Unions protect bad teachers, not students

By Shane Cronin

During the early 20th century, when working conditions were appalling, employers were ruthless and labor laws didn’t exist in the United States, vulnerable workers formed unions to protect themselves.

Many unions, however, have outlived their usefulness. Today, they stifle innovation and bully or bribe legislators into getting their ways at enormous taxpayer cost. Teachers unions are a perfect example of this.

The teachers unions are possibly the biggest hurdle a student must overcome to receive a high school diploma. To meet every educational innovation is a union leader with a billy club. They are analogous to legalized mafia.

Across the country merit pay, school choice, policy reform and scholarships for low-income children were vigorously opposed by the unions. This keeps well-paid union higher-ups rich and low-income underperforming students poor.

Teachers usually don’t have a choice on whether or not to join the unions in their districts. This is why unions hate non-unionized charter schools: especially the successful ones.

Teachers unions in Massachusetts have fought tooth and nail to keep the charter school caps low. They fought to keep Teach for America out of Boston last year despite the program’s accomplishments. The union argued new educators shouldn’t be hired in a recession which threatened teacher layoffs.

Ostensibly that seems fair. But, my guess is even in the best economic climate the union would reject Teach for America.

Termination is virtually non-existent among tenured teachers in the U. S. In New Jersey, about one in 20,000 teachers are fired annually. In Los Angeles, between 1995 and 2005 only 112 tenured teachers were fired. In 2003, the city graduated only half its high school seniors. Less than one percent of tenured teachers are fired each year in Dallas, Texas.

This is largely due to legal expenses firing tenured educators incurs, which can cost anywhere from $50,000 to $250,000 depending on the district. Furthermore, unions (particularly in urban districts) have diluted the teacher evaluation system making it almost impossible for a teacher to receive an “unsatisfactory” review.

Union leaders, like mafia bosses, are all about dough. Teachers shell out hundreds of dollars per year to feed the hungry union hierarchy. Union leaders earn six-figure salaries, which is exponentially more than many of the teachers they claim to represent. The fewer unionized teachers there are, the fewer dues these leaders can collect.

Essentially, tenure ensures contract-renewal for mediocre educators year after year. The ability principals have to remove these teachers from classrooms is extremely limited. Principles often cite union power for not firing teachers.

In 2007, the National Education Association contributed more than $80 million (20 percent of its budget) to largely left wing, non-education-related causes. That’s $80 million that could have benefited students. But why waste money on them with a blooming money tree growing in their backyard known as the taxpayers?

The gangster-like teachers union in New Jersey, for example, has suggested Gov. Chris Christie raise the nine percent state income tax rather than agree to a one year teacher pay freeze.

Another favorite target of the unions is The No Child Left Behind Act, signed into law by President Bush in 2002. NCLB essentially mandated standardized testing in every state. It also requires every student to be proficient in math and reading by 2014. The bill has its flaws. However, it is a major step in the right direction: standardization. It fails in the sense that it gives states wide latitude in determining what “basic skills” means.

President Obama, who originally pledged to strengthen education standards, seems to have changed course. The New York Times recently reported President Obama wants to revise NCLB. His proposed revisions, however, are more in line with the union agenda than student achievement.

The President’s changes include factoring “pupil attendance, graduation rates, and learning climate” into a teacher’s/school’s level of success. In other words, the edited version of NCLB will require less measurable accountability.

What happens to mediocre or outright incompetent employees in the private sector? They aren’t awarded raises. They are fired because it would be bad business practice to keep them on the payroll. It is just as bad for students when mediocre teachers are kept on the payroll.

In addition, unions largely oppose merit pay also known as extra pay for teachers who produce high-achieving students. The Florida legislature passed a bill that would have enacted merit pay statewide. Gov. Charlie Crist caved to union pressure, however, and vetoed the legislation earlier this month.

Teachers are America’s human capital. The role they play is critical in educating our youth so they can become analytical, high-functioning, hard-working members of an increasingly high-tech economy. Many teachers are overworked and underpaid. Starting salaries for new teachers deter many qualified applicants – especially in the math and science fields.

The private sector compensates math and science majors much more generously than a career in public education does. Unions, with near unilateral authority over policy, can change this. But they won’t if politicians continue to give in to their self-serving, anti-innovation agenda.

Shane Cronin is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at [email protected]