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!”