Monday, June 08, 2015

Teachers Unions Don't Make Good Arguments For Themselves

In the late 60s and early 70s, three major complaints by teachers helped drive the teachers union movement:  pay, class size, and working conditions.  Here we are 40 years later and teachers are still complaining about exactly the same things.  How have unions helped?

Here's a recent example wherein the California Teachers Association shoots itself in the foot:
The other day I came across this slide from a California Teachers Association presentation.

Rather than argue that Californians are not stingy – which is what the normal reaction would be – suppose we simply agree that funding has been on a precipitous decline since 1972. The union wants to illustrate a lack of commitment to school funding. But what does the same assertion tell us about the California Teachers Association?

Prominent parts of the union’s mission statement tell us that CTA “exists to protect and promote the well-being of its members; to improve the conditions of teaching and learning.” The union calls itself the “preeminent voice for public education in California.”

Yet in the salad days of 1972, there was no collective bargaining law for teachers in California. Evidently 40 years of CTA efforts have done nothing to forestall the reduction of the state’s school spending ranking from 19th to 42nd.
And they're not alone:
CTA is not the only union inadvertently undermining its own performance. The American Federation of Teachers recently released the results of an unscientific survey showing an overwhelming majority of teachers to be highly stressed. As the Yahoo! News story said, “It sounds like the worst job ever.”

Again, if we accept this complaint in this context, what does it say about the job AFT has been doing? If by its own admission it can’t protect the interests of its members, then who needs it?


maxutils said...

Stats like this always irritate me. Ranking education spending by state is a ridiculous endeavor, and if you put any stock in to it, you're part of the problem. Someone is ALWAYS going to be 50th in the nation in per student spending. (Or, 57th, if you go by Obama's math). It's comletely irrelevant. What would happen to education spending if every state was determined to be #1? The appropriate question is, "Do you provide enough funding to hire and retain quality teachers and to operate the schools?" If the answer is no, then change it. If it's yes, you're fine. A teacher in CA making the same amount of money as a teacher in KS is going to be worse off -- but, which salary is more correct? The largest problem of funding of education is all the money that goes down the bureaucratic rabbit hole, never to be seen again. This is not really a union issue -- they can hold out for more money, but if it's already been spent, it isn't there.

pseudotsuga said...

As a compulsory member of the AFT, I always appreciate getting their periodical in the mail. Randi Weingarten's publication always helps me decide who to vote for (just not in the way they want, of course).
The AFT gets some discounts on things like car insurance, car rentals, and consumer goods.
Other than that, I'm not quite sure how the AFT has actually helped. Their immediate response is probably something like, "But, UNIONS! Unions Good! Unions voice of people! Unions fight administration and end slavery!"

Steve USMA '85 said...

I'd be interested in seeing the states that moved up the ladder with CA's drop to 42nd. You would really have a point if the state's without mandatory unions moved up in pay/$ per student and had less stress than mandatory states.

maxutils said...

SteveUSMA … I don't have your stats for you … but I bet I could figure out how much it cost to run a good school privately, and I think whatever they are spending in CA (I think it's around 12k per … maybe more) is enough. I've long supported vouchers, but real ones … don't just give the rich a 2k tax break, give everyone the whole 12k, and make it a guarantee that that will be accepted as payment in full at any public school. Establish standards for private schools accepting vouchers? And we find out what education really costs. As to the unions? One of the problems with CA techers' unions is that there are way to many people who prioritize 'the kids' over wages … and that's totally noble, but it also tells the district that they can underpay you, because no way will you strike.