Thomas C. Wigand: “Teachers’ Unions — It’s Time for Expulsion”

A leading newspaper had this to say about Rhode Island: “In what can only be described as a phenomenal turnaround story, Rhode Island has gone from being an economic laggard to enjoying the most vibrant economy in the U.S.; its economic renaissance is often compared to that of Ireland, which is now called the ‘Celtic Tiger.’ How did Rhode Island accomplish this? First, by recognizing that public education is the linchpin of its economic competitiveness, and then committing to a public policy that its public education system would be worldclass, if not the world leader.”
Of course this newspaper account is pure fiction — but it needn’t be.
As we transition from manufacturing to a global knowledge economy, education is the crucial element. The better educated the workforce, the more skilled it is; the more skilled the workforce, the higher the standard of living. This dynamic bodes ill for Rhode Island. America’s students fare poorly in international comparisons, and for Rhode Island the news is even worse. Recently, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce ranked the fifty states’ educational systems, and Rhode Island ranked far below even the U.S. Average. (In some categories, we’re the only state that got Fs!) If there were an education Olympics, Rhode Island’s children could barely hobble into the stadium.
Our state therefore has both an economic challenge and a moral obligation to massively improve its schools; to do anything less sentences our children to a grossly diminished standard of living, which is unconscionable. Therefore, we must benchmark the highest performing countries and adopt a near-term goal of meeting, if not exceeding, their educational results. The task then becomes determining how to achieve that goal — both identifying actions required to get there and eliminating roadblocks standing in the way.
The single greatest roadblock to worldclass education is the teachers’ unions. Union-imposed practices such as seniority, tenure, and uniform pay are inherently incompatible with achieving the highest possible performance. Whether in East Greenwich or Central Falls, no school can realize its full potential under such a regime. If we agree that the overarching goal must be to thrust Rhode Island’s schools into worldclass territory, then the inescapable conclusion is that the teachers unions and their strikes, “work to rule,” and grievances offer no redeeming qualities. In other words, at a time when we desperately need institutionalized excellence, teachers’ unions institutionalize mediocrity.
Ultimately, educational achievement is driven by teachers’ dedication and skill, and to have worldclass performance we must offer teachers the opportunity to receive commensurate compensation and working conditions. Great teachers don’t need a union for this. Teacher compensation can be benchmarked to compare favorably with other professions, and enlightened management and progressive discipline can ensure fair, positive, and productive work environments.
Teachers unions offer a value proposition only to union officials and teachers at the mediocre-to-incompetent end of the education bell curve, where positions must be protected by contract. Presently, the selfish desires of these two special interest dominate Rhode Island’s public education system; this must stop, and it can.
Conventional wisdom has it that the teachers’ unions are so politically powerful that they are both invincible and perpetual. Not true. In 1966, the General Assembly, expressing a “public policy” interest in promoting collective bargaining, gave statutory permission for teachers to unionize. Those statutes can be repealed at any time. Poof! No more strikes, “work to rule,” or protection of inadequate teachers!
The conventional wisdom also holds that teachers’ unions have such power over the Democratic Party that they effectively control it. While in large part true, in Rhode Island, Democrat control actually presents an opportunity: The Democrats in the General Assembly could repeal the teacher union statutes without any concern over losing majority status. In other words, the Democrat General Assembly could harness its near absolute power as a force for good. What a concept!
Just as incorrigible students who impede the educational mission face expulsion, so too should it be with the teachers unions. Decades of experience have proven that the presence of teachers’ unions is inherently detrimental to educational quality, so it’s long past time for the teachers’ unions to be expelled from our schools.
The “public policy” favoring teacher collective bargaining must be subordinated to a “public policy” dedicated to thrusting Rhode Island’s public education system into worldclass status. The Democrat General Assembly has a moral obligation to expel the teachers unions — if not for the rest of us, then at least “for the children!”

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Jim
Jim
14 years ago

I couldn’t agree with you more, Tom. In past posts I have called for the elimination of teachers unions as the only way we are going to salvage our future.

