« Here Comes Petraeus | Main | The Wall »

September 04, 2007

What Are Teacher's Unions For?

Over at TAP, Richard Kahlenberg, author of a new biography of union giant Albert Shanker, argues for the relevance of teacher's unions and reminds us of their original purpose:

In the 1950s, prior to when Albert Shanker and other New York City teachers forged the modern teacher union movement, teachers engaged in "collective begging" rather than collective bargaining. They were poorly paid (making less than people who washed cars), forced to eat lunch while supervising students, and told to bring a doctor's note when they were out sick. Collective bargaining increased wages, attracting higher-caliber candidates. Unions also pushed for reduced class size and better discipline policies, which most studies find help students learn better. While many teachers initially feared that joining a union was "unprofessional," most became in fact convinced that lack of voice contributed to their degrading treatment.

As he says, certain reforms would be welcome, including the loosening of some work rules, the institution of a peer review system, and certain types of merit pay. But the reason teacher's unions have -- against all the evidence -- become the causal factor in the decline of our schools, is the same reason that Republican politicians are so concerned about union member's dues going towards politics, or that trial lawyers are making too much in profits. It's because teacher's unions are a powerful part of the Democratic coalition:

The other big winners [in a world without teacher's unions] would be supporters of privatized education, and opponents of the American labor movement. No single organization is as responsible for the defense of public education in the United States as teacher unions. Other groups oppose private school vouchers, but only teacher unions have the political muscle and organizational and strategic capacity to beat back privatization plans. Likewise, the death of teacher unions would snuff out one of the few bright spots in an otherwise desperate landscape for the American labor movement.

If there was any evidence -- any at all -- that teacher's unions actually accounted for our suboptimal educational outcomes, then the case could be made that the bizarrely ferocious opposition to their existence was sincerely motivated. But that evidence doesn't exist. Indeed, charter schools, the policy innovation meant to free education from the teacher's unions, have, according to RAND, demonstrated "no measurable impact" on student achievement. Even in the face of this evidence, the loathing for teacher's unions persists. Which is no surprise: The Republicans who go after them do so to improve their electoral chances, and the quasi-liberal pundits do so to prove their independence. The educational outcomes just aren't the issue.

September 4, 2007 in Education, Labor | Permalink


In other words, they started unionizing for the same reasons others unionize, which has to do with working conditions; and, it strikes me, that the flaws are the similar flaws of other unions - that is, create a set of working rules, and you will get people who work to those rules, and no further. I'm not opposed to teacher's unions. Indeed, I had a long, painful, and highly emotional argument with a group of friends planning the campaign of (an eventually successful) bid for someone running for NY City Council where I was the pro-teacher union talker. But my opponent (the candidate) had a point: the unions oppose reforms that affect hard-won work rules, even some sensible, common sense ones.

I don't think the right can win on education by making teachers the enemy, and I think that's pretty well proven over the last twenty years. But liberals have to keep in mind that challenging each other to do better - whether it's getting unions to adapt to changes in the workplace or getting minority groups to see a bigger picture - is part of who we are. We're not perfect; teacher's unions are not always in the right without question. It doesn't make one a Republican or some sort of DINO to want some changes on the part of teacher's unions. And it doesn't mean that every criticism is hanging them with every problem in education today. Teachers do amazing work, and we should appreciate that. The hardest part is that fixing what's wrong in education is complicated, and has a lot to do with conflicted reasoning about what we expect schools to do and how we measure their success at doing it. I don't think Teacher's unions are the problem. But I think they can be obstacles to parts of the solution. That's a hard nuance, I suspect, to get a lot of people to see. Especially some very pro-union teachers.

Posted by: weboy | Sep 4, 2007 12:35:12 PM

And if that were the perspective more often evinced in these conversations, I wouldn't have to write these posts...

Posted by: Ezra | Sep 4, 2007 12:48:17 PM

Teachers and other public employees -- police and fire fighters especially -- were traditionally underpaid and overworked until they unionized. My dad was a cop in the late 1950 through the 1970s and when he first started to work he was expected to live in a barracks and work essentially unlimited hours when on duty. Only after they unionized did the working conditions improve to the point where it became a decent career option.

Teachers suffered doubly because it was an overwhelmingly female profession at a time when the opportunities for women in the work place were highly circumscribed.

