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Teacher Unions vs. Students


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Teacher Unions vs. Students

Teacher Unions vs. Students

Coronavirus has been a dark cloud. But if we want to find a silver lining, the government’s bungled response to the pandemic has exposed some weaknesses in the government school monopoly.

And this could mean opportunity for competing structures that can do a better job of educating kids.

  • School choice – An approach where parents get vouchers that they can send their kids to schools, either government or private, that compete to best serve their needs and interests.
  • Home schooling – An approach where parents direct their children’s education, often in cooperation with other parents and experts who specialize in certain fields.
  • Charter schools – An approach where education entrepreneurs (often groups of parents) set up government schools that operate outside of the existing monopoly.

Even before the coronavirus, there was plenty of evidence against the government’s monopoly.

Politicians have been shoveling ever-larger amounts of money into the system. Yet student outcomes have not improved.

Why? Part of the answer is that too many schools systems are run for the benefit of teacher unions, with student outcomes being a secondary (at best) concern.

And that problem has become increasingly apparent because of the pandemic.

But, in an article for Reason, Matt Welch hopes the despicable behavior of teacher unions may lead to long-overdue reforms.

…in the COVID-scarred year of 2020. Teachers unions, and the (largely Democratic) politicians they back, have relentlessly limited parental choice in the name of maximizing the autonomy of teachers to opt out of classrooms while still getting paid. No other country in the industrialized world has closed schools down to this degree. …The remote learning that tens of millions of kids are suffering through nationally is broadly understood to be a disaster. The results are as predictable as day following night: Parents are pulling their kids out of public schools. …I’m furious that public schools have used our money to fail poor kids. …unions and their allies have made America a global outlier in keeping schools shut, driving parents away from the systems, and some cities, in droves. …the same guilds that have such a concentrated amount of power are soon going to find themselves having to explain to the rank and file just why there aren’t as many jobs anymore.

Or, maybe the union bosses should explain why sauce for the goose isn’t also sauce for the gander.

They vigorously defend their jobs and perks, but they often make sure their kids aren’t victimized by the system.

For instance, here’s the headline of a story forwarded to me by a reader.

Not that I’m surprised.

I’ve shared many examples of two-faced behavior by defenders of the government education monopoly – crummy schools for the children of ordinary people but high-quality private schools for their kids.

So can we hope for reform?

Most of the action will need to take place at the state and local level, but the federal government unfortunately has been playing a bigger role in schooling, so it’s also worth paying attention to what we’ll get from the Biden Administration.

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In a column for New York, Jonathan Chait worries that Democrats are so cowed by teacher unions that they aren’t even willing to maintain support for charter schools.

…charter schools have produced dramatic learning gains for low-income minority students. In city after city, from New York to New Orleans, charters have found ways to reach the children who have been most consistently failed by traditional schools. The evidence for their success has become overwhelming, with apolitical education researchers pronouncing themselves shocked at the size of the gains. …in 2015, a survey focused on charters in urban districts, where education reformers have concentrated their energies (and where gains have outpaced suburban and rural areas). It found urban charters on average gave their students the equivalent of 40 additional school days of learning in math and 28 additional days of learning in reading every year. CREDO’s studies confirm the conclusion that the lottery studies have found: In most cases, urban charters now provide the same group of students much better instruction. …The ability of urban charters all over the country to get nonselective groups of poor, Black students to learn at the same level as students in affluent, middle-class schools is one of the great domestic-policy achievements in American history.

Chait is on the left, but he’s honest.

So he recognizes that this is a battle over what really matters – currying favor with teacher unions or delivering better education for kids.

The final element of charters’ formula is inescapably controversial. They prioritize the welfare of their students over those of their employees, which means paying teachers based on effectiveness rather than how long they’ve been on the job — and being able to fire the worst ones. …the traditional practice of granting teachers near-total job security, without any differentiation based on performance, is a disaster for children.

Sadly, many folks on the left have decided that union bosses matter more than children.

They’re even willing to condemn minority children to substandard education to keep the unions happy.

…the second outcome of the charter-school breakthrough has been a bitter backlash within the Democratic Party. The political standing of the idea has moved in the opposite direction of the data, as two powerful forces — unions and progressive activists — have come to regard charter schools as a plutocratic assault on public education and an ideological betrayal. …as Biden turns from campaigning to governing, whether he will follow through on his threats to rein them in — or heed the data and permit charter schools to flourish — is perhaps the most unsettled policy mystery of his emerging administration. …or many education specialists, the left’s near abandonment of charter schools has been a bleak spectacle of unlearning — the equivalent of Lincoln promising to rip out municipal water systems or Eisenhower pledging to ban the polio vaccine. …Today, teachers unions have adopted a militant defense of the tenure prerogatives of their least effective members, equating that stance with a defense of the teaching profession as a whole. They have effectively mobilized progressives (and resurgent socialist activists) to their cause, which they identify as a defense of “public education”.

The actions of white leftists is particularly disgusting.

Polls show that the backlash against charters has been mainly confined to white liberals, while Black and Latino Democrats — whose children are disproportionately enrolled in those schools — remain supportive.

Though there are exceptions, to be sure. Not just Chait, but even the editors at the Washington Post.

But I fear too many Democrats have made a deal with the devil.

Teacher unions bring money and votes to the table. Meanwhile, many Democrats take for granted the votes of minorities. Given these real-world considerations, it makes sense (from a self-interest perspective) to side with the union bosses.

But from a humanitarian perspective, that’s an awful choice.

For what it’s worth, I have zero hope that Biden will be sympathetic to genuine school choice. But there’s a chance he could follow Obama and be somewhat open to charter schools.

And if that happens because of the coronavirus, that will indeed be a silver lining.

P.S. School choice doesn’t automatically mean every child will be an educational success, but evidence from SwedenChileCanada, and the Netherlands shows superior results when competition replaces government education monopolies.

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