Rhody
Rhody
14 years ago

File this idea under “be careful what you wish for.”
If you think your kids’ teachers are professional dregs now…

klaus
klaus
14 years ago

“…The single greatest roadblock to worldclass education is the teachers’ unions…” First: you have absolutely no proof that this is true. It may be true, but your “argument” does nothing to demonstrate that this is true. Tossing out “seniority” etc is not proof. There’s nothing inherently wrong with seniority. That being the case, you have not proven your point. Second: By Definition, 50% of all teachers are mediocre. 50% of all brain surgeons are mediocre. 50% of all airline pilots are mediocre. Saying that half of all teachers are mediocre by virtue of the bell curve is an empty tautology. Sure, it’s true. But it’s meaningless, because that’s what a bell curve is. By definition, half of all members of any group are mediocre. Three people run a race. They all break the world’s record. Only one gets the gold. By definition, the second-place runner is “mediocre.” So, what’s your point? I work in corporate finance. I’m painfully aware of Six Sigma, and Jack Welch’s “up or out” method of personnel development. Are you? But, you know what? 50% of the people in my corporation are mediocre. And do you really, honestly think that the best performers always get the notice and recognition and rewards? Just as often it’s the brown-noser. So, what’s your point? Third: What sort of metrics will you use to determine the “good” teachers from the “bad”? And how will you determine how much is the teacher’s fault, and how much is whether the class was good or bad? Standardized testing? By adjusting salaries to make them competitive, are you willing to pay teachers more? The CEO of the for-profit company (can’t think of the name of either) said in a BusinessWeek interview that he thought teachers made too little. What really sickens me is the… Read more »

ken
ken
14 years ago

Tom,
Japan students do post better grade scores than US students but:
In Japan parents are required to get their children to school on time because there are no school buses provided.
Parents are also rated on the quality of school lunch they send their child to school with.
There are few janitors in schools so all Japanese children are required to clean their own school each day.
Schools are ranked by test scores so there is a student entrance test to gain admission to each school.
After normal school hours, children attend private tutoring schools, private educational clubs and then go home to do homework.
Japanese children (elementary, middle, high school) routinely commit suicide because they fail an entrance exam or receive a failing grade and are not allowed to pass grade.
Is this what you are asking for?

Greg
Greg
14 years ago

Yes, please!

Frank
Frank
14 years ago

“Decades of experience have proven that the presence of teachers’ unions is inherently detrimental to educational quality, so it’s long past time for the teachers’ unions to be expelled from our schools.”
This should be on a billboard on I-95 to shake people out of their slumber.

ken
ken
14 years ago

Tom,
“Whether in East Greenwich or Central Falls, no school can realize its full potential under such a regime.”
This comparison does not work because East Greenwich school system was level funded and Central Falls school system was taken over by the State of RI Education Department and received all operational funds as did all other State run schools including any negotiated monies for teacher raises.

John
John
14 years ago

Klaus: You work in Corporate Finance? Impossible. Nobody who routinely displays your lack of logic or fact based analyis would last a month on the Street.
And besides that, the very idea of working in “Corporate Finance” in RI is a real howler. Where? APC? Parlez vous “lay off?” Fleet? “Not any more, y’all.” GTech? Bene. Maybe Textron? Gee, whose the PE visitor du jour?
Made my Friday night, my friend.

Will
14 years ago

Ken, Other than the suicide thing (though it would help to reduce class sizes — just kidding folks!), they all sound like great suggestions! 1) “In Japan parents are required to get their children to school on time because there are no school buses provided.” Sounds like a great idea. Apparently, our parents didn’t have quite the same access to buses, since they routinely walked at least several miles in the snow barefoot to school, but seriously folks… You don’t really need buses (with the exception of the handicapped) if kids were attending neighborhood schools. They’re only deemed necessary when you’re shipping them off to far away edukayshun factories. Having more kids walk to school might also help cut down on childhood obesity. 2) “Parents are also rated on the quality of school lunch they send their child to school with.” Sounds like it might be something worth considering, since much of what they get to eat in the school cafeteria isn’t fit for cattle consumption. Green eggs and ham, anyone? Parents need to be more responsible for feeding their own children, not the state. 3) There are few janitors in schools so all Japanese children are required to clean their own school each day. Sounds like an excellent idea! It would be great if all the kids (and teachers, too) would pitch in to keep their school looking great. As it stands right now, some of these schools aren’t kept up very well at all. It might also help instill some school pride, too. Maybe make a contest out of it. Of course, we’d have to get past the objections of the janitors’ union. 4) Schools are ranked by test scores so there is a student entrance test to gain admission to each school. Sounds like another great idea.… Read more »

