Unions Vs. Children Redux

The Chancellor of the New York City Schools Joel Klein has an excellent editorial in the New York Post on educational reform and why the teacher’s unions are standing in the way of progress on educating America’s children:

We are currently governed by a set of union contracts – often hundreds of pages long – that micro-manage virtually every aspect of our school operations.

Successful schools can’t operate successfully according to a system of adversarial, contract-based regulations. Schools must be much more organic in their culture. And regulatory control – externally through law or internally through contract – must be replaced by discretion at the school level and real, performance-based accountability.

This will require a radical transformation, which many in the system will find difficult to accept, but I believe such a transformation is essential.

No organization that has its incentives wholly misaligned can succeed. Take, for example, the three pillars of the teachers-union contract: de facto life tenure, lock-step pay and seniority-based assignments.

Collectively, these provisions mean there is no employee accountability in the system, no meritocracy and no incentive to take risks or innovate. If the very best and very worst teacher – the one who works hardest and the one who simply punches a clock – get paid based on length-of-service, the system will inevitably drift toward mediocrity rather than strive for high-performance (although, thankfully, there are many exceptions among our teachers).

This is exactly what is happening in school systems across the nations. Teacher’s unions have created a system in which micromanagement due to labor contracts prevents school districts from offering incentives for teachers, ensure that the youngest and least trained teachers receive assignments that quickly lead to burnout and create a system in which good teachers receive few benefits and bad teachers are nearly impossible to fire.

Such an arrangement would be unacceptable for a company that makes widgets, and it’s even more unacceptable for organizations that have the weighty responsibility for educating the future of the country. The unions have created a system that is inflexible and aloof from the needs of America’s children – and this is a situation that must be rectified.

13 thoughts on “Unions Vs. Children Redux

  1. Once again, missing the point htat, were it not for the horrible conditions we subject teachers to on a regular basis, and for the adversarial nature of school administrators concerning improving conditions for teachers, there wouldn’t be any of these “micromanaging” problems. It’s when conditions suck and management won’t address overreaching problems that unions (in EVERY field) have to resort to demanding specific actions when broad reforms would be best for all parties–management could do their job, and employees could do theirs safer, cheaper and more effectively.

  2. As long as the teachers union is the convenient fall guy for the societal problems that are causing the overstated problems afflicting the American public education system, there is zero chance of any real reform. Perhaps the public education system is doomed. If we continue lynching the wrong villains, the real villians will continue slipping in under our noses. This is all part of the game for Republicans who would like to see public education destroyed more than anything else.

    I read an ingenius article in a southern Minnesota newspaper a couple weeks back by the district’s superintendent who was reporting on a speaker that recently addressed their school. The speaker was the CEO of an ice cream company and was travelling to schools across the Midwest pompously trashing teachers and the role of government in an education system he thought should be open to “market forces”. Several years ago, he addressed one school and spouted the usual market-driven education tripe, then went on to talk about the success of his ice cream business and its wildly popular blueberry flavor, and how the business was made successful entirely through application of market forces.

    When he finished his self-righteous speel, one teacher in the crowd raised her hand and said, “So you’re ice-cream business is a real success huh?”

    “Yes it is.”

    “I imagine you use some high-quality materials in that popular blueberry ice cream of yours?”

    “Only the finest.”

    “I see. So what happens when you’re standing at the truck loading zone waiting for your latest blueberry shipment to come in and you see the blueberries are not up to that high standard?”

    The guy said he gulped at the point and knew his entire argument had been defeated, but still muttered, “I send them back.”

    “We don’t have the luxury of sending students back who aren’t of the highest quality. Educating children and making ice cream are very different tasks, and the same rules don’t apply.”

    It’s hard to imagine an analogy that hits the nail on the head more than this, discrediting the “market forces” premise with what should be a common-sense recognition that students and blueberries (or widgets) do not make for a sufficient or realistic comparison…at least as long as we’re committed to educating every child in America. Most people aren’t dimwitted enough to latch onto the “market forces for schools” premise, but there’s always a chance they will be at some point in the future, particularly as the American Third World subculture expands and inevitably leads to more “underperforming schools.”

  3. If ice cream were run like the educational system, a worker who takes a piss in the vats every morning wouldn’t be fired for months. The blueberry ice cream could be filled with rat feces and dead cats and nothing would be done because the unions don’t give a damn about the quality of the product and care everything about lining their own pockets.

    The educational system is a monopoly system in which incompentence is rewarded and initiative punished. It is a system that care little for educating students and care everything about how much funding they can get every year. Unless there is drastic reform and the stranglehold of the teacher’s unions on the educational system is broken millions of children will lose the opportunity to complete in the global workplace.

    The fact is that the unions aren’t helping teachers, they’re helping themselves at the expense of teachers and American children. Then again liberals only care about greed and racism when it can be used against Republicans, as long as it’s Democrats with their bootheels on the necks of millions of minority children they don’t seem to care.

