August 30, 2005
Frequently, my main problem with unions is that unions tend to protect the slothful and incompetent, and at the same time hamper the efficient and enterprising. Specifically, that it is a one-size-fits-all sort of bargaining. Now, in most very-low-skill jobs, I really don’t dislike unions. In those sorts of jobs, having union protection really can do quite a bit to help the workers they serve. By utilizing collective bargaining, they can stop an employer from practices that discriminate against individual workers. I, of course, don’t think that every worker has a right to unionize. And when unions strike, bringing in scabs is management’s way to curb union power. In the end, it’s just another wrinkle in a market, and it finds an efficient level.
What I do mind, however, is when high-skill jobs unionize. Particularly when that unionization is not between an employer and a union, but between government and a union, because political forces, not market forces, are at work. Especially when the customer of the service performed is not actually the employer. When you look at our educational system and the teacher unions, you see that particular perfect storm.
Teacher unions are not in any way interested in helping the students. As was recently shown by their yearly meeting agenda, which had far more to do with political wrangling than educating. That, coupled with their continued opposition to home schooling, despite its actual success. They also push the requirement that all teachers earn a teaching certification, even though it becomes much harder to find teachers who have actually studied their subject. Paul Jacob of Common Sense brings us a story about a music teacher who taught well, loved his work, but had to move out of public schooling due to not holding a “certification”:
Take credentialism. Most public schools are required to hire only “properly credentialed” teachers. We are told this ensures good teachers, but what it really does is distract administrators and school boards from actual teacher performance, and feeds the spectacularly ineffective teacher-school industry. For the good of our schools, we should stop thinking about credentials and demand knowledge, skills, talents, and training — wherever they come from.
But that’s not what I expect. I expect the kind of thing that’s happened to Mr. Thara Memory.
A few months ago I reported on this jazz trumpeter. He had established an award-winning jazz band in a state-supported charter school. He had no credentials, just an international reputation and an amazing ability to teach jazz. He would never have been allowed to teach in a public school, but in a charter school he was given some temporary leeway. But that ran out last spring, and he was forced out.
Thankfully, he’s teaching again. No need for three guesses. He ain’t teachin’ in public schools, that’s for sure. And why would he teach in another charter school, only to be kicked out again? You guessed it: Thara Memory is leading the band like gangbusters in a private school.
You see, the teacher unions don’t care about the interests of the students. They care about the interests of the teachers. The more teacher certification requirements they require, the worse the “shortage” of teachers will become. And the power of their union will increase. This is why they fight privatization of the schools, and why they fight vouchers. It will weaken their power and their control on schools. This is why they deride home-schoolers, who seem to be educating their kids just fine, because they’re not “accredited teachers”.
I want our teachers to be highly qualified. And I’d rather have an engineer who worked in the private sector come in and teach high school math or physics than a social sciences teacher who has volunteered for the extra class based on a primer class they took at their local community college. I’d rather that our schools have the opportunity to reward excellent teachers and fire incompetent ones, than a seniority-based system that demoralizes those who are effective. As long as our schools are dominated by politicians and the NEA, and competition and results are secondary concerns, nothing will change.
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