Amateurs, professionals, teacher unions and strikes

Last year writer and scholar Thomas Sowell had this to say about “Amateurs Outdoing Professionals“:

“When amateurs outperform professionals, there is something wrong with that profession. If ordinary people, with no medical training, could perform surgery in their kitchens with steak knives, and get results that were better than those of surgeons in hospital operating rooms, the whole medical profession would be discredited.

Yet it is common for ordinary parents, with no training in education, to home school their children and consistently produce better academic results than those of children educated by teachers with Master’s degrees and in schools spending upwards of $10,000 a year per student– which is to say, more than a million dollars to educate ten kids from K through 12.

Nevertheless, we continue to take seriously the pretensions of educators who fail to educate, but who put on airs of having “professional” expertise beyond the understanding of mere parents.”

That same expertise is apparent in too many school districts in Illinois, since test scores are stagnant and have been for many years despite generous increases in funding.  Speaking of funding, the city of Detroit’s public school system is setting a negative standard for how education shouldn’t be managed.

Last week the Wall Street Journal ran an article about Detroit’s schools with the subtitle:

“Now’s the time to cast off collective bargaining agreements and introduce school choice.”

There’s talk of the system being forced into bankruptcy because of what’s being called an “insurmountable deficit.” That sounds a lot like Illinois’ public employee retirement funds.

The article says the school system there is “in terminal decline”:

“Detroit is like many urban school districts-large, unwieldy and bureaucratic, with a powerful union that makes the system unable to adapt to changing circumstances and that until very recently had an indulgent political class that insulated it from reform.”

The discussion of school reform is much like a broken record. After you’ve spin the vinyl around once the talk always returns to the politically powerful teacher unions that refuse to allow any meaningful reforms.

Let’s see – a governmental unit declaring bankruptcy – then union contracts get to be torn up, the system gets to cut its debt, and then leaders can “forge a political consensus for lasting reforms.” In a state with an economy like Illinois’ – where unemployement is high and taxpayers are tapped out because they are continually under assault – maybe we need a bankruptcy-like move by our political leadership.

Last year there was news about the state of Pennsylvania’s problem with teacher strikes:

“According to a recent study by the Allegheny Institute, Pennsylvania is once again the worst state in the country for teacher strikes. No less than 42% of all teacher walkouts nationwide occur in the Keystone State, leaving kids sidelined and parents scrambling to juggle work and family, potentially on as little as 48 hours notice required by state law.

The strikes take place despite the state’s ranking in the top 20% nationwide for teacher salaries in 2006-2007…”

Many taxpayers were angry, and an effort was made to outlaw teacher strikes like they are outlawed in most states.

“For too many teachers, the motto seems to be: When in doubt, walk out. The burden of enduring a strike then falls on families in which both parents need to work. The disruption is used as negotiating leverage by the unions, which know that parents will besiege school districts with calls begging them to settle.

This amounts to a form of legal extortion. If Pennsylvania’s teachers want to educate kids about justice and equity, they can start by ending a strategy that uses students as pawns to extract more taxpayer dollars.”

I trust that despite all of the above negativity that public school teachers are enjoying their long summer vacation.

P.S. An interesting quote from the National Education Association’s retiring General Counsel Bob Chanin earlier this month from this article:

“Chanin did a masterful job of demonstrating what the true priorities of the NEA are when he stated that what makes the group effective is, ‘not because of our creative ideas, it is not because of the merit of our positions, it is not because we care about children, and it is not because we have a vision f a great public school for every child. NEA and its affiliates are effective advocates because we have power.'”