  4. As expected, you glossed over the point of the ice-cream versus students analogy to regurgitate the same sleazy anti-teacher and anti-labor hatemongering being crafted purely for GOP political fundraising advantage. The analogy was good enough to force an epiphany on a similarly thickheaded free-market ideologue who’s had far more success in that marketplace than yourself. But for you it was merely a threatening dose of reality that needed to be shouted down with bubbleheaded assembly-line propaganda as quickly as possible since it puts your entire premise to shame….as it did to the argument of a former ice cream company CEO who was at least wise enough to recognize the error of his ways when it hit him on the forehead like a sledgehammer.

  5. Mark: If you have a bad batch of ice cream, you don’t simply ignore the problem. You fix it. You don’t blame your suppliers, and you don’t reward the workers who screwed things up. You owe it to your customers not to let problems fester.

    That is exactly the problem with the American educational system. It is clear that things are horrendously broken in many school systems, especially in America’s inner cities. These problems must be fixed. To continue to ignore the problem, pass the buck, and support a system that stymies reform at every turn is simply idiotic.

    Alex: I did get a decent education, but it would be morally unacceptable to ignore the millions of kids who don’t have that luxury.

  6. Naive would be the word to best describe anyone who thinks the American Third World subculture can and should continue to expand to accommodate a perceived entitlement to a cheap and disempowered proletariat, yet still expect the quality of education in this setting to be as good as it is in the gated community across the tracks where the other half lives. In your case, however, Jay, I sense its not so much naivete as simple partisan posturing. You know there’s no way to turn schools trapped in a poverty-stricken drug-infested neighborhood into Wayzata High, but you pretend there is so that the GOP can reap the spoils of a voucher system which would directly inflate their own campaign coffers and deflate the Dems.

  7. You know there’s no way to turn schools trapped in a poverty-stricken drug-infested neighborhood into Wayzata High, but you pretend there is so that the GOP can reap the spoils of a voucher system which would directly inflate their own campaign coffers and deflate the Dems.

    So let’s just leave those kids trapped in some hellhole where they will have no chance of success – there’s liberal “compassion” for you.

    If the schools can’t change, then the children should have the right to go somewhere where they can get an education. That’s the whole point of vouchers, a point that you still clearly don’t understand.

  8. I would generally consider myself pro-life on the abortion issue, but I can’t bring myself to accept the premise that the same people who couldn’t care less about the quality-of-life of the born are gonna be a source of salvation for the unborn. Similarly, I can’t accept the idea that the same market forces that have the left the parents of kids trapped in “underperforming schools” drowning in an abyss of poverty are gonna somehow do better for the students if market forces were applied to education.

    The market creates winners and losers. We can agree on the fact that market forces have done plenty of great things over the centuries, but one thing they don’t do well is serving as an “equalizer”. Thus, your entire premise falls flat by inferring that the same market that divides the population and maldistributes resources in every other sector of the economy will serve as a source of assured improvement when applied to education.

  9. The educational system *already* doesn’t produce equal results, and never will. There will always be winners and losers, there will always be students who just don’t care, and there will always be schools that do better than others.

    None of that changes the need to reform the educational system to increase accountability and give parents the ability to choose the best educational system for their children.

  10. Jay, you’re argument STILL ignores the point that teachers have an extremely difficult task made MORE DIFFICULT by that darling of the right, BUREAUCRATIC MISMANAGEMENT! Quit blaming the workers when management doesn’t provide them with the tools to do the job they need to do.

    What are these tools? Well, my particular college education broke $50,000 within two years, leaving debt hanging over me. I can’t afford many things I’d prefer to have, and have relied in the past on employer-provided health coverage (including the government’s). When our teachers have crappy pay and low incentives, AND are constantly maligned by pompous blowhards (sorry) that don’t actually know the issues about which they rant (sorry), it really makes it hard to keep quality employees in these positions.

    But hey, straw men don’t fight back.

  11. Jay, you’re argument STILL ignores the point that teachers have an extremely difficult task made MORE DIFFICULT by that darling of the right, BUREAUCRATIC MISMANAGEMENT! Quit blaming the workers when management doesn’t provide them with the tools to do the job they need to do.

    Reducing the union bureacracy is one of the reasons why reducing the power of teacher’s unions is a good idea. I agree in principle that bureaucracy is a major problem with the educational system, and I think that many school districts need to stop being so top-heavy with administrators.

  12. Holy shit, you’re pathetic! The best defense of the flagrant incompetence shown by school bureaucracies around the country that you can muster is that the UNION BUREUCRACY is responsible, despite the fact that union leaders aren’t being paid to make decisions for the school systems? You’re telling me that the entire bureaucracy for the management of our schools in useless and unnecessary, since the unions do it all for them?

    Why do you continue to suck? Doesn’t it hurt to suck at this as much as you do? Can you raise one valid point in context for ONCE? Reading a blog should be a way of expanding data accumulation, not of practicing masochism.

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