Teacher Unions and the Education Bureaucracy


Larry Sand reviews Steve Jobs’ ground-shattering views on teacher union officials’ power in an interview from 1995. While he does not mention merit pay, the idea that teacher unions have turned education into a bureaucracy and not a meritocracy still rings true.  Check it out on californiapolicycenter.org.

Despite what union leaders say, competition makes everything better.

A 1995 interview with the late Apple founder Steve Jobs has just resurfaced and is available on YouTube. While the interview, conducted by Computerworld’s Daniel Morrow, went on for 75 minutes, the 3:42 Jobs spent talking about education is memorable. The Silicon Valley visionary knew as much about how to run an education system as he did about operating a wildly successful tech company.

The problem there, of course, is the unions. The unions are the worst thing that ever happened to education because it’s not a meritocracy. It turns into a bureaucracy, which is exactly what has happened. The teachers can’t teach and administrators run the place and nobody can be fired. It’s terrible….

Twenty-two years later, not much has changed – least in strong union states – where there is little choice for parents, massive school districts are entangled in bureaucracy, and meritocracy is just an eleven-letter word.

Jobs went on to explain the effect that a monopoly has on a customer.

What happens when a customer goes away and a monopoly gets control, which is what happened in our country, is that the service level almost always goes down. I remember seeing a bumper sticker when the telephone company was all one. I remember seeing a bumper sticker with the Bell Logo on it and it said “We don’t care. We don’t have to.” And that’s what a monopoly is. That’s what IBM was in their day. And that’s certainly what the public school system is. They don’t have to care.

“They don’t have to care.” And that is at the heart of the matter.

Competition for the education monopolists is like daylight was for Dracula. Los Angeles teacher union President Alex Caputo-Pearl claims that charter schools “create inappropriate competition.” The National Education Association claims that, “Voucher programs siphon scarce resources from already underfunded public schools.” And most recently American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten went over the edge, desperately trying to equate parental choice to pre-1960s southern segregation, which I easily debunked here. The NEA assertion that vouchers hurt public schools fiscally is just not true. In fact, public schools typically improve when there is choice. As EdChoice researcher Greg Forster has shown, not only do private school choice programs have a positive effect on students’ academic outcomes in public schools, they do taxpayers a big favor at the same time. Forster looked at 28 empirical studies that examined choice’s fiscal impact on public schools. Of these, 25 show school choice programs save money. Three find the programs to be revenue neutral. None of the studies reveal a negative fiscal impact on public schools.

To state the obvious, public education in America is big taxpayer-funded business – a business that eats up $670 billion a year, every year. And Jobs proposes a free market approach to improve the very troubled enterprise. (Since Jobs has created largest and most profitable company in the world, with fanatically loyal customers, maybe he knows what he is talking about?)

The market competition model seems to indicate that where there is a need there is a lot of providers willing to tailor their products to fit that need and a lot of competition which forces them to get better and better.