tiddly-winks, Chess, Pogo-stick Acrobatics, and Sumerian Cuneiform. Would you applaud teachers’ effort? It does not take 12 years at $10,000 per pupil-year to teach a normal child to read and compute. Most vocational training occurs more effectively on the job than in a classroom. State (government, genarally) provision of History and Civics instruction is a threat to democracy, just as State operation of newspapers and broadcast news media would be (are, in totalitarian countries).

    (Ben): “The reason they’re not achieving much is the dominant underlying educational philosophy in this country that is deeply prejudiced against inculcating organized bodies of knowledge.”

    Feed people crap and they will not joyfully anticipate mealtime. State compulsion poisons the education industry. The more systematic and uniform, the worse. One size does not fit all.

    (Ponderosa): “Top performing states and nations have strong teachers’ unions.”
    (Ben): “Even if I grant that Malcolm’s cherry-picked data show a negative union influence, it is a tiny effect. Curriculum is the heart of the matter.”

    “Cherry-picking” implies selective presentation of data. Like “disingenuous”, it’s a gone-to-college way to call someone “liar”. That’s rude. I don’t have EXCEL on this machine, so I took the top three countries from this table. For US States, I went from memory for evaluation of North Dakota’s top place, and Idaho, Iowa, and Wyoming. Readers might find comparison of these maps interesting.

    (Supersub): “Malcolm’s citations cannot be applied to the US education system because there are too many other confounding factors.”

    Then Ponderosa’s generalizations are mistaken for the same reasons. Further, they are false, as I demonstrate. I suggest that you’all read Caroline Hoxby’s study.

    (Supersub): “Just as the court system is designed to be as free as possible from political influence and popular fads, so should our educational systems be resistant to change. It is the the duty of our schools to shape society and not the other way around.”

    Hideously totalitarian. Who made the government school system God?

  11. Without the union, I would have been fired many years ago.

    If, by some chance, I was able to stay on, I’d be making less half of what I make now. Probably about what a motel desk clerk makes.

    Without the union, nobody would have dared point out to the principal that his new schedule allows only 25 minutes rather than 30 minutes for lunch.

    The union has made my life better, as a teacher, and it has improved the schools by attracting higher caliber personnel by securing better pay and working conditions.

    But…

    It’s become a big business that sells false promises and it’s become an enormous, mindless obstacle for school reform.

    The union clearly puts its size and power before the interests of parents, students, and even teachers.

  12. Yes, the union is a monster that has benefited me. But it is still a monster.

  13. SuperSub says:

    Malcolm-

    “Hideously totalitarian. Who made the government school system God?”

    No one. I just prefer an enlightened society rather than a second coming of the Dark Ages.
    You complain of crap being forced down the throats of the students…what about all the PC crap that has controlled the ed schools and determined so many districts’ curricula over the past 30 years?
    At least when schools focused on the pursuit of knowledge society thought that there was some value to education.

  14. Sub, we agree on your last point. What feedback mechanism keeps schools on the proper path? I suggest that nothing beats a market, where schools, like restaurants, shoe stores, and movie theaters, must provide what customers want.

  15. Supersub, what a great description of the situation in all its complexity (much of which is sadly invisible to non-teachers)! Wouldn’t it be great if these free market fundamentalists could begin to acknowledge that the market may not be a panacea?

  16. Supersub,

    So much of what you describe is exactly what I see in my school. I agree that schools must have more backbone and muster up the will to shape students, even if parents balk. I’ve had an inchoate awareness of all these factors, but your articulation of it helps crystalize and clarify. Thank you.

  17. One more thing: I don’t mean shape students to fit some political profile, but shape minds to care about knowledge, to think scientifically, to have good thinking habits, etc.

  18. Ben,

    The government of a locality is the largest dealer in interpersonal violence in that locality. “The market” names all human interactions that occur without the threat of State violence. While, as you say, “the market is no panacea”, where markets fail so, usually, will the State actors. People do not become more intelligent, better-informed, more altruistic, nor more capable (except in their access to the tools of State coercion) when they enter the State’s employ. Quite the contrary; guns attract thugs.