Ezra hits the nail on the head that all of the attacks on unions and trial lawyers are a form of direct political warfare aimed at defunding the Democratic Party.

The fact that we need to keep reminding people -- even putative liberals -- about the value of unions makes my head hurt.

Posted by: Klein's Tiny Left Nut | Sep 4, 2007 1:24:47 PM

The one thing that really irritates me about these kinds of discussions is how one-sided the demands for "flexibility" are. How come nobody understands there are always (at least) two parties to a contract? Why are the teachers always the ones who have to give away concessions for free? Why don't we hear about problems in education described in terms of "inflexible, hidebound management?" Is it a teacher's fault if they have to teach from 20 year old books in a poorly lit room with broken windows and intermittent heating and a promise that there may be money for a new box of chalk in a year or two? (OK, enough with hyperbole.)

In a good faith negotiation, both sides are supposed to compromise to reach a mutually acceptable agreement. If management wants or needs more flexibility than the contract allows, they can negotiate changes. But those changes will not come for free. Conservatives seem to live in Dilbert's pointy-haired-boss's world where one can go to a vendor and demand a 40 percent discount on a contract signed months ago. Fortunately, the real world doesn't work like that (often, anyway) and contracts are still binding legal documents.

Posted by: justawriter | Sep 4, 2007 1:52:56 PM

On the other hand, it might be possible to mitigate the shortage of certified math and science teachers by paying them more than other teachers, but the teachers union generally opposes this approach. Teacher pay is, in most districts, a function of seniority and the amount of post graduate education attained, yet neither of these factors has much to do with effectiveness in the classroom. From a union leader's perspective, however, they are objective, fair, and precisely determinable. Have you ever tried to fire an incompetent teacher? The process in most districts is cumbersome, burdensome and time consuming. The net result is that very few teachers are ever fired for incompetence. Parents of inner city children trapped in dysfunctional schools might like vouchers in order to send their child to a private (usually parochial) school, but the teachers union staunchly opposes vouchers.

In the private sector, virtually every industry where unions have a longstanding and significant presence fell on hard times and/or experienced a drastic decline in employment as they restructured, sometimes in the aftermath of bankruptcy. Examples: autos, auto parts, tires, steel, airlines, railroads and mining, among others. As they pushed for ever greater pay and benefits, they ultimately priced themselves and their employers out of the market. It would have been helpful if they had a better sense of when to fight and when to back off. Public sector unions, by contrast, are not subject to such market discipline. Have you noticed how many qualified people apply for every teacher and police officer opening in the better suburbs? The compensation package, which includes gold plated health benefits, a generous retirement package, and, in the case of teachers, a nine month work year, is widely perceived as very generous, at least here in the Northeast.

I think unions might better serve their members' long term interest if they were more sensitive to the employer's need to remain competitive and profitable before bankruptcy is staring them in the face.

Posted by: BC | Sep 4, 2007 2:27:20 PM

You know what, this has actually changed my mind on teacher's unions. My folks were teachers and lefty's to boot, but hated their union, so you can't accuse me of Kausism, but I can see they have their pros as well now.

Posted by: chris | Sep 4, 2007 2:48:38 PM

Of course, teachers' unions are a bit different than other unions. In most cases where collective bargaining was successful, you had cases with big, monolithic industries negotiating with a diverse set of workers. With teachers' unions, you have big, monolithic unions negotiating with a diverse set of municipalities.

I would think that that any time where you have an asymmetry in the size of the organizations in the negotiation, you wind up with the larger party attempting to enforce some orthodoxy in the interests of preserving or consolidating its bargaining power. The result of this will be extreme resistance to change.

I'm sure you're right that there's scant evidence to indicate that the teachers' unions are the problem. After all, it's devilishly difficult to measure how flexible an educational system is. On the other hand, it's relatively easy to measure the success/failure of an educational system through things like test scores. But when the system's broken, flexibility is the key eventually to fixing it, even when the first n attempts fail. Historically, inflexibility on either side of the negotiation has led to a moribund industry and the decline of the union servicing it.

Big companies were traditionally inflexible in their business practices, including their labor practices. Mostly, they became uncompetitive as a result. The teachers' unions may be the bigger party in the negotiation, but their inflexibility will be every bit as damaging to their industry.

