Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The Teacher Unions: Enemies of Reform

One of the main groups behind the lawsuits in Claremont and Londonderry were the teachers unions. The end result of the lawsuits is CACR 18 which will lead to a broad base income tax without any reduction in property taxes. The article below is from the Education Policy website
and requires no further explanation.

The Teacher Unions: Enemies of Reform

by Charlene K. Haar, EPI President
From the school house to the White House, the teacher unions are the most formidable foes of meaningful education reforms -- reforms, which I believe are necessary to achieve superior educational outcomes for children at lower costs to parents and other taxpayers through competition.

Despite their rhetoric, the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, like other labor unions, were established to redistribute income from employers to employees and the unions. There is no incentive to reduce costs when taxpayers must pay upon demand. There is no reason to excel when the best employees are paid what the worst are paid. For decades, the NEA/AFT have negotiated highly inefficient contracts covering such items as

*hours of employment and compensation
*teacher work load and duties
*teacher qualifications
*teaching assignments and seniority
*teacher evaluation and tenure
*taxpayer subsidies to the unions, such as paid time off for union work, use of school mail system, payroll deduction for dues and NEA/AFT PACs at no cost to the unions, and retirement credit for full-time service as a union employee.

With incredible specificity, the teacher union/school district contract heavily influences the day-to-day operations and morale of a school. In their study, researchers Howard Fuller, George Mitchell and Michael Hartmann reveal that the 174-page contract between the Milwaukee Public System and Milwaukee Teachers Education Association, is an almost "impenetrable document". Making it even more complicated, they discovered "...a 'contract behind the contract' comprised of nearly 2,000 amendments ('memoranda of understanding'), grievance-arbitration rulings, and various state declaratory rulings."

Like legislators who don't read a bill before voting on it, neither school board members nor teachers are likely to read the labor union contract. However, highly paid union officials and political operatives, known in the NEA as UniServ directors, not only read the contracts, but craft them. The AFT local officers negotiate AFT affiliate contracts, sometimes with the assistance of AFT national representatives.

Consequently, with no competition and no incentives for excellence, teacher unions have a government school monopoly which constantly seeks increased taxes and more government expenditures for teachers and union bureaucracies. In fact, union bureaucracies benefit more than teacher union members according to Myron Lieberman. In The Teacher Unions (Free Press, 1997), Lieberman points out that over 3,000 NEA/AFT staffers earn more than $100,000 a year in salary and benefits. It is these highly paid negotiators/political operatives who insist on maintaining the current system. And their job security comes partly from crafting a document that most citizens cannot decipher. Teacher union control of the process is the result of nearly four decades of political power during which the teacher unions have successfully pressured elected lawmakers and school board members to shape education policies, laws, and contracts in their favor.

Teacher union contracts, policies, and laws exclude or severely restrict parental involvement. Because it is completely subservient to the teacher unions, even the National Congress of Parents and Teachers will not speak up for parental interests when teacher union interests are at stake. Almost 30 years ago, the PTA leadership adopted a position of "neutrality" on teacher strikes and terms and conditions of employment negotiated in teacher union contracts. As often happens in negotiations, school boards sacrifice parent interests to teacher union interests. As a result, parents are relegated to fundraising or helping teachers. As the purported representative of children's best interests, the PTA has failed.

With continued talk about parent representation on site-based management councils, parents need reliable, accurate information about how to review school budgets, curricula, contract provisions, personnel evaluations, and other data. In some ways, local parent groups (PTOs) can be more effective than the PTA, but lack the necessary training to become effective leaders.

Who can help roll back teacher union power? Taxpayer and small business groups, which already have expertise in these areas, could expand their watchdog activities and provide training to parents interested in challenging the status quo. Persistent school boards can cut out taxpayer subsidies to the NEA/AFT. Lawmakers can eliminate legislation which micromanages education and school boards. Instead, they should provide a framework within which real competition takes place, thereby permitting and encouraging

*subcontracting with private providers for delivery of services,
*for-profit schools,
*charter schools with liberal waivers and flexibility,
*universal vouchers, or
*any combination of the above to offer superior educational opportunities to children and efficiency and choice to their parents.

The frustration of long-ignored parents is manifesting itself in the profusion of charter and for-profit schools that do not have school boards, negotiators, teacher unions, or PTAs. What these schools do have are effective, engaged parents in independent PTOs, and enthusiastic teachers unleashed from contract restrictions. Were such coalitions armed with more knowledge about the workings of the teacher unions and the weaknesses of the PTA, imagine what they could accomplish.

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