Teacher unions are still the problem: Improvement in education v. political power

The teachers unions are the reason we’re not getting what we’re paying for in our public schools. David Denholm, president of the Public Service Research Foundation summed it up succinctly:

Indeed, if anything is ever going to be done to make meaningful changes in education and restore the quality of public education in America, teacher union power must be confronted.

Since the likelihood of such confrontation coming from the elected ranks, where fear of union political power is most acute, that opposition must come from organized, informed citizen activists.

In an article titled “Confronting Teacher Union Power” David Denholm wrote:

There is a growing awareness that America’s system of public education is in trouble. Not only are scores on standardized tests low but also colleges are reporting that record numbers of students are in need of remedial classes upon reaching college and employers complain that high school graduates are unemployable because they do not possess the basic skills of reading, writing and figuring at a level sufficient to perform routine entry-level work.

This disaffection with the quality of public education and the apparent futility of meaningful reform is beginning to challenge the very precepts upon which America’s system of public education is based. Too many in the education establishment are in denial. They insist that the public schools are doing a good job of educating students.

Even parents who say that they think public education is not what it should be are very pleased with their own schools. But, the obvious need for improvement in public education is encouraging many people to become active in promoting reforms and improvements in the schools.

Unfortunately, when they consider ‘education reform’ issues, they do not give enough consideration to teacher unions. This is misguided because teacher unions are a very powerful force in determining education policy. All too often, the unions are dismissed as dealing only with personnel policy, which too many people don’t really see as ‘education’ policy.

This ignores the fact that the unions are involved in virtually every aspect of education. Whether it is curriculum, textbook selection, discipline or particularly the cost of education, the unions are very concerned and have a profound influence.

The Three Manifestations of Political Power

Denholm says the unions’ political power manifests in three ways:

First, teacher unions gain political power through the vast financial resources they control as a result of their monopoly status. These resources are used in a variety of ways to influence political outcomes. The unions sponsor political action committees with which they provide direct support to candidates and causes. They also maintain an army of highly trained, well paid political operatives that they can put into the field on short notice to influence elections.

Second, even though teachers are less than two percent of the population and surveys have shown that a very large minority of teachers do not share the union’s left leaning political views, those teachers who are union zealots are highly motivated and well educated. As volunteers, even a small cadre of such activists can have a substantial influence on the outcome of a political campaign.

The third, and perhaps largest source of union political influence, is a question of perception. When the teacher unions endorse candidates, they proclaim them as the ‘education’ candidates. The typical voter, not realizing the negative impact of unionism on education, or that these so-called ‘education’ candidates are, in reality, those who are committed to maintaining the union’s stranglehold, frequently vote for these candidates thinking that they are voting for better public schools.

Click here to read more at the website of the Public Service Research Foundation.