education philosopher

A Case Against Teachers Unions

Posted in Politics of Education, Teaching by KevinCK on June 23, 2009

Here is an articleexposing one of the pernicious effects of teachers unions; since teachers are so difficult to fire, an exorbitant amount of tax money is spent paying bad teachers NOT to teach. This sould anger the hell out of taxpayers, who have no choice but to pay for, and in most cases send their sons and daughters to, increasingly ill-run public schools.  Here’s an excerpt:

NEW YORK – Hundreds of New York City public school teachers accused of offenses ranging from insubordination to sexual misconduct are being paid their full salaries to sit around all day playing Scrabble, surfing the Internet or just staring at the wall, if that’s what they want to do.

Because their union contract makes it extremely difficult to fire them, the teachers have been banished by the school system to its “rubber rooms” — off-campus office space where they wait months, even years, for their disciplinary hearings.

The 700 or so teachers can practice yoga, work on their novels, paint portraits of their colleagues — pretty much anything but school work. They have summer vacation just like their classroom colleagues and enjoy weekends and holidays through the school year…

Because the teachers collect their full salaries of $70,000 or more, the city Department of Education estimates the practice costs the taxpayers $65 million a year. The department blames union rules.

One of the things that angers me about this article is that the last sentence quoted blames unions, which is only partially true. In order for unions (involuntary ones that teachers MUST join to teach in the schools), government has to give them the power of exclusivity. One does not generally have these types of problems in districts where being a union member is voluntary. So, let’s not just blame the unions, but the governments that gave them monopoly power over the supply of teachers!

Aside from this “rubber room” fiasco, another thing that irks me about (mandatory) teachers unions is that they have the anti-market effect of offering teachers a buffer against being critically examined and quesitoned. In my teaching career, I have encountered many bad teachers who had no incentive to remedy their bad teaching because they were members of the union and were tenured. They didn’t have to follow school directives (even though administration made it appear that they did) because there was no threat of being fired.

I am sure that what went through the mind of many of the teachers in this article (most, we preume did something bad to be quarantined) is that there is nothing to lose, and free-time to be gained, from behaving badly at work. In the world of the market, one behaves well at work, at least in part, by the desire not to be fired. when one is tenured, this check is completely taken away.

Long and short, I see no advantage of k-12 teachers being members of this type of union or having access to tenure. Aside from an increasingly letigious world of education (which is no reason to make firing laws so obtuse and cumbersome), there is no reason a k-12 teacher should have a job security that the rest of the working world (save for judges and college professors) lack.

[I wrote an essay agaisnt tenure on my previous website, and will probably paste it here for those interested.]


2 Responses

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  1. ace said, on June 24, 2009 at 11:51 am

    Reading this article seriously angers me. Thousands of people have lost their jobs in this s**thole economy and yet these “teachers” are paid to do NOTHING. ALL of these 700 teachers need to be given the pink slip pronto. There are more QUALIFIED individuals than these 700 teachers that can DO the job and make a difference in kids lives.

    These 700 “teachers” are NOTHING but a WASTE of taxpayers money. I’m surprised there’s not a lynch mob organizing in New York. These teachers give others a bad name. They give the whole education/school system concept a bad name. Nobody needs to wonder why education in general is a “joke”.

    This article is just sickening beyond belief.

  2. KevinCK said, on June 24, 2009 at 12:35 pm

    You make an excellent point that there must be qualified individuals who could take the place of these teachers. I am sure there are.

    One of the troubles with teachers unions is that the people they protect the most are those who are most likely to be let go without the job security tenure and the union affords. As a former teacher myself, I think the idea of tenure and mandatory unions are ludicrous. Their cost (of offering safe-haven for bad teachers) outweigh the benefit (protecting teachers from a letigous and political work environment).

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