January 23, 2005


No Teacher Left Behind: Unions don't have children's best interests at heart. (TERRY M. MOE, January 22, 2005, The Wall Street Journal)

The teachers unions have more influence over the public schools than any other group in American society. They influence schools from the bottom up, through collective bargaining activities that shape virtually every aspect of school organization. And they influence schools from the top down, through political activities that shape government policy. They are the 800-pound gorillas of public education. Yet the American public is largely unaware of how influential they are--and how much they impede efforts to improve public schools.

The problem is not that the unions are somehow bad or ill-intentioned. They aren't. The problem is that when they simply do what all organizations do--pursue their own interests--they are inevitably led to do things that are not in the best interests of children.

To appreciate why this is so, consider the parallel to business firms. No one claims that these organizations are in business to promote the public interest. They are in business to make money, and this is the fundamental interest that drives their behavior. Thus, economists and policy makers fully expect firms to pollute the water and air when polluting is less costly (and more profitable) than not polluting--and that is why we have laws against pollution. The problem is not that firms are out to destroy the environment. The problem is simply that their interests are not identical to the public interest, and the two inevitably come into conflict.

Teachers unions have to be understood in much the same way. Their behavior is driven by fundamental interests too, except that their interests have to do with the jobs, working conditions, and material well-being of teachers. When unions negotiate with school boards, these are the interests they pursue, not those of the children who are supposed to be getting educated.

Which is why the Democrats, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the teachers' unions, are so bad for education.

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 23, 2005 6:14 PM

The problem with American education stems from the fact that every single social problem we have from race relations to drugs is dumped on the schools. Another serious problem is that the school system is run by parents and politicians. Just observe the behavior of any small town school board. Given a choice between a scoreboard for the football field and increasing programs for the gifted, the scoreboard wins every time.

Parents do not want their kids to get educated, they want their children to receive a credential. They want their kids to receive entree into the next level of the ladder whether they have earned it or not. Learning is for sissies, wimps and nerds. Real men don't read. Social promotion is not the creation of the teachers' unions, it is the creation of the political class which wants to ingratiate itself with parents, i.e. voters. Putting the disruptive and the mentally defective into regular schools is not the choice of the teachers' unions but is instead that of administrators wishing to keep costs and therefore taxes lower thereby pleasing taxpayers, i.e. voters, and the parents of those disruptive or mentally-defective kids, i.e. voters.

Almost any specific criticism of the kind of flummery that permeates our public education can be laid at the door of politicians and administrators. Blaming the teachers is like blaming the police for crime, and blaming the teachers' unions is like blaming the PBA.

Posted by: Bart at January 24, 2005 7:07 AM

Teachers run the schools--it's their fault.

Posted by: oj at January 24, 2005 7:16 AM

Teachers do not run the schools so it cannot possibly be their fault.

Posted by: Bart at January 24, 2005 8:31 AM

Don't have kids, do you?

Posted by: oj at January 24, 2005 2:15 PM

I've had a front row seat at the Public Education Follies for my entire life, because my parents were in the game and we talked constantly about what was going on and I do have at least reasonably decent powers of observation and analysis as do they. As Sy Syms might say, when it comes to public education I'm an educated consumer.

I don't have kids but I have teachers.

Posted by: Bart at January 24, 2005 5:14 PM


Posted by: oj at January 24, 2005 7:22 PM

For the sake of argument, I doubt if NH is representative of the majority of US public schools.

There are 'nice' suburban schools, 'hard' suburban schools, and 'progressive' suburban schools. In Atlanta (where I lived for 14 years), most suburban schools tried to be nice with some hard thrown in.

Outside Charlotte, where I live now, they are trying to be progressive and are almost uniformly terrible. The school board is still reeling from the end of the (1969) segregation order in 2000/2001.

In many schools, the teachers are merely trying to survive. They are most definitely not in charge. But if your point is that the unions are giving them what they 'pay' for, then I agree.

Posted by: jim hamlen at January 25, 2005 4:46 PM