Tom W
Tom W
14 years ago

First, as to Ken’s comments regarding Japan and the State running Central Falls’ schools: Will replied exceedingly well re: Japan, so no need to repeat what he said. But I’ll add one other observation: the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (Paris) ranks the educational results of the 30 most industrialized / advanced countries. The U.S. ranks down in the 20’s – so our competitor nations without Japan’s practices are also beating our clocks. As for Central Falls, my point wasn’t about what entity is running the schools, but that no school can realize its full potential under a unionized regime of tenure, seniority, etc. Now for Klaus … >>”…The single greatest roadblock to worldclass education is the teachers’ unions…” – TW >>First: you have absolutely no proof that this is true. It may be true, but your “argument” does nothing to demonstrate that this is true. Tossing out “seniority” etc is not proof. There’s nothing inherently wrong with seniority. That being the case, you have not proven your point. – Klaus This was originally written to appear in newspapers (a few in RI published it), and so I had to stick within a word count. A book I’ve mentioned previously (“The Worm in the Apple: How the Teachers Unions Are Destroying American Education”) well documents my point, as does the “A Nation At Risk” report of the 1980’s. For anyone who cares to look at it, the record is replete with teachers unions’ vehement and successful opposition to choice, reform, improvement and accountability. A rhetorical question will illustrate the point: “Would positive educational reform and improvement in Rhode Island occur at all, or just faster, if the teachers unions were not here?” I’ll let the readers decide the answer. And yes, seniority is inherently wrong IF the goal is… Read more »

Frederick
Frederick
14 years ago

It’s unfortunate that the opportunity never will or never could arise for the anti-union people to spend a entire week in a teacher’s shoes. (in other words, the whole routine of a school week, don’t leave after the end of the school day bell!) I am certain there would be some that would come out of the experience blaming most everything they saw that was “wrong” on the union. However, I should hope that many, if they really looked deeper at the language in the respective teacher contract, would realize what is really “wrong” has nothing to do with any contract language. (oh, and should you find something in the contract, point out the article and section!!)

Bob Walsh
Bob Walsh
14 years ago

Of course I miss you when you don’t post, Tom – when a new union member asks why we need unions in the first place, I can send them over here to do some reading and point out even in true-blue state Rhode Island, the loyal opposition is hard at work!

Greg
Greg
14 years ago

Frederick,
Does the complexities of being a teacher surprise you? Did you think, as you drank beer and studied in college, that teaching was going to be a high-paying rocket-ride to the moon worth of 24 fun?
We all chose our lots in life. Nobody put a gun to any of our heads and said “You’re a teacher, and you’re an engineer, and you’re a garbage man.”
So can the righteous indignation. It insults your cause.

Frederick
Frederick
14 years ago

Not sure I am the indignant one here, Greg! Did I sound like I was looking to buy a second home in South County and was grumbling because I didn’t make enough money?
I’ll ask in another way … have you read a RI teachers’ union contract (any district)? Have you spent some time in a classroom and otherwise observed a teacher’s entire responsibilities for any given week? Once you have done BOTH, point out to me the clause or clauses in the contract which you perceive as “wrong”.
After eighteen years of teaching, I believe I have a clear understanding of the complexities of the profession. What I am not clear on is how you can possibly say you do as well.

Monique
Monique (@monique-chartier)
Editor
14 years ago

We are not unsympathetic to the travails of teaching, Frederick. And we have the highest respect for good teachers.
But a couple of points. Specific to education, it is unacceptable that under present teacher contracts, bad and mediocre teachers make the same as good teachers. Mediocre ones should make less and bad ones (Mr. Walsh has denied that they exist but they do, in too many numbers) should be booted out of the profession.
More generally, most people do not have a lark for a job. So when you say, walk in a teacher’s shoes for a week, there is a temptation to say, sure, let’s swap jobs. One thing you’ll find is that while a teacher’s day ends after 6 or 7 or 8 hours, our day goes on. That is usually attendant to a salaried position.
You’ll also find that most people who make salaries in the same range as teachers do not also get the summer off. Nor do they receive both contractual and step raises regardless of merit which, of course, has led to the embedding and non-removability of mediocre and bad teachers in your ranks.
So we see that there are advantages and disadvantages to most jobs. If, however, you feel the need to further enumerate the disadvantages of teaching, please go right ahead.

Monique
Monique (@monique-chartier)
Editor
14 years ago

Mr. Walsh. The only thing we are “loyally opposed” to is the state of education in Rhode Island.
Schools ranked 46th lowest.
Teacher pay at 8th highest.
Taxes 7th highest.
In short, with the strong encouragement of teachers’ unions, students have been shunted to a decidedly secondary position of importance in our education system.
And that is the reason for the regular criticism of teachers’ unions. Such criticism would be far more muted if those numbers where closer together. But teachers seem altogether too willing to listen to the siren song of the unions:
You deserve this pay. Ignore the results. Merit is irrelevant. We can’t look back (even though we have trampled the children); they’ll eat you alive. We’re your only friend. (Do you have your dues check this week?) We’re your loyal advisor.
There is no personal animus on my part towards unions. Many members of my own family did or do belong to unions. But in the case of our schools, until those numbers get closer together and until teachers stop listening to such nonsense and start listening to their conscience, their innate professionalism and their care and concern for the children, we, the loyal opposition, will continue to speak out.

