Tuesday, October 5, 2010

A Union of Selfishness

The teachers’ unions are once again on the defensive, following the recent release of the much lauded movie, “Waiting for ‘Superman.’” The film, made by the same people that created “An Inconvenient Truth,” has fomented a surge of discussion on the woes of the American education system and, in particular, the dastardly effects of teachers’ unions.

The documentary highlights Michelle Rhee, the chancellor of the Washington D.C. public school system, as a paragon of what is right in education reform. Rhee, who recently sat down with The Washington Post for an interview, underscores human capital as the number one issue facing the system. In particular, she emphasizes teacher evaluations, pay-for-performance metrics, and tools to attract competent principals as key factors in improving underperforming schools.

Rhee could not be more correct in focusing on what are essentially competitive, free-market solutions to education’s woes. Unfortunately, as America is starting to realize, the teachers’ unions are standing in the way of the reform needed to help the country’s children. This battle has been all too clearly demonstrated in New Jersey, where the endearing Republican Governor, Chris Christie, has taken on the egocentric teachers’ union, heaping much deserved shame upon them for their inordinate selfishness. In a rousing speech (see video below), Christie bluntly countered the all-too-common argument that the unions add any value to society. The interest of the unions is not that of the teachers, who as he admits are mostly well intentioned, and certainly not that of the students, but solely of the union as a vested interest. Christie has continued his campaign against the obdurate unions in a recent political speech in Iowa, where he mocked the unions for their power hungry nature.

The issue is systematic of the market distorting effects that unions – or any consolidated power – have in industry. They often are founded with the notion of protecting a specific marginalized group, but quickly devolve into powerful and obstinate special interests that rarely help those they purportedly represent and always disrupt the industry in which they operate. Unions played a significant role in destroying the Detroit auto industry and have continued to drag America’s education system through the mud.

The problem is that the teachers’ unions not only prevent the best teachers from being favorably compensated and encouraged to excel, but also protect those “teachers” who are utterly useless. The infamous “rubber rooms,” which have been eliminated in New York City largely in name only, are a prime example of the harmful effects of these unions. Likewise, unions are often opposed to such logical and widely accepted business models such as merit-based pay. As The Economist points out, the DC teachers’ union turned down an offer from Rhee to double teachers’ salaries if tenure was removed and merit-based pay instituted. How such a refusal by the union helps the teachers – particularly the good ones – is questionable, but the harm done to students is palpable. A mock discussion, articulated by Christie, between a child and a parent sums up the foolishness of the unions,

To believe that, this is what you have to believe: Let's say your son comes home and he says, "Mom, Dad, I can't study. I can't study, I can't work, my grades are suffering, because you know, Mrs. Smith, she's not getting her pay raises. And it gets worse," he said, feigning whines. "She actually has to pay 1.5 percent of her salary for health benefits. I cannot focus. I cannot focus with that knowledge. Mom, Dad, stop the madness. Give this woman her raise and her free health benefits and I'll get all A's."
Ultimately, it is the schools and the students – and hence America – that suffer. The backward, selfish, and short-sighted policies of the unions sap resources that could otherwise help students. Instead, these resources aid the institutional structure of the union and the worst-of-the-worst teachers. If America wants to continue its growth and not see our children and economy continue to fall behind those of China and India, it is time to break the stranglehold that these partisan interests have on our schools.

No comments:

Post a Comment

"Reading makes a full man, meditation a profound man, discourse a clear man." - Benjamin Franklin

Please leave comments!