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Teacher Union Officials Foster Selfishness and Mediocrity

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Steven Greenhut comments on how teacher union officials foster mediocrity and lockstep compensation for all teachers on reason.com.  Teacher union officials believe this will keep every teacher a member as union officials pretend to “fight” for a decent salary for their members and force nonmembers to pay for the privilege.

If you’re looking for a stellar example of teachers’ unions ongoing commitment to mediocrity or worse, then you need only look at their reaction to now-defeated California GOP gubernatorial candidate John Cox’s idea last month of paying top-notch teachers much higher salaries—perhaps even rivaling those earned by ballplayers and rock stars.

The unions, of course, pan the idea. One union official told The Sacramento Bee that “education should not be a competitive endeavor.”

Merit pay is a simple concept. It allows school administrators to pay good, effective teachers more than mediocre or poor-performing teachers. It allows signing bonuses and performance-based rewards. The obvious corollary is that it also allows them to pay bad or incompetent teachers lower salaries. In a truly competitive educational model that goes beyond this simple idea, school officials could even—get this—demote, discipline, or fire teachers who aren’t making the grade. That’s how it works in almost any private business, and even private schools.

In the current public-school system, however, pay is based on seniority. A school teacher who has been just occupying a chair for decades, must be paid better than a young go-getter. A teacher who is willing to ply his or her skills in a tough, low-performing urban school must be paid the same as a teacher on autopilot in a wealthy suburban district, where the challenges are less severe and the stakes not as high. In times of layoffs, that tough and energetic teacher working a hard gig must be laid off before any teacher with greater seniority in the union, thanks to something known as LIFO, or “Last In, First Out.”

In the current, union-controlled monopoly system, school administrators are not free to recruit the best and brightest talent from other industries because, well, they can’t pay enough to lure them out of more lucrative fields. And anyone who wants to be a regular, full-time teacher in California’s public schools must go through the long, expensive and mind-numbing process of getting an education degree. (Did I mention that those who receive such degrees tend to come from the bottom rungs of the academic ladder, according to numerous studies?)

As a final note, the debate over merit pay reinforces the wisdom of the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent Janus decision, which declared that teachers and other public employees are not required to pay union dues even to support collective-bargaining purposes. Justice Samuel Alito, wrote for the majority that such bargaining often involved “fundamental questions of education policy,” so it’s antithetical to the First Amendment to compel people to support ideas to which they don’t agree.

“Should teacher pay be based on seniority, the better to retain experienced teachers?” Justice Alito asked. “Or should schools adopt merit-pay systems to encourage teachers to get the best results out of their students?” Public-school teachers no longer are forced to subsidize the opposition to merit pay and to reforms to the current tenure and seniority based system, but there’s still a long process ahead to move toward the idea that Cox touted.