August 18, 2017

Watcher’s Forum:How would you change the role teachers unions play in public education?

 Every week on Monday morning , the Council and invited guests weigh in
at the Watcher’s Forum, short takes on a major issue of the day. This
week’s question: How would you change the role teachers unions play in public education?

 The Noisy Room: Overlooking the fact that a US Federal Department of Education is
not enumerated among the federal government’s powers and is
therefore in and of itself unconstitutional — overlooking that —
let us presume that a public education system has any validity to
begin with. With that as a foundational premise the purpose of
teachers is ostensibly to teach. To convey knowledge to new
generations, where knowledge is presumed to be factual and truthful.
Therefore, a union of teachers that does not acknowledge the mission
of teaching as part of its foundational premise applies a vector not
parallel to the mission of teaching. Thus, the role of unions, aside
from providing for such mundane things such as insurance and
training and best practices (the way a guild might be presumed to
work), any such union should strive to improve the level of
professionalism and quality of product among teachers as a point of
professional pride after the fashion of a guild or other
professional association.

Political alignments should be entirely out of scope. We hear the
never-ending refrain of teachers as professionals. It’s time they
took the professional moniker seriously and transformed the unions
into a professional association, such as those associations whose
memberships include engineers, scientists and physicians. The unions
should become a standards institution, not a bully pulpit.

This is primarily a state’s issue, but whether done at the state
level or the federal level, whether one belongs to a union or not
should be strictly voluntary with no form of repercussions or
punishment attached. Currently, in a number of states, teachers are
forced to join the union and that should be stopped. And in a number
of other states, they are forced to pay dues whether they belong to
the union or not. This is in itself constitutes extortion.

In all other professional fields, competition has helped refine and
polish the quality of service, the level of professional standards
and the state of the art generally. As long as teaching is a public
(bureaucratic) endeavor, competition doesn’t exist in any meaningful
form. There is no incentive to improve standards or state of the art
and teaching as a science stagnates. Consequently, in the interests
of improving teaching as a practice, its role as a public sector
entity should be eliminated. It should be returned to the private
sector and teaching institutions should be made to strive for
excellence in a competitive environment.

 The Independent Sentinel:

The collective bargaining process sets up a corrupt relationship
between unions and politicians. For this reason, automatic withdrawal of
union dues needs to be stopped. 
Tenure should be renewable. 
Teacher evaluations should be based on some quantitative performance measures.
do not represent children. One teacher union president  told me the job
of the union is not to worry about children, it’s to worry about
teachers. Unions think schools exist for them, not children.
 JoshuaPundit: I see the problem of unions in public education as a seminal one. It is not only a matter of political bias in many states ( and anyone who doubts that should just take a look at your local college campus or the sort of people who make up a large chunk of the Chicago teacher’s union)   but  cultural bias, even coming down to the way young boys and girls are socialized. 
The unions can’t be banned because of the First Amendment, but their power and stranglehold on public education could be reduced a great deal with a few fairly simple reforms at the federal level.
While the Federal Government should never have gotten involved in public education, since it is, it’s an opportunity for lemons to be turned into lemonade and the largely superfluous Federal Department of Education to do something useful, for once. The money’s the key.
The Federal Government could very easily promote a nationwide voucher program, thus allowing parents to vote with their feet. This would be particularly popular with minority parents, who at last would be able to take advantage of decent private schools. 
When it comes to public school teachers and unions, The Department of Education could even put in place a de facto ban on non-voluntary  union dues deductions for political purposes, They could even come up with a standard, non-biased curriculum and texts as well uniform standards for teacher evaluation and get them adopted even in the most Blue, union ruled states.. The method is simple…any school district not conforming to  Federal standards and practices  in these matters would simply not receive any federal funds for education whatsoever.
If you think this is impractical, all you need to remember is how President Clinton forced the 50 states to all conform to his  much tougher .08% blood-alcohol standard for drunk driving. He did it by simply threatening to withhold federal highway funds from any state that failed to comply. The Federal government did the same thing in 1974 to enforce a national 55 MPH speed limit.
 Rhymes With Right:I come at this one from the perspective of a teacher in the great state
of Texas, which is a right-to-work state. I am also the building rep
for one of four teacher organizations that operates in my district, one
which explicitly declares itself to not be a union. I therefore look at
this particular question with great interest.

First, I’m opposed
to banning teacher unions, even though I have made a point of not
joining one — even to the point of having moved from a state where
union dues are compulsory. Why do I oppose the the solution that so
many opponents of teachers unions call for? Easy — the First Amendment
‘s guarantee of freedom of association obviously allows for teachers,
like every other group of Americans, to form organizations. What needs
to happen, though, is for the courts and Congress to recognize that
compulsory union membership in the public sector is improper — and that
any requirement that teachers (or other public employees) give any
portion of their salary to an organization as a condition of continuing
their employment is corrupt on its face. That those dues are used for
political purposes makes that compulsion no different than the old
practice of “the lug” in which public employees were compelled to donate
to the party and favored candidates of the reigning regime as a
condition of maintaining public employment. No private organization
should have any claim on a portion of the paycheck of teachers or other
public employees as a condition of those individuals being allowed to
work for the government which they support with their taxes. And if
unions are to be allowed to extract mandatory dues from teachers, then
those unions should be prohibited from directing even a single dollar to
any political purpose, either directly or indirectly — all dues money
collected must be spent only on negotiating contracts and dealing with
teacher grievances, which is the putative reason that the unions were
initially granted the privilege of collecting mandatory dues in the
first place..

A second change I would make with regards to
teacher unions is doing away with notion of union monopolies and instead
allowing for a competitive system like we have here in Texas. Believe
it or not, the four organizations that operate in my district actually
compete for membership! Teachers have a choice of joining one of them,
switching organizations year to year, or remaining independent of all of
them. The result is that multiple views are heard and the
organizations hustle for members each year — and also lobby
aggressively on both the district and state level for changes that their
members see as beneficial to their members. The diversity of views
means that good ideas get brought forward and adopted — indeed, about
five years ago my organization suggested a change to state law based
upon a situation at my school that I brought to my organization’s
attention. The result was a law that was good for both schools and
teachers. When teachers have choices of organizations, their voices can
be heard over the voices of the union oligarchs. Of course, this does
require going to a right-to-work system — something that may not happen
easily in some parts of the country.

 Well, there you have it.

Make sure to tune in every
Monday for the Watcher’s Forum. And remember, every Wednesday, the
Council has its weekly contest with the members nominating two posts
each, one written by themselves and one written by someone from
outside the group for consideration by the whole Council. The votes
are cast by the Council, and the results are posted on Friday morning.

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