Tom W
Tom W
14 years ago

>>Of course I miss you when you don’t post, Tom – when a new union member asks why we need unions in the first place, I can send them over here to do some reading and point out even in true-blue state Rhode Island, the loyal opposition is hard at work! That’s alright Bob! Send ’em all over here to read. The skilled and diligent teachers will learn that they have nothing to fear. As for the other kind, I suspect that they intuitively realize that without the union their continued employment would be endangered; indeed I suspect that these are the ones most inclined to become “actively involved” in the union. As for the teaching body as a whole, the union support is much more tepid than appears on the surface. As you know, in many districts in RI (every district?) teachers are FORCED to join the union or lose their jobs (so-called “closed shop”). This says a lot about the union leadership’s own analysis of the confidence it can have of voluntary support among the teaching force and the priority it places on maximizing its dues income vs. respecting the preferences of individual members. Indeed I’ve met science / math teachers that greatly resent “their” union-imposed uniform pay, for they fully realize that as teachers of “in demand” they could and should garner more than, e.g., music or phys-ed teachers … much less being paid less than ones who have greater seniority. But of course they are afraid to speak up due to (no pun intended) union and union-supporter peer intimidation and fear of reprisal. (How many Tiverton teachers are ashamed that they were forced to strike and march a picket line? How many were afraid to refuse out of fear of “union discipline” and “union fines”?) I… Read more »

Frederick
Frederick
14 years ago

To both Monique and Tom W, it sounds to me that your objection is to not any particular clause or clauses in the teachers contract, but the salary and benefits at the end of it. Yet, you say YOU are “about the kids”??
Truly, the primary disadvantage I see to the teaching profession is hearing from those that don’t really know what it takes to be a good teacher. Those that see value ONLY in math/science or reading/language arts standardized test scores do honestly make me crazy. Adding to that, those that ignore socio-economic disadvanages (or advantages) of students that are beyond the control of teachers.
My ultimate goal for a student is that he/she become a fully functioning( to the best of their ability), contributing member of society whether they end up being a brain surgeon, a plumber, or factory worker – they function by making an honest living and hopefully having a happy life, too.

klaus
klaus
14 years ago

Tom, only time for a quick one.
Germany, France, Finland, and several other European countries that routinely outshine the US in education all have teachers’ unions that are a whole lot more powerful than what you have here. So this pretty much proves that unions are not the problem.
Just because you can cite two books to “support” your case doesn’t mean the argument is correct or proven. The burden of proof lies on you, my friend. You made the assertion. Prove it. Especially in light of experience with other countries where unions don’t seem to be a problem.
Overall tax burdens are at the lowest level in decades. Don’t try to claim that it’s the gov’t taking all our money that is the problem. State taxes have gone up precisely because fed taxes have gone down. And the effective corporate tax rate hasn’t been this low since the 30s.
Again, Europe has a much higher tax level than we do, and yet most European families don’t have to work two jobs. We do because of the way that income gains are retained by the top 1% of income earners in the US.
From 1940-75, productivity increased by just shy of 100%, and the median wage increased by just shy of 100%.
Since 1980, productivity has gone up another 80%, but median wages have stagnated. Productivity gains mean that wages can be increased. That they haven’t increased means that all the gains are retained by the owner/rentier class.
In short, the money is there. It’s just that capitalists–NOT gov’t–are stealing all your wage increases.

Monique
Monique (@monique-chartier)
Editor
14 years ago

“To both Monique and Tom W, it sounds to me that your objection is to not any particular clause or clauses in the teachers contract, but the salary and benefits at the end of it. Yet, you say YOU are “about the kids”??”
Frederick, please read our comments before posting your response. Our concern exactly is for the children and we have so stated.
How do you respond to the point that Rhode Island schools are ranked 46th? Or all of the F’s which the Rhode Island education system received in this report?
http://www.uschamber.com/icw/reportcard/default
These are indicators that Rhode Island students are not being well served by our education system. This has been our point.
But we can talk about compensation for a moment. Would you agree that all doctors are not equally, brilliantly skilled? How about dentists? Attorneys? How would you feel about paying $400/hour for the services of a bad attorney? Who then went on to lose your case by making rudimentary mistakes? You wouldn’t much like it, would you? I sure wouldn’t.
And that’s our point about compensation and Rhode Island’s education system. All teachers are not equally brilliant. Yet the mediocre and bad ones are receiving the same generous compensation as the great ones. And this is wrong, especially when it is the children who pay the price.

