It is ironic that the biggest obstacle in the path to better schools is the teachers' unions. How outrageous of them to work their diabolical magic against the very people whom they should benefit: the students and the community. But no, the unions have created a situation that has now reached a point at which the schools cannot be fixed.
Before about the year 1960, the NEA was an association of teachers who worked in the public schools. But that year, it became a labor union instead. Its purpose changed from trying to do a good job to trying to take the maximum money from the community. Since then, while teachers' pay has risen sharply, the biggest winners have been the negotiators and union staff who work behind the scenes, jacking up the price of everything the schools do, while having zero interest in the quality of education that results. Unions want one thing: more money for less work. In public schools, they are performing flawlessly.
For example: the unions have arranged for the inability of schools to fire the worst teachers while preventing the creation of incentives for decent teachers to improve their skills and knowledge, and thus their pay. The result of those twin measures is that the schools are moving steadily in what has been called, "The race to the bottom." The bad teachers stay while the best ones routinely quit, resulting in the steady decline in the quality of the public schools.
The micromanaging of teachers' days, the insistence on "certification," the constant pressing for more and more counter-productive rules, stonewalling all reforms, and more drive up the costs of public schooling. To prove my point, the CT NEA printed its list of one hundred seventy-four demands that its negotiators had ready as they went into teacher-pay negotiations with local school districts. The local school boards have literally no chance in negotiations with union pros when their meager requests (such as "will the teachers accept a little accountability for their work, please?") are met with such force.
Julia Steiny, a columnist for the Providence Journal (RI), shed much light on the problem this week. She noted that the roots of the problem go back to the early days when teacher unions asked the advice of automotive industry unions. She wrote, "In an unfortunate accident of history, the labor contracts that won decent pay for teachers also cemented into place a factory-model design for schooling. Blue-collar labor contracts spell out and limit a worker's obligations on the factory floor, or in this case a classroom, as if teachers were as interchangeable as die-press operators."
Little has changed. Steiny quotes a former superintendent in RI: "The unions...are running the whole country into the ground because they can't get it through their heads that the reason for our financial problems is at least in part due to us trying to keep up with their demands." She concludes, "The whole negotiating process, using a model designed for blue-collar jobs, is painfully obsolete, seriously impeding academic improvement and, most important, stealing resources from the kids."
It just might be time to start over in education.