Why we Need to Fight the Teachers Unions, from New York to Pennsylvania

   It is a truth universally acknowledged that parents and teachers want children to receive the best education they can possibly have, yet this universally acknowledged truth is sadly incorrect. There are certainly some teachers who wish to impart knowledge to their students and prepare them for a successful and fulfilling life; Teachers unions, however, are preventing this fundamental goal. American public schools continue to produce students who continue to fall further behind their peers in other industrialized countries. Despite the clear difference in academic achievement, many refuse to address our broken public school system. Joel Klein, the former Chancellor of New York City Schools, argues in “The Failure of American Public Schools“, that teachers unions are battling school reformers to maintain a failing status quo so that they can maintain their power and benefits.

  The United States is rapidly heading towards two distinct Americas; a wealthy elite and a poor underprivileged class. Swift technological progress is outpacing educational advancement. While technological progress is often beneficial, in this case it is widening the educational gap between well-off and poor students. The wealthy are able to send their children to private or elite public schools, while poor children are stuck in their local schools. Often underprivileged children are stuck in schools with overworked teachers and unmotivated students who do not receive school support at home. They do not have access to the same level of technology their wealthier peers have. A lack of access results in less computer literacy, and prevents them from utilizing new methods of teaching; for example, using online courses to supplement classes.

 School reform is needed, but no substantial reform can occur without tackling the entrenched forces defending the status quo. Those “defending the status quo – the unions, the politicians, the bureaucrats, and the vendors – are well organized and financed” while pro-reform groups are often “scattered and weak”. Yet without a “major realignment of political forces, we won’t get the dramatic improvements our children need”.  One critical improvement is to hire good teachers. The “teacher-value-added” method is one way to help determine whether a teacher is effective or not.  Yet the United Federation of Teachers, the New York City teachers union, refused Mr. Klein’s suggestion to determine the top and bottom 20% of NYC public school teachers. The top 20% would be rewarded “positive credit” while the bottom 20% would be given “negative credit”. This review would simply be a part of a more comprehensive tenure review. Yet the UFT refused, and proceeded to create a “legislative roadblock” in Albany.

  The UFT and New York law does not allow teachers to be evaluated based on their impact on a child’s learning. It is common sense that children learn better from good teachers. Why would an organization not seek to hire the most qualified candidates possible? The ugly truth is that the system is run by adults and for adults – not for the children it ostensibly seeks to educate. Such a mindset misses the entire point of education. One must seek to better a child’s future; not to secure improve retirement benefits for union members.

 The adults are benefiting from the current public school system at the expense of the children. Constituents who are well connected can arrange for a good school assignment for their child. Politicians want to keep teachers happy, because “teachers unions consistently rank among the top spenders on politics”. Teachers unions have a huge amount of political sway due to the vast amounts of money they spend on campaigns to ensure that the chosen candidate will continue to acquiesce to union demands. Current and retired members want job security through tenure, increased pay without improved performance via seniority pay, less work because of short days and holidays, comfortable lifetime pensions and full health benefits.

 Teachers unions consistently look out for the interests of their members, not their students. Albert Shanker, the late head of the UFT stated plainly that “when schoolchildren start paying union dues, that’s when I’ll start representing the interests of school children”. Such a statement, coming from an individual who should be concerned with growing the mind of a child, is appalling. Mr. Shanker makes it clear that for him, schools are about the adults, not the children entrusted to his teachers’ care.

  There is no accountability in the system, allowing poor teachers to remain. The UFT has adopted the mentality that “no one gets fired”. The union has worked to its utmost to make this a reality. Certain teachers, who are not allowed to teach due to physical abuse, embezzlement, or incompetence on their part, were kept in “rubber rooms” in NYC and are paid to do nothing.  It cost the city $35 million per year. Former Chancellor Klein’s administration ended this practice, but it had been an expensive and damaging drain on an already broken system.

  The UFT is holding back underprivileged children by not reforming the current system and hiring effective teachers. Texas and California have similar demographics. The Lone Star State spends slightly less per pupil than the Golden State. Yet Texan children far outperform their Californian peers in all standardized tests. The study shows that an effective public education system is not dependent on the amount of money that is thrown at it, but rather the quality of the teacher’s it recruits.

  In the end, a successful public education system puts the children, and not teachers union members, first. Good schools will help the student, the state, and the nation. If American education levels were at the same standard as the highest performing countries, American GDP would have increased by $2 trillion in 2008. The corrupt system is why we must fight to end the teachers union’s lock on our children’s education, whether it is in Pennsylvania or New York City. We must return the power to choose back to children and their families. The current status quo is unacceptable.