Monique
Monique (@monique-chartier)
Editor
14 years ago

Ah, Klaus! Welcome back.

Tom W
Tom W
14 years ago

>>Germany, France, Finland, and several other European countries that routinely outshine the US in education all have teachers’ unions that are a whole lot more powerful than what you have here. So this pretty much proves that unions are not the problem. And Klaus, your sources for that statement are? Are those unions limited to negotiating wages, or do they (like here) “negotiate” management prerogatives and curriculum? Do parents in European countries have vouchers and other mechanisms of choice (which helps rein in the excesses of unionization), or are they stuck in a monopoly like here? Do those union operate more on a guild model, than an industrial model like here? >>Just because you can cite two books to “support” your case doesn’t mean the argument is correct or proven. The burden of proof lies on you, my friend. You made the assertion. Prove it. Especially in light of experience with other countries where unions don’t seem to be a problem. Actually the burden of proof is not on me. I’ve cited sources, you haven’t. Moreover, on multiple occasions on this board I’ve “requested” that Bob Walsh and/or Pat Crowley point use to independent, credible studies / data showing the teachers unions in the U.S. have had a beneficial impact on the educational mission, or at least a neutral one. They haven’t produced anything. That tells the story right there. >>Overall tax burdens are at the lowest level in decades. Don’t try to claim that it’s the gov’t taking all our money that is the problem. State taxes have gone up precisely because fed taxes have gone down. And the effective corporate tax rate hasn’t been this low since the 30s. Where’s your data? The federal budget = tax burden, and it is higher than ever. Government budget(s) at any… Read more »

Bob Walsh
Bob Walsh
14 years ago

I have pointed out numerous peer-reviewed studies on the positive impact of unionism in education in many forums. However, it seems that on this blog, when I make a point that cannot be refuted, the topic suddenly changes or it merely degenerates into whining about the existence of unions. One example of this behavior comes from you, Tom, for whenever I point out the strong comparative test scores in the majority of RI communities (outside our urban core), you run to the data from other countries, while ignoring the fact that those countries segregate the majority of students out of advanced academic programs (what we would call college bound) at a very early age.

Tom W
Tom W
14 years ago

>>I have pointed out numerous peer-reviewed studies on the positive impact of unionism in education in many forums. I may be in error, but I don’t recall ever seeing any such cites posted on this blog / site. If you had, tell me what date so that I / anyone else can go back and look them up (I believe that Anchor archives by date). And if you haven’t posted on this site, what are the cites for them, and are they available online? Can your provide links? >>However, it seems that on this blog, when I make a point that cannot be refuted, the topic suddenly changes or it merely degenerates into whining about the existence of unions. One example of this behavior comes from you, Tom, for whenever I point out the strong comparative test scores in the majority of RI communities (outside our urban core), you run to the data from other countries, while ignoring the fact that those countries segregate the majority of students out of advanced academic programs (what we would call college bound) at a very early age. Anyone can cherry-pick data, e.g., upscale suburban districts vs. urban cores. We all know that demographics has a great impact on educational outcomes – the question is do RI’s public school teachers add value above and beyond what would be anticipated due to demographics? Given the end product, it would seem not. As far as I know, OECD’s international methodology has not been discredited. If there are studies that show that on an “apples to apples” basis U.S. public schools are performing better than other countries, I’d love to see them. All I know now is that U.S. Chamber of Commerce, NEAP, OECD and various other sources keep ranking RI schools as below average for this… Read more »

klaus`
klaus`
14 years ago

First, I was going to let John’s comment pass as too inane to deserve response. However, upon reflection, it seems to encapsulate so much of what’s wrong with right-wing thinking, that I have to point it out. He finds the fact that I work in corporate finance disturbing, so his reaction is to dismiss it. Of course, how silly of me not to realize that he knows where I work better than I do. Next, he says I display no logic. However, he neglects to demonstrate any examples. We’re just supposed to accept his word. Finally, he assumes I work in RI. Who said I did? There’s a big world out there, John. And, interestingly, his list of corporate accumulations and disappearances really kind of reinforces my point. The idea is to get big enough to swallow your competition. And, Tom. Guess you don’t have much else to do, you jumped on my response that quickly. As for the stuff about unions, that was the part of the original post: that other countries do better than we. Who are those countries? Among them are Germany, France, etc. Do you deny that they have unions? Do I really have to cite proof for something that’s common knowledge? OK, then what’s your source for Eur’s unemployment rate? You say that Eur is sclerotic; actually it’s not. That’s part of the RW propaganda. Do you know what the employment to population ratio is? It’s a stat that a lot of economists believe is more accurate than unemployment. Anyway, the ratio for France, males aged 25-45, is about .3% ahead of the rate for the same group in the US. Did you also realize that you have a better chance of moving up in social class in Eur than you do in the US?… Read more »

