(Mike Chamberlain/The Cranky Hermit) – Former New York Chancellor of Schools Joel Klein has an excellent piece in the Wall Street Journal on the battle between education reformers and monopolists in New York, with lessons for the rest of the country. This op-ed is behind the subscriber wall but if you don’t have an online subscription to the WSJ you should go out and buy a copy today just so you can read this.
Politicians—especially Democratic politicians—generally do what the unions want. The unions, in turn, are very clear about what that is: They want happy members, so that those who run the unions get re-elected, and they want more members, so their power, money and influence grow. The effect of all this? As Albert Shanker, the late, iconic head of the UFT, once pointedly said, “When schoolchildren start paying union dues, that’s when I’ll start representing the interests of schoolchildren.”
Union power is why it’s virtually impossible to fire a teacher for non-performance. In New York City, which has some 55,000 tenured teachers, we were able to fire only half a dozen or so for incompetence in a given year, even though we devoted significant resources to this effort.
Klein highlights a little bit of the absurdity he was forced to deal with as a result of the teachers’ union contract, such as being obligated to pay thousands of teachers accused of misconduct for not working, including several alleged, and one convicted, of sexual misconduct. Yet when one brave politician publicized the contract terms she was targeted by the union in her re-election and defeated. This sent a powerful message to other politicians in the city – don’t mess with the teachers union.
One of the solutions Klein proposes is to break up the monopoly by introducing competition, such as charter schools.
In the lower grades, we should make sure that every student has at least one alternative—and preferably several—to her neighborhood school.
It is because competition is successful that the teachers unions and other public school monopolists oppose it so strenuously. They cannot allow alternatives to reveal the fact the government monopoly has no clothes.