Saturday, March 5, 2011

Teacher Unions

"The entire point of seniority-based systems like the ones that many teachers unions have negotiated is to protect long-serving teachers from losing their jobs when the budget gets tight. Think about it – if a teacher who has served for 25 years is fired, you could probably replace them with two rookies for almost the same price. That’s a bargain for the taxpayer in the short-term, but not very good for the teaching profession in the long-term. For those of us who take the long-view seriously, this has serious implications for our education system and its ability to attract talented teachers down the road.

Furthermore – and even better for politicians – the teacher will either lose their pension or face a massive reduction in pension benefits, saving governments a ton of money. You can see pretty quickly how teacher retention becomes a problem, and how young people thinking about becoming teachers might take a different career path. No, job security is not the only important factor, but in a profession with lower pay and less advancement options, benefits and job security are important. When your job is constantly hanging in the balance of budgetary decisions, you might as well make more money than a teacher.

Ezra implicitly blames teachers for poor results and for not implementing a system that would not only weaken their political power and likely their standard of living, but also make the profession far less appealing to new teachers. Never once does he address alternatives to layoffs or why so many of these states are facing budget shortfalls to begin with (hint: this is also not the fault of teachers). Nor does he examine whether those states which do not have seniority-based systems are fairing any better than those that do in terms of teacher quality or student success. This not only perpetuates the anti-union narrative, it affirms the ‘government is out of money’ fallacy touted by budget hawks and conservatives across the country.

It’s important to remember that this new batch of Tea Party conservatives will use any means at their disposal to weaken the influence of organized labor and the public sector – including lines like “Even the liberal, Ezra Klein” when justifying their attacks on teachers and teachers unions. Perhaps we should write our reform-the-unions columns with more caution." -E. D. Kain