Tom W
Tom W
14 years ago

Klaus: I’ve neither the time nor inclination to respond to your rant point by point. But I’ll pick some highlights: >> Check the Center for Tax Policy. They’ll tell you everything you need to know about taxes. Check the nice little chart that shows how local taxes have gone up to match the “decreases” that the Republicans have made in fed taxes. And your point is? As I said, a dollar in taxes out of my pocket is a dollar less that I have, no matter which layer of government it goes to. RI’s budget goes up every year, as does that in my town. >>Wow. Higher budget = higher tax burden? Wow. That is so blindingly uninformed that it’s breathtaking. Our economy grows. As a result, the budget can increase at even lower levels of taxation. Do you understand the difference between real and nominal wages or taxes? I’m “debating” with someone who doesn’t even grasp even such a basic fact about economics? Do I need to cite that, too? Cato Institute, May 2005: http://www.cato.org/pub_display.php?pub_id=3750 “President Bush has presided over the largest overall increase in inflation-adjusted federal spending since Lyndon B. Johnson. Even after excluding spending on defense and homeland security, Bush is still the biggest-spending president in 30 years. His 2006 budget doesn’t cut enough spending to change his place in history, either. Total government spending grew by 33 percent during Bush’s first term. The federal budget as a share of the economy grew from 18.5 percent of GDP on Clinton’s last day in office to 20.3 percent by the end of Bush’s first term.” I don’t recall reading about any declines in the federal budget, in real or nominal terms, since 2005. >> You say that Eur is sclerotic; actually it’s not. That’s part of the RW… Read more »

Frederick
Frederick
14 years ago

Monique: Most of the time, I have no idea how much money either a doctor or a lawyer makes. A rotten one could charge the same as a great one and I wouldn’t even know it. Then again, with doctors, are the fees they charge really up to them or the health insurance companies?? (oh wait, that’s a whole other discussion)
I’ll go back to an earlier argument, because Barrington and East Greenwich kids do so well on standardized tests should those teachers make more money than a Central Falls or Providence teacher?
And you pull information from the US Chamber of Commerce? As though they are the leading authority? Scary.
What is it that YOU want all kids to be when they grow up?

Monique
Monique (@monique-chartier)
Editor
14 years ago

The sky is the limit, Frederick. But I’m not sure it will be as easy for Rhode Island children, who are attempting to gain an education in a state that is ranked 46th, to achieve that.
Sorry you missed our prior discussions about the Chamber of Commerce evaluation of the education being provided by each of the fifty states. The study didn’t give such low marks to all fifty states. The education system of many states did quite well, including nearby Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont and New Hampshire. So they obviously are not biased against all public education systems. Are you contending, then, that the Chamber of Commerce slanted the results in order to inexplicably pick on Rhode Island?
Further, an attempted dismissal doesn’t get off the ground if it only consists of saying, oh, such-and-such organization commissioned this study. Kindly be specific about your criticism. What was problematic about the methodology – data aggregation or analysis – of the study of Rhode Island?

Justin Katz
14 years ago

Gee, klaus. Perusing several tables of the relevant statistics (PDF), I can’t help but feel that your 0.3% French/U.S. comparison was the product of deliberate selection (and apparently erroneous selection, at that, as you seem to have it backwards).
I’m glad to see you championing the cause of stay-at-home moms (and dads). I’d note, though, that one could also argue that persuading families to leave one spouse at home in greater numbers would serve to increase salaries across the board (by decreasing the workforce).