    “I don’t mean shape students to fit some political profile, but shape minds to care about knowledge, to think scientifically, to have good thinking habits, etc.”

    a) Whatever your intentions, why suppose that your preferences will win the political contest for expression in the compulsory school apparatus?
    b) These are not your children.

  19. Ben, your comments regarding “free market fundamentalists” are laughable when one considers that the biggest accomplishment of state run schools has been to produce a society of people who, for the most part, are stupid enough to allow a bunch of phony, corrupt, self-rightous and power-hungry politicians to govern their lives the way that they do. How pathetic.

  20. (SuperSub): “Ben’s right and Malcolm’s wrong.”
    (Ben): “Supersub, what a great description…(Y)our articulation of it helps crystalize and clarify.”

    Get a room.

  21. Like there’s a market free of government collusion. LOL.

  22. Steven and Malcolm,

    You might enjoy Somalia –refreshingly free of strong government and government schools. There, guns are where they should be –in the hands of the people. And religious people with guns make sure that the wrong ideas don’t get into the heads of their children: schools emphasize the Muslim beliefs of many parents, not godless secular humanist teachers. While a strong secular government might enable girls to get educated, this benefit is vastly outweighed by the costs of giving government a monopoly on violence.

  23. Ben, Right. Because thinking small government or free market solutions within a well established democracy are equivalent to anarchy in a third world failed state. Just so you know, your arguments lose credibility when you overstate. Or, hubris bad.

  24. The argument for policies which give to individual parents the power to determine for their own children the choice of curriculum and the pace and method of instruction parallel closely the argument for a market economy in general. Markets, the system of title and contract, institutionalize humility on the part of State actors. “What works?” is an empirical question which only an experiment can answer.

    “Private property is socially defined” say my Marxist friends, trying to sound deep while stating the obvious. All legal regimes are socially defined. The system of private property combines control over resources with the authority to transfer control, to other parties on mutually agreed-upon terms.

    In general, free marketeers accept that society at large benefits from a State strong enough effectively to suppress competition in the extortion business and to enforce contracts. Markets (the system of private property and contract law) combine local knowledge of resources with the incentive to use these resources in ways that please others. Markets calibrate the reward for improved answers to resource-allocation questions to the magnitude of the resources at issue and the urgency of teh question. “What do people want for lunch?” is an empirical question which only an experiment can answer realistically. “What resources (including time) does it take to bring an infant to the point that s/he can contribute to society?” is an empirical question which only an experiment can answer with any accuracy. A State-monopoly enterprise is like an experiment with one treatment and no controls: a retarded experimental design.

    The US State-monopoly school system lurches from fad to fad because it is a State-monopoly enterprise. Read Steven Moser’s meditation on campaigns in the People’s Republic of China in __Broken Earth: The Rural Chinese__. Current recipients of the US taxpayers’ $600 billion+ K-12-dedicated revenue stream have no interest in a less expensive answer to the question: “How do we prepare the next generation to replace their parents?” Thus, the continually expanding span of school attendance, the continual demands for more funding, and the systematic elimination of alternatives to schools as providers of education.

    The arguments for State (government, generally) subsidy of education are weak. The arguments for State operation of school are so weak as to be nearly non-existent.

    Not that it matters. It makes about as much sense for people who are not in government to argue about what governments should do as it makes for the swimming survivors of a mid-ocean shipwreck to argue about what sharks should eat.

  25. Ben, if you want to talk about the costs of giving government a monopoly on violence then please don’t forget about the more than 200,000,000 innocent people murdered by their government during the 20th century. That’s quite a cost. And it’s not the only cost involved.

  26. First of all, individuals need to educate themselves on the stipulations for how RttT dollars can be used. Trust me, it’s not what you think.

