Save the Children, Lose the Teachers’ Unions

by Bill O'Connell on March 9, 2011

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I got an opportunity to watch the documentary “Waiting for Superman,” and it confirmed much of  what I have been saying. Teachers are a national treasure. Teachers’ unions are the new empire of evil. Whoa! That’s harsh. Yes, but not nearly as harsh as flushing thousands of uneducated children into the streets to fend for themselves, when we should be educating them for our future.


The reason I chose the word “evil” is the patent dishonesty the teachers’ unions use to advance their agenda. The steelworkers’ union doesn’t talk about looking out for the steel; they say they are looking out for their members. The United Auto Workers union doesn’t talk about looking out for the cars, they say they are looking out for their members. The Teamsters union doesn’t talk about looking out for the trucks they drive; they say they are looking out for their members. But listen to any pitch from the National Education Association or the American Federation of Teachers and they are always “fighting for the children.” What utter twaddle. If that is true they should all be horsewhipped for the awful job they are doing. Who are they fighting with? The parents? The taxpayers?  It is a bald faced lie. They are fighting for the teachers and the children be damned.

In New York City, where Mayor Mike Bloomberg has shut down 110 poor performing schools, they are trying a new approach, turning around schools. The experiment would consist of replacing the principal and half the teachers at two schools but keeping the schools and their programs running. Here is the union’s position:

Union leaders might be seen by their rank and file as acquiescing to the replacement of teachers, though those teachers would be entitled to their full salaries and jobs elsewhere in the system. But if those schools were closed, they could be replaced with charter schools, which tend not to be unionized.

That’s the basic union formula, keep incompetent teachers at all costs. They do not want to lose one dollar of union dues and the power that flows from those dues.

In the documentary a bold approach was tried by Michelle Rhee, superintendent of Washington DC public schools perhaps the worst school system in the country, where she proposed a merit pay system where teachers could earn as much as $150,000 a year in return for giving up tenure. The union would not even allow it to come up for a vote. Hmmm…merit pay, rewarding teachers for doing a good job, which means actually educating the children, but the union says, NO! We won’t even vote on that. Can we queue the violins and roll one of the union’s commercials about “the children” now, please.

In New York City they finally shut down the “rubber rooms” where teachers accused of misconduct waited, sometimes as long as three years, for an administrative hearing on their case for dismissal. At the time of closing there were 550 teachers in the rubber rooms costing the city $30 million per year. The teachers in the rubber room continued to receive full salary and their benefits grew with the seniority they accumulated while in the rubber rooms. Psst…it’s for the children.

Another expert in the documentary estimated if only the bottom 5%-8% of teachers could be culled from the schools, the progress improvement would soon put the United States back near the top of the world in educational performance. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that if after three years on the job a teacher is guaranteed their job for life, that no matter how motivated, they lose their edge. When the going gets tough, instead of doubling their efforts, they can just say, “the hell with it,” I will get paid whether anyone learns or not, and next year I’ll get a raise.

The counter argument, if they were honest enough to make it, is that the unions are fighting to keep teachers’ jobs in a period of high unemployment. But how many uneducated of our youth will be and remain unemployed for much of their life because of failure factories? Why are high tech companies with jobs crying out for more visas for foreign workers? Because our own schools can’t graduate enough people to do these jobs. This is a national disgrace. Imagine if these children, our children, could graduate high school and actually be able to read and write, put together a coherent sentence, and do basic math.

The solution is not the federal government throwing money at the problem. The federal government should get out of the way. It is the teachers’ unions that are the problem. I ask this question to teachers and no one can seem to answer it. Why would a competent and skilled teacher want to link themselves to an incompetent teacher and be sold to a school district as a package? Anyone? Beuller?

That’s my opinion; I’d like to know yours.  Please comment below.

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  • Md2012

    The unions only care about themselves. The children are used as a front. i know as an educator of 33 years. The teachers are often duped by the unions because they do make decent salaries now.

    • William O’Connell

      I am surprised by the number of teachers and educators who agree. I had an ongoing debate (below) with a teacher who approached the topic as a liberal but ultimately said he hated the union and would much prefer to work in an education free market where you get paid based on the value of your contribution, not X’s on a calendar.

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