Bob Walsh
Bob Walsh
14 years ago

Executive Summary – link at bottom SCHOOL REFORM PROPOSALS: THE RESEARCH EVIDENCE TEACHER UNIONS AND STUDENT ACHIEVEMENT BY ROBERT M. CARINI INDIANA UNIVERSITY BLOOMINGTON Research Quality Only 17 prominent studies have looked at the relationship between teacher unions and achievement. The 12 studies that reported favorable union effects are generally more methodologically sound than those that found harmful effects. Studies that reported favorable effects used more extensive statistical controls and were often conducted at the student level. In contrast, studies reporting harmful effects were conducted at the state or district level, which, due to aggregation, are more prone to error. Research Findings Claims Against, For Unionism: Critics note that unions raise the costs of education; make it more difficult for principals to remove ineffective teachers; and lead to more conflicted relationships among teachers, principals, and district administrators. Proponents observe that unions have improved compensation and security for teachers, led to more formal school structures, and secured smaller class sizes and more instructional preparation time. Negative Findings for Unions: Two studies blamed teacher unions for declining college entrance scores from the 1960s to 1980. A reanalysis concluded greater state unionization led to higher state SAT scores, and one study reporting negative effects on college entrance scores is more mixed in its findings than in its conclusion. Increased state unionization led to decreased scores on the Armed Forces Qualifying Test (AFQT) in another study; the actual evidence is more ambivalent. A Milwaukee study linking unionism to disappointing achievement from 1964 to 1996 failed to account for demographic changes. A study finding unionized districts had greater high school dropout rates omitted data that might have changed its findings. Positive Findings for Unions: Several studies found math, economics and SAT scores in unionized schools improved more than in non-unionized schools. Increases in state unionization… Read more »

Greg
Greg
14 years ago

“Policy makers should view teacher unions more as collaborators than as adversaries.”
I suppose that would be a reasonable statement if teacher’s unions we’re ‘working to rule’, walking out, wearing obnoxious buttons and pins and intentionally getting the children involved in the dispute.
Seems to me that the unions need to view policy makers as collaborators and not as adversaries and should cease any activities or statements that would strain that collaboration, don’t you agree, Bob?

Thomas
Thomas
14 years ago

Monique-
Three times in this thread you state that RI ranks 46th in education. I am curious about your source for this number.
The Chamber of Commerce report that you cite places RI at 35th, which doesn’t give us any bragging rights, either. I’m just curious about your source.

Tom W
Tom W
14 years ago

Bob, I’ll give credit where due – you came up with something I thought impossible, i.e., that anyone would put into writing assertions that teachers unions have enhanced quality in the educational mission (in contradiction to the experience in every other realm of the impact of unionization on quality). For example, as to education and unions, the writings of (once a director at Rhode Island College) Dr. Myron Lieberman are invaluable: http://www.educationpolicy.org/resumml.htm (For one example, you just have the title: “The Teacher Unions: How the NEA and AFT Sabotage Reform and Hold Students, Parents, Teachers, and Taxpayers Hostage to Bureaucracy (New York: The Free Press, 1997).” And while both sides of this and other policy debates on this blog are prone to dismissing out of hand the “studies” cited on the other side, a little quick review of the site (a “college of education”) where your source came from indicates that, at a minimum, that author’s assertions should be taken with a several grains of salt. I won’t go through the list – e.g., even that author in passing acknowledges that there is also an unaddressed “cost benefit” analysis in his conclusions; that there has been a detrimental impact to the students at the ends of the skills bell curve; NO apparent comparisons to private schools (though I didn’t read the underlying studies so am not representing that such did not occur, just if they did the author didn’t mention it) – but as a general observation that author was quick to dismiss (under the rubric of “flawed methodology”) studies at variance with his final conclusion(s) that unionization has been beneficial. I bring this up because there seems to be a pattern here. A quick perusal their “think tank review project” reviews appear to reflexively dismiss anything that doesn’t agree… Read more »

Bob Walsh
Bob Walsh
14 years ago

Tom,
The quick take on the multiple studies referenced is not really news – where unions increase the ability to attract quality professionals through wages/benefits, educational performance is helped, and when the private sector provides better wages, working conditions, and/or more resources for kids (specialty schools for kids with special needs) and/or, at the high achieveing end of the scale attracts a high achieveing student body in the first place (Andover, Exeter, Milton, etc), performace is better in those environments.
The bototm line is that while labor makes a convenient scapegoat for some, the answers for improving educaiton in America lie elsewhere.

Monique
Monique (@monique-chartier)
Editor
14 years ago

Thomas:
Good question. I do not recall, though at the time it was cited, the source struck me as reliable. I will research and reply.