    Second, many teacher associations have tried to work with their state government leaders… only to be told to sign documents without being able to view them first. How many individuals would purchase a car or home without having it properly inspected? This is exactly what happened in Indiana. “Sign on the dotted line. We’ll get the details of the contract to you later.”

    Third, how many other countries provide a quality education to every single student without regard to their intellectual abilities, behavioral deficiencies, emotional challenges and family stature?

    Fourth, when holding a teacher’s evaluation directly in line with A test score of A student, where does the accountability of the student and the parent come in to play? What about the child’s IQ. Presently, the No Child Left Behind Act requires all students to obtain proficiency by 2014. Magically, I’m certain that any teacher will be able to change a child’s IQ along with moving them out of poverty. If we can’t do that, than according to NCLB (and Indiana’s RttT submission), we have failed.

    Fifth, for Indiana, even if our Association had signed off completely in the initial RttT submission, based on the points being awarded for that component, it still wouldn’t have moved us from 23rd place to 1st place. The rest of the application was lacking in many areas. However, since we were not allowed to be part of the process in reviewing the document prior to submission, we became the scapegoat for the state’s failure to “win” the monies.

    While some may think that we are in a new era with new problems, the common factor that remains the same since the 1950’s is an unfair and inequitable education for all. In the process of desegregating, families with financial means have left inner city communities, leaving behind those that cannot afford to move or relocate. Once again, creating a form of segregation between the have’s and the have not’s. Privitazation has played a key role in this as well.

    It is my opinion that while the government wants to ensure that all children receive a good quality education, they must first focus on the problems in regards to poverty and minority exclusion. The failure does not lie with the teachers and the material or standards being taught. The failure stems from problems in society and the poverty that our government continues to ignore.

  27. Diana,

    Every living thing is your cousin. Except for monozygotic twins, no two humans are born equal. Even monozygotic twins diverge as they mature. Inequality is a fact, not a problem to be solved through the application of organized (i.e., State) violence.

    “…how many other countries provide a quality education to every single student without regard to their intellectual abilities, behavioral deficiencies, emotional challenges and family stature?”

    Certainly not the US. In the 1996 TIMSS, the US fiftieth (50th) percentile score, 8th grade Math, was lower than the Singapore fifth (5th) percentile score.

    “…the common factor that remains the same since the 1950’s is an unfair and inequitable education for all.”

    Make up your mind. And are you saying the US K-12 education industry was more equitable before President Eisenhower enforced desegregation?

    “In the process of desegregating, families with financial means have left inner city communities, leaving behind those that cannot afford to move or relocate. Once again, creating a form of segregation between the have’s and the have not’s. Privitazation has played a key role in this as well.”

    What “privatization” has “played a key role” in segregating “the have’s and have not’s”? Since schooling has not been privatized, you must mean privatization of some other industry. Which?

    “The failure does not lie with the teachers and the material or standards being taught. The failure stems from problems in society and the poverty that our government continues to ignore.”

    The US government ignores poverty? After hundreds of billions in Medicaid, AFDC, Section 8, etc. that assertion is absurd.

    The “public goods” argument for State provision of charity fails. Corporate oversight is a public good. The State is a corporation. Therefore, oversight of State functions is a public good which the State itself cannot provide. State assumption of responsibility for the provision of public goods (such as charity) transforms the free rider problem at the root of public goods analysis but does not eliminate it.

    State imposition of an intellectual monoculture in the form of a uniform K-12 curriculum is very much a problem. Training an artistically or mechanically inclined child for an academic career using the transcript as the incentive is like training a cat to swim using carrots as the reward.

    It does not take 12 years at $10,000 per pupil-year to teach a normal child to read and compute. Most vocational training occurs more effectively on the job than in a classroom. State provision of History and Civics instruction is a threat to democracy, just as State operation of newspapers and broadcast newsmedia would be (are, in totalitarian countries).

Trackbacks

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by JoanneLeeJacobs. JoanneLeeJacobs said: New blog post: Teachers' unions have lost allies http://www.joannejacobs.com/2010/04/teachers-unions-have-lost-allies/ […]