(David Mansdoerfer) – Have you noticed that Liberals and Democrats don’t like the idea of education reform – at least substantial education reform? Teacher evaluations, school choice, and administrative overhead have been placed at negotiating table as both the state and federal government look to overhaul our failing education system. Yet, when push comes to shove, substantial reforms always seem to come up short for one reason – teacher unions.
Teacher unions, such as the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), National Education Association, and local organizations, all are staunchly opposed to education reforms because reforms usually decrease their power, influence and money. Remember, the union mantra is to elect the people that they negotiate with. According to opensecrets.org, the NEA and AFT both rank in the top 10 in lobbying expenditures over the past decade – and have given almost exclusively to Democrats. While this obviously isn’t shocking news, it should deeply concern parents and those who promote education reform.
In blocking educational reforms, teacher unions usually espouse the same three lines of “concern”. First, in regards to teacher evaluations, it is often noted that teachers should not be held accountable for a poorly performing class because there are so many factors in determining a child’s educational capability. In this, I have a certain amount of sympathy. The number one factor in a child’s educational success is parental involvement. Since teachers have little capability to change this, they should not be wholly accountable for student performance. However, to have student performance not factor into determining teacher performance is irresponsible.
In Nevada’s 2011 legislative cycle, there were two ed-reform bills that dealt with this issue. AB222 detailed that 50% of a teacher’s evaluation be based on student performance. This, by itself, would have been a step in the right direction. However, this bill was backed up by AB225 which stipulated that teacher’s who received two years of unsatisfactory evaluations be placed on probation. Yes, you read that right. Can you imagine another career where you can be a poor employee for two years and then only receive probation? If the teacher unions care so much about students, why do they not hold their own to a higher standard?
Second, in regards to school choice, teacher unions usually argue that taxpayer money shouldn’t go to fund religious and private schools. This argument, however, is almost completely erroneous. U.S. federal tax dollars already go to private/religious higher education institutions via the Pell grant and Stafford loan. Why should the same benefit not go to funding K-12 private and religious schools? The reason why, is because teacher unions control the public K-12 system and they don’t want to lose out on any potential revenue source.
Third, it is estimated that between 40-50% of K-12 funding is spent on administrative overhead. To put this in further context, Nevada spends on average about $8,400 per student. If you assume the average class size is 20, total spending for each class is roughly $168,000 per class. If you take this number and subtract the average teacher salary in Nevada of $46,000, you then have $122,000 (72%) left for benefits, supplies and administrative overhead per class.
Many proponents of education reform have nothing against increasing teacher pay. It is the administrative overhead that constitutes much of the waste in K-12 education. However, since any question of school funding constitutes an “attack” on teachers, nothing will end up changing.
All in all, it is important to remember in the education reform debate that teachers are not the enemy. If anything, we need to remember that these individuals chose to take low pay to educate today’s youth. The teacher unions, however, represent the interests of teachers – not students. Unions will fight for job security, wasteful spending, and a government monopoly in K-12 education because it benefits their constituents – the teachers.
Reforming our education system is critical to ensuring a bright future for the United States. However, as long as teacher unions are as powerful as they are, they will continue to block substantial ed-reform legislation and the U.S. educational system will remain poor going into the future.
(Mr. Mansdoerfer is the Director of Federal Affairs for Citizen Outreach)