February 22, 2006
Teacher Unions Reward Mediocrity, Fail
"The teachers united will never be defeated!"
chanted thousands of public-school teachers at a union rally. They
may be right -- unfortunately. Teachers unions in this country are
very influential because they can assemble a crowd. Randi Weingarten,
head of New York's teachers union, put out the word, and thousands
of teachers filled Madison Square Garden to demand a new contract
and more money. That clout brings timid politicians into line.
can pay for expensive rallies at "the world's most famous
arena" because every teacher in a unionized district like
New York must give up some of his salary to the union. Even teachers
who don't like the union, teachers who believe in school choice,
and teachers who could make more on the open market must fork
over their money to support the unions that fight against school
choice and merit pay.
use their clout to fight against the interests of the best teachers.
Union leaders make sure the teachers who work hardest don't get
raises or bonuses. Everyone with the same seniority and credentials
must be paid the same. That guarantees that no teacher will take
home a dime for making extra sure that students learn. Joel Klein,
who as New York's schools chancellor runs the country's largest
public-school system, put it this way: "We tolerate mediocrity,
and people get paid the same whether they're outstanding or whether
they're average or, indeed, whether they're way below average."
that out of 80,000 teachers, only two have been fired for incompetence
in the past two years. That's because it takes years for a principal
to fire an incompetent teacher. I can't explain the rules here,
but you may be able to read a flow chart about them in my next
book -- "may be" because the flow chart may be too big
to fit in a book. The rules are so complex that they ought to
begin: First, take a week off from running your school to study
these rules. Many of the rules come from the union contract, which
has 200 pages plus a mess of addenda. Even Klein, who used to
practice antitrust law for the federal government, called the
contract a "regulatory nightmare."
unions fight to protect the nightmare. Weingarten has a remarkable
excuse: "Our union has actually stepped up to the plate and
said we'll police our own profession."
to police my own job, too. And I'll bet some students would just
love to police their own homework!
unions do more than just protect incompetents. Weingarten, on
behalf of New York's teachers union, fought for a uniform day
of six hours, 40 minutes. "Which is what normally happens
in the private sector," she told me.
work in the private sector every day, and I haven't seen that.
no longer have that either, though. Last year, they made a big
concession. Now they have a uniform day of six hours, 50 minutes.
That's nearly a whole additional hour every week!
care about the students, so they want to do more than the contract
requires. But astoundingly, some of them told me they are actually
afraid to stay at school when the union says it's time to go home.
They worry they'll "get in trouble with the union."
It's as if the teachers, united, never to be defeated, made a
decision: Instead of letting the administrators crack down on
bad teachers, the union will protect the bad teachers by cracking
down on the good ones.
what Weingarten calls policing their own profession.
Weingarten. "Unionized monopolies like yours fail. In this
case, it is the children who -- who you are failing."
are not a unionized monopoly," she retorted. "And ultimately
those folks who want to say this all the time, they don't really
care about kids."
Ms. Weingarten? You fight to protect a system that rewards mediocrity,
and then you claim your critics don't care about kids?
JFS Productions, Inc. Distributed by Creators Syndicate