Thomas
Thomas
14 years ago

Monique- Thanks, I look forward to the reply.
TomW- I have to say your comment puzzled me and it took me a while to sort it out. I take it that the quotes you proffer are from reviews that criticize reports from supporters of vouchers/NCLB, and you think the criticism is unwarranted because it’s “reflexive”.
The items reviewed are from “think tanks” like the Lexington Institute, the Cato Institute, and the Mackinac institute. I note that the reviewers are from research universities. As a general point, I have a much higher degree of confidence in university professors than the staff of such institutes. Cato, etc (and the ACLU, while we’re at it) clearly have an ideological litmus test: no research escapes them unless it conforms to a predetermined set of criteria. Universities actually believe in letting the evidence dictate the results, and standards of professional research are pretty strict. Peer review is a powerful incentive to cut the BS and be honest about the limits of your evidence, Cato, heritiage, ACLU etc. have no such oversight process.
You say that the criticisms are “reflexive”. They seem to be anything but that. The criticisms proffered in the quotes above are, if accurate, completely appropriate. (i have no way of knowing if they are accurate, but that’s not the point).
A “reflexive” criticism is “Tom W says X, so it must be wrong because Tom W is an interested party”.
“Tom W says X, but his methods are flawed and here’s why” is not a “reflexive criticism”. It’s a methodological one.
Flawed methods produce unreliable conclusions. Methodology matters. All of us, right and left, should insist on high levels of honesty in research. If we do so, the other side is less likely to dismiss our arguments reflexively.

Tom W
Tom W
14 years ago

>>The quick take on the multiple studies referenced is not really news – where unions increase the ability to attract quality professionals through wages/benefits, educational performance is helped
Except Bob that the whole premise is incorrect. [Teachers] unions don’t increase the ability to attract quality professionals. Just the opposite.
The teachers unions help block the entry of qualified professionals (e.g., those seeking second careers) via supporting the requirements that teachers must complete the entire “college of education” regime, this though the curricula of those programs is almost universally recognized as undemanding and irrelevant.
Also, the unions’ support of tenure, seniority, opposition to merit based pay and promotion are inherently unprofessional.
Doctors, engineers, lawyers and other professionals first go through training programs of rigor (unlike colleges of education), and then once in the workforce don’t all make the same money – it varies based on skill and the individual reputation that comes from it, specialization in areas that require greater than average skill and/or are in demand.
Professionals don’t require, indeed wouldn’t want, the crutches of tenure and the limitations of seniority.
We could offer union-free public school teachers professional grade compensation without seniority or tenure, but incentives based on merit, and professionals would flock to fill those positions.

Bob Walsh
Bob Walsh
14 years ago

Then how do you explain the great test scores you cite in OECD countries with highly unionized teaching workforces?

Tom W
Tom W
14 years ago

>>Flawed methods produce unreliable conclusions. Methodology matters. All of us, right and left, should insist on high levels of honesty in research. If we do so, the other side is less likely to dismiss our arguments reflexively. Thomas – valid observations, but not responsive to my point (perhaps “my bad” for not being clear). When I looked at the web site from which BW’s quote was sourced, I first noted that it was sponsored by a college of education. Anyone can Google the subject and will find that to most knowledgeable / credible observers have, to put it politely, little respect for the academic rigor or curriculum of colleges of education (and professors of education). Moreover, there appears to be an alliance between those colleges and the teachers unions – the colleges benefits for their existence is protected by the unions’ political support preventing alternate paths to (teacher) certification, and the unions’ benefit from that same dynamic limiting the supply of potential teachers (helping the unions to claim that there’s a “teacher shortage” and need for higher wages to “attract more to the profession.” Add to that academia’s well-known propensity to abhor meritocracy and/or private sector / free market solutions. So my point was that it appeared that the excerpt that Bob W posted may be less than it seemed, i.e., not an objective review of objective studies. Cato etc. certainly approaches things from a certain world view, which may or may not taint their methodology. But I posit that the same may be true of the group sponsoring Bob W’s excerpt. Beyond that, as a common-sense and “anyone with some life experience” observation, it simply seems inconceivable that anyone could seriously believe that teachers unions and there accompanying baggage of opposition to meritocracy; seniority; tenure and making in virtually… Read more »

Tom W
Tom W
14 years ago

>>Then how do you explain the great test scores you cite in OECD countries with highly unionized teaching workforces? – Bob Walsh
Well, for one thing there is far more choice in Europe, which helps mitigate the deleterious impact of teachers unions …
http://abcnews.go.com/2020/Stossel/story?id=1500338
“American schools don’t teach as well as schools in other countries because they are government monopolies, and monopolies don’t have much incentive to compete. In Belgium, by contrast, the money is attached to the kids — it’s a kind of voucher system. Government funds education — at many different kinds of schools — but if a school can’t attract students, it goes out of business.
“Belgian school principal Kaat Vandensavel told us she works hard to impress parents.
“She told us, ‘If we don’t offer them what they want for their child, they won’t come to our school.’ She constantly improves the teaching, saying, ‘You can’t afford 10 teachers out of 160 that don’t do their work, because the clients will know, and won’t come to you again.’
“’That’s normal in Western Europe,’ Harvard economist Caroline Hoxby told me. ‘If schools don’t perform well, a parent would never be trapped in that school in the same way you could be trapped in the U.S.’”

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