Posted by: TheRadicalModerate | Sep 4, 2007 5:24:48 PM

Radical M,

You are, I think, misunderstanding the nature of the collective bargaining process and the teaching "industry" as it were. Bargaining occurs on the local level, whether it be by city, town or county. Although the parent unions -- NEA and AFT - are large entities, the local affiliates are reponding to the needs of their members in defined geographic areas. There are inherent limits to what is attainable in any jurisdiction, but this is particularly true when bargaining in say a small improvershed rural district with a limited tax base. You can't simply demand the same thing as a fellow affiliate may get in a large affluent suburban county or a big east coast city.

Only in a handful of industries, like the automoblie and steel industries, has bargaining typically occurred at the parent union level rather than by local union.

The notion that unions are the reason for the decline of the latter two industires is so hopelessly reductive I don't really no where to start. Again, it is depressing the frequency with which I encounter these claims on progressive web sites. But just for starters consider the German auto industry where unions are incredibly powerful and the hourly wages higher than are paid here and yet the industry still thrives. The UAW has not been the problem with the American car industry.

Posted by: Klein's Tiny Left Nut | Sep 4, 2007 5:37:57 PM

I don't think the debates about teachers' unions are much different than unions in general. Teachers' unions raise pay, which is a social good because teaching is an extremely important and undercompensated / underhonored profession, and because higher pay attracts better teachers. They improve working conditions, which is very important given that some American schools are in such decrepit shape.

On the other hand, just like every other union, teachers' unions place barriers to entry into the profession, make it harder to fire bad teachers, make it harder to tie pay to performance, and impose stupid work rules. Obviously, unions increase the cost of labor as well. And these things are important because education is so important and needs to be done right. (However, it should be noted that unlike some unions, teachers' unions don't have ties to organized crime.)

Whether you think unions are net-plus or net-minus (leaving aside the non-public policy issue of whether the unions contribute to one's favored candidates) really turns on how one weighs these various aspects of unionization, as well as context (I tend, for instance, to be most sympathetic to unionization of poor workers who work for little pay and benefits and for oppressive employers; on the other hand, players' unions in high level professional sports and entertainment industry guilds do not, in my mind, present compelling cases for unionization.)

Posted by: Dilan Esper | Sep 4, 2007 5:40:00 PM

Dilan - Boards of Ed and NCLB are the ones who are requiring more barriers for entry these days. Most of their work rules are necessary. You are right about firing bads teachers and that there should be some sort of merit pay.

Posted by: Bart | Sep 4, 2007 6:32:33 PM

I dunno, part of the problem with teachers unions is that they're often just too effective at electing the people they're going to face at the bargaining table. I don't begrudge them what they can get out of negotiations, but it just seems too often that there's no one pushing back, no one with the power to really make reform demands.

That's a problem with all public sector unions, really, and at its extremes like in California (where Prop 13 and various state judicial precedents meant that the state ended up footing the bill for a lot of traditionally local services, allowing the unions to pool and concentrate their energies) or pre-bankruptcy New York it's a real problem, but in teachers it's more of a problem even outside of these few problem areas because unlike a lot of public employees, teachers often hold a strike threat on top of that.

Posted by: Senescent | Sep 4, 2007 6:36:43 PM

"Teacher pay is, in most districts, a function of seniority and the amount of post graduate education attained, yet neither of these factors has much to do with effectiveness in the classroom."

BC, do you have any evidence of the truth of this claim? A properly trained teacher in the classroom is directly related to student performance.

"I think unions might better serve their members' long term interest if they were more sensitive to the employer's need to remain competitive and profitable before bankruptcy is staring them in the face."

And yet teachers do not earn as much as comparably educated professionals and do not control job markets.

"With teachers' unions, you have big, monolithic unions negotiating with a diverse set of municipalities."

This is an overgeneralization of the reality of teacher's unions which range in size from a few dozen up to thousands. The claim that all unions are "monolithic" is inaccurate. For the rest, I defer to KTLN's response. Local unions advocate for local district needs.

As for firing bad teachers, all a union can do is enforce the terms of the contract to ensure that due process is followed. It is the employer that controls employment; it is up to the employer to set up a fair system of review, apply it fairly, and remove those who do not measure up. Of course, this is difficult to do, not because of unions, but because this kind of oversight costs money in the form of administrators. Given the limited funds created by the basic function of educating every child of every background and ability, the requirements of state and federal testing mandates, and the impact of unconstitutional funding systems that favor wealthy communities by allowing them to attract a better set of teaching candidates, many districts do not have the people or inclination to purge themselves of shaky teachers.

I am always amazed at the response of some to the empowerment of workers through organizing in a power arrangement that is generally stacked against workers. Keep in mind that up until very recently, many teachers worked under contracts that allowed them to be terminated without cause. Women were routinely "non-renewed" for getting pregnant.

Beyond helping teachers have contracts that treat them like professionals, they have consistently taken the lead in pushing for improved professional development and making the case for public education for all children, even though doing so makes the job more difficult. The popular myth that poor performance is caused by teacher's unions sucking local communities dry is just that--a myth.

Posted by: jmack | Sep 4, 2007 7:43:05 PM


But before unionization athletes were rather baldly exploited. They were treated as chattel, essentially owned by their teams until such time as the teams wanted to be rid of them. It was the most incredibly unAmerican system I can imagine. Many athletes of relativel recent vintage, i.e. people I saw play as a kid, ended up in penury.

Interestingly, the rise of unions in sports and the resulting advent of free agency have been a boon to the industry which is bigger and richer than ever.

For the last time, do people really believe that the problems in education stem from a bunch of incomptetent teachers that cannot be gotten rid of? Surely the people who frequent this site are smarter than that. You cannot almost always draw a direct line between parental income and edcational attainment levels in a school district and the performance of the students. These factors dwarf any input from teachers, unionized or not, private or public. The problems in education in this country are largely isolated in areas of high poverty where there are a variety of difficult social issues -- crime, substance abuse, parental absence, and general instability. I'm really tired of a bunch of people who get paid about what we pay a legal secretary having to shoulder the blame for these problems.

Posted by: klein's tiny left nut | Sep 4, 2007 8:16:11 PM


FYI, professional athletes still end up in poverty. All the time. Because they spend their money, because they don't plan for retirement or injury, and because their representation has been much more effective at obtaining big salaries for high end players than they have been at improving pension and retirement benefits.

Also, it's not that professional athletes were badly paid before unions. Baseball players made a pretty good middle class salary if they made the majors, and made several times that if they were top class. It is true that they didn't make what they were WORTH, but it isn't as if they were starving. Minor league athletes, however, did make very little money-- and guess what, they still don't, because unionization can do very little in a situation where there are thousands of applicants for a handful of jobs.

Finally, the countervailing interests with respect to professional sports unions are particularly acute. Unions fought for lax steroid regulation. Was that good for the players? For anyone? Unions fight for the designated hitter, a really terrible rule. Unions fight against minimum age requirements that would require athletes to get more education. Again, those requirements may depress salaries a little bit, but they also are good for the athletes in the long term. Unions, of course, fight against salary caps and other devices that can lend more parity to sports. And unions, quite understandably, promote free agency, which may be good for athletes but comes at a real cost to the sports themselves, by reducing fan loyalty.

So you have a situation where the unions' great success is in increasing the salaries of already well paid people, at great cost not only to the public interest but also to the long-term interests of the union members themselves. I don't think that's a great brief for unionization.

On the other hand, Wal-Mart should burn in hell for its anti-union tactics.

Posted by: Dilan Esper | Sep 4, 2007 8:40:54 PM

For the last time, do people really believe that the problems in education stem from a bunch of incomptetent teachers that cannot be gotten rid of?

Well, this is a symptom. Usually in such cases, not only can the teachers not be fired, but the administrators in the central offices responsible for making sure that school supplies are purchased and school buildings are fixed also can't be fired, and money poured into the system to rectify the problems gets lost in the bureaucratic ocean.

That said, it would provide a certain amount of psychic satisfaction if certain well-known incompetent senior teachers were fired, thus improving morale among parents and the faculty.

Posted by: Tyro | Sep 4, 2007 9:15:06 PM

Here in NJ, public school teachers are paid based on a salary guide. The guide is based on years of service and how much education the teacher achieved beyond the undergraduate level. New teachers, if they perform satisfactorily, are granted tenure after three years of service. Their effectiveness in the classroom is generally about as good as it is going to get after 7-10 years of teaching. Even with good training, some teachers are a lot better than others. The same is true for most professional jobs – lawyers, engineers, money managers, software developers, etc. As for student achievement, what research there is shows that the two factors most highly correlated to student achievement are the student's own ability and the socioeconomic background of the family.

As for collective bargaining over teacher contracts, in this area, as in many others, the union generally negotiates a contract in one or two districts that are either above average in income or have a sympathetic (to the union) Board of Education. The union refers to these as "lighthouse districts." It then seeks (usually successfully) a roughly similar package throughout the other districts in the region. While most districts around here are at least middle class, some have industrial tax ratables and some don't. The built out towns with stable to declining populations have higher costs due to much higher than average staff seniority. Some have a greater special education burden than others. The union is generally not sensitive to these factors when bargaining. Communities that balk risk a strike even though teacher strikes are illegal in NJ. They sometimes happen anyway, and, when they do, they have the potential to tear the community apart and generate hard feelings that can last for years. The upshot: strikes are rare.

Finally, in NJ, we have 31 special needs (low income) districts out of more than 600 school districts in the state. These are called Abbott districts after a landmark court case (Abbott vs Burke). Part of the court ruling requires that these districts be provided with sufficient resources to allow them to spend as much per pupil as wealthy districts spend. As much as 90% of their funding is paid for by state taxpayers as compared to the statewide average contribution to local school budgets of 40% (and a national average of about 50%). One of these districts (Asbury Park) spends over $22,000 per pupil which is the 4th highest public school spending rate in the entire country. Its performance is still extremely poor despite the extraordinary spending level. As a taxpayer, I think vouchers deserve a try in these special needs districts where spending is extremely high and performance is still poor. We could hardly do much worse. The unions, of course, will fight vouchers with everything they have.

Posted by: BC | Sep 4, 2007 9:38:18 PM

"Usually in such cases, not only can the teachers not be fired, but the administrators in the central offices responsible for making sure that school supplies are purchased and school buildings are fixed also can't be fired, and money poured into the system to rectify the problems gets lost in the bureaucratic ocean."

What? Administrators have none of the protections that teachers have (the ones some here are railing against). Again, the idea that teachers and administrators can't be fired is nonsense. BC continues to make claims about experience and the effectiveness of teachers that do not reflect reality. Show me one study that suggests that there is no correlation between student performance and teacher experience and we will have something to discuss. To suggest that teacher experience has little or nothing to do with student success is simply not true. Experienced teachers in classrooms does have an impact on student performance.

It is true that per pupil spending is not a sufficient indicator of success, but it sure looks like it is a necessary one. Looking at Ohio data, the top performing districts spend double (at least) the state minimum per pupil.

Yes, unions use market data in negotiations, but the idea that that translates to successful salary negotiations throughout a region is dubious at best. Again, it is not the unions that control market value; it is the ability of the local community to pay for quality education that is the predominant factor in determining salaries.

Posted by: jmack | Sep 4, 2007 10:48:43 PM

I didn't realize that not being able to fire teachers was the problem. Aren't the headlines all about the problem of retaining them?

Let's face it, teaching's a tough job. Teachers work alone, they don't get good backup, they don't have a place to retreat, they have to deal with children all day. Stand up comedians always joke about that imaginary club with the comedian up against the brick wall playing to a tough crowd. Teachers have it tougher. They aren't just going for a laugh; they are trying to teach, and they have six hours a day, not a fifteen minute set. Yeah, and no bathroom breaks.


DISCLOSURE: My mother was a NYC school teacher. I heard Shanker speak in Madison Square Garden during the 1968 strike. Even as a kid I could see how the system could lapse into old time patronage if the union caved. I may have hated school, but I liked my teachers.


Has anyone else noted that the Republicans are the party of envy? They actually resent anyone who has health coverage, or sick days, or an extra buck an hour.

Posted by: Kaleberg | Sep 4, 2007 11:10:48 PM

Administrators have none of the protections that teachers have (the ones some here are railing against). Again, the idea that teachers and administrators can't be fired is nonsense.

YMMV. I live in DC. The administrative staff in the central office doesn't even have regular performance evaluations, which prevents even the creation of a paper trail that would allow a case to be made for firing them.

In fact, the new Schools Chancellor is supporting special legislation to allow her to fire people. My point was that in districts where it may be difficult to fire teachers, even though this itself might not be the solution to all of the school system's problems, it can be seen as a symptom of a system that can't get poor-performing staff members out of the way.

Has anyone else noted that the Republicans are the party of envy? They actually resent anyone who has health coverage, or sick days, or an extra buck an hour.

So true. Republicanism is the deep seated fear that someone, somewhere, might be doing "ok" for themselves without their social approval.

Posted by: Tyro | Sep 4, 2007 11:35:37 PM

The problem with America's poorer schools is not the teachers union -- even if it can be argued reasonably that it has detrimental effects. The problem with America's poorer schools is that they are POOR!

Get American labor back on top ($500/wk minimum wage; would add 3% to cost of GDP output -- sector wide labor agreements, rebuild lower income housing stock, etc.) and America's newly middle class schools will do just fine.

Posted by: Denis Drew | Sep 5, 2007 12:00:33 AM


I didn't say that there is no correlation between student performance and the quality of teachers and teaching. Of course good teaching matters, but only up to a point. For example ,take a wealthy suburb with highly regarded teachers, bright, highly motivated students and upper income parents with plenty of resources to support both their schools and their kids. The district probably has lots of kids who get into highly selective colleges and do very well when they get there. Now take the same excellent teaching staff and transfer them to a poor, inner city school in New York, Chicago, or Washington D.C. Let them teach the same grade and subject matter that they taught in their suburb. Test scores may or may not improve from what they were, but I certainly wouldn't expect miracles given all the other problems that engulf an inner city population.

For a more complete discussion of this subject, I recommend the 1990 book Politics, Markets, and America's Schools by John E. Chubb and Terry M. Moe published by the Brookings Institution.

Posted by: BC | Sep 5, 2007 5:51:12 AM

"I live in DC. The administrative staff in the central office doesn't even have regular performance evaluations, which prevents even the creation of a paper trail that would allow a case to be made for firing them."

Tyro, on this we can agree. Having employees (teacher or administrator) without a rigorous review process is a bad idea. I have no doubt that this arrangement that allows incompetence to go unchecked is part of the problem in DC. Are administrators there part of the teacher's union?

BC, you have stated more than once and that "neither [teaching experience and level of education of teachers] has much to do with effectiveness in the classroom." This is simply not true. I will grant that having highly-paid, well-trained teachers is not a sufficient condition for raising the achievement of poorly performing schools to the level of affluent, higly performing ones, but I continue to maintain that it is a necessary one. No one should expect miracles in the immediate sense; and since it took generations for the problems of poorer districts to get where they are now, it will take generations to bring performance anywhere close to the performance of affluent districts. And, to keep with the original topic, I am unaware of any evidence that unions are obstructionists when it comes to school or teacher improvement. Charter schools have shown themselves to be less effective than the public schools they compete with; the numbers are there. The answer lies in improving public education, not diverting resources to for-profit enterprises.

Posted by: jmack | Sep 5, 2007 7:07:12 AM

BC, you have stated more than once and that "neither [teaching experience and level of education of teachers] has much to do with effectiveness in the classroom." This is simply not true.

What I meant by this is the following: If you could rank all the teachers in a district based on some acceptable measure of quality and/or classroom effectiveness, you would probably find that quite a few teachers with a Masters degree outscore some with a Masters plus 30 credits toward a doctorate. You would also likely find that there will be teachers with 7-10 years of experience who outscore some with 20 or more years of experience. There are many reasons for this including differences in communication skills, ability to control a classroom, passion for the job, burnout, etc. Yet, the structure of the salary guide (driven by seniority and education level) suggests that these are the only two factors that matter in determining teacher pay. The issue of additional pay for scarce skills like certified math and science teachers is a separate discussion. The union likes it this way because, from the leadership's perspective, the system is fair, objective and precisely determinable. A different compensation system would require principals or other management personnel to make some subjective judgments about the quality of an individual teacher's performance. That is, by its nature, an imperfect process. However, it seems to work reasonably well for every other group of professionals that I can think of.

Posted by: BC | Sep 5, 2007 9:25:05 AM


I, too, live in DC and am painfully aware of what a debacle the public school system here is. The problem with central administration in DC is a political one, rather than a union problem. Central administration was packed by the Barry administration with patronage jobs and has been allowed to be completely unaccountable ever since. I am very pro-employee as a matter of temperment, but I must say that I think the the new Chancellor should seek the resignation of every administrative employee at central administration and have them reapply for their jobs. They are that bad. A huge chunk of them should be simply eliminated.

Again, though, even with the finest teaching the problems in this city will be