Cogs Aren’t Usually Inspired
Julia Steiny has a good column explaining one area in which the union model is a poor fit for teachers (the best parts aren’t quoted):
Traditional “defined benefit” pensions motivate some teachers to become deadwood. Teachers who have lost their appetite for the work must continue to put in their time, however half-heartedly, to qualify for retirement benefits that are far more valuable than most private-sector employees get.
In general, one of the biggest problems in public education is that the field is rife with badly designed policies that motivate the wrong behavior. Pensions are only one example. …
… not only are the pensions themselves unsustainably expensive, they can also richly reward poor service. …
Labor-market pundits tell us that most people these days not only change jobs, but even careers several times during their lifetime. “Defined benefit” pensions presume a lifetime of employment in the same field, in the same state. There is no way of getting the full benefit of the pension unless you stay for the full haul.
If a teacher goes into a different line of work, or even moves to a cooler school in a different state, she loses all or most of her investment in her future. Big disincentive.
The essence of the thing is that the union approach — across the board — is designed for employees who are essentially machines in the workplace. Low skilled. Replaceable. Perhaps tough work, but no real leverage in the company.
That certainly oughtn’t describe teachers, who should be encouraged to find ways to remain intellectually engaged, interested, and enthusiastic. Sometimes that’ll require some experimentation — risks, even. (Gasp! Did I say “risks”?)
The NEA’s local brain, Bob Walsh, will declare that his organization’s goal is “a high-quality teacher in every classroom,” but by their nature, unions aren’t built to enhance the individualism and creativity that teaching ought to require. In the union frame of mind, “high quality” is indistinguishable from “competent,” and neither comes near “inspired,” except by accident, which is a contingency that pensions, bumping, seniority, and white-knuckled job security increasingly prevent.