Education Reform

The Crisis of Exploitation in the Classroom: Teachers’ Unions

The Crisis of Exploitation in the Classroom (full series)
The Past Is Prologue | Educational Malfeasance
Teachers’ Unions | Growing School Competition

Teachers’ Unions

Teachers’ unions are to the education of students what a ball and chain are to a swimmer. Their counter-educational mission is the collective maximization of pay and benefits coupled with a collective minimization of work. Whether students learn is an afterthought, like an extra in a Cecille B. DeMille cinematic extravaganza.

Unionized teachers deplore excellence and extra effort because tacit aspersion is cast upon mediocrity or worse, which characteristically earmark all large organizations. The lowest common denominator prevails. The growth of teachers’ unions corresponds to a decline in student learning. Although there are multiple causes of the vertical fall, teachers’ unions are a prime culprit by removing monetary incentives for teaching excellence demonstrated by student achievement.

These unions have turned the profession of teaching from one of superior morality to one of profit-seeking. Union leaders have sued to prevent the opening of charter schools so that their union power is not threatened. The New York State United Teachers and the United Federation of Teachers sued to block a charter school from opening. While the teachers’ unions spent thousands of dollars—if not hundreds of thousands—to prevent what is considered in this case to be an extremely prestigious school, New York City public schools continue to be plagued with high crime filled with below-the-poverty line students. In sum, money from the teacher’s union is being used to block children’s opportunities for a superior education compared to what is obtainable in public schools.

The National Education Association (NEA) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) are the chain and ball of education. The NEA sports a teacher membership of three million, assets approximating $370 million, and annual income and expenditures approximating $390 million. The corresponding figures for the AFT are 1.7 million teacher members, $100 million in assets, and annual income and expenditures approximating $200 million. Approximately 90 percent of public-school teachers belong to unions.

The pay, benefits, and other terms and conditions of employment of public-school teachers are set by elected public officials—typically in collective bargaining agreements with teachers’ unions. It is thus unsurprising that the latter seek to curry favor with the former with handsome campaign contributions or lobbying. According to Open Secrets, the NEA’s annual political contributions approximate $10 million, whereas the corresponding AFT figure approximates $4 million. The NEA’s annual lobbying expenses exceed $2.5 million.

The self-dealing here is egregious. Public officials are inclined to generosity with taxpayer dollars to compensate unionized teachers in exchange for political support in the form of donations and votes. Student achievement be damned. Compulsory school attendance laws shield public officials and unions from accountability by guaranteeing a captive audience.

The power of teachers’ unions finds expression in recurring illegal teacher strikes with impunity in New York, Chicago, Seattle, and elsewhere. Public officials are too intimidated to enforce the law. What a deplorable example for students who are the biggest losers and witness their teachers profiting from illegal activity.

Teachers’ unions are implacably opposed to any measure that would hold members accountable for their success in teaching, for example, pay for improving student performance whether on standardized tests or otherwise. It is altogether understandable that the NEA and AFT would do this. Their purpose is to hike teacher compensation and diminish teaching demands. But it is incomprehensible that elected officials would permit such a rip-off at the expense of hapless students. Can you imagine the owner of the New York Yankees paying the same salary to Babe Ruth and the bat boy? Elected officials tolerate teacher union maleducation to elicit campaign contributions. This must stop. Federal government contractors are prohibited from making contributions or expenditures, or promising to make any such contribution or expenditure, to any political party, committee, or candidate for federal office, or to any person for any political purpose or use. Corresponding prohibitions should be enacted by state and local governments for teachers’ unions representing public school teachers.

In the next installment, the failures of public-school administration have given rise to private and charter schools.

Armstrong Williams

Armstrong Williams is a political commentator, entrepreneur, author, syndicated columnist, and talk show host.
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