My wife volunteers with the PTA organization at our elementary school. Her position gets her on some emailing lists, including that of the state’s largest educator union, the Utah Education Association. During the legislative session the UEA’s highly charged emails arrive at an extreme rate, making it difficult to digest them all.
A couple of weeks ago my wife felt that a bill in which she had taken particular interest had been mischaracterized in a UEA email. She sent an email expressing her concern about this and stating her understanding of the actual facts. She received a response that was filled with more mischaracterization, blatant falsehoods, and straw man arguments. That simply burned her toast.
This morning I asked her to read LaVarr Webb’s excellent opinion piece about public education (here – scroll down to Publisher’s Opinion). She responded with three cheers for LaVarr’s clear-headed position. Speaking from personal experience, Webb says, “While I love public schools, I don’t love public school unions. They have killed meaningful school reform over and over again. It doesn’t matter how reasonable the program.”
But Webb’s article is far from a mere criticism of educator unions. He says, “I want to improve public schools, pay teachers more, and increase overall funding for public schools.” He is tired of three decades of reform efforts that “do nothing of substance.” He strongly advocates a voucher system like the one proposed by Rep. Stuart Adams.
Why vouchers? Citing the “the magic of the marketplace,” Webb says, “Giving parents control of education spending would drive improvements faster than anything else.” Of course, the UEA argues that the whole world will come to an end if vouchers become law. Never mind the successful programs that are in place in several parts of the country, some of which are being destroyed by educator unions (see here).
Why are educator unions so opposed to meaningful education reform? Terry I. Moe cogently explains this here. He argues that educator unions are not trying to behave badly, but that by their nature they simply are not designed nor equipped to do what’s best for the children they claim to be so concerned about. The unions’ “behavior is driven by fundamental interests [that] have to do with the jobs, working conditions, and material well-being of teachers.”
This is not to say that educator unions are all bad or that they don’t have a role to play in our education system. But our public policy has inappropriately made them nearly the sole party of interest in regulating the education of our children. We have failed to recognize them for what they really are.
Unions, by their very nature, will oppose any reform that reduces their power. (Yes, this is all about power). They have a near monopoly, and they’re not going to give up even the minutest portion of it easily. Moe forecasts that the unions’ monopoly will be broken “when the public speaks out [giving] politicians … the courage--and the electoral incentive--to do the right thing.” Webb sees that day coming. He says, “the union eventually will lose. The tide is turning and they can’t hold back destiny.”
I don’t think educator unions should be crushed. But for the sake of our children and grandchildren these unions need to be relegated to their appropriate role. I hope that the future envisioned by LaVarr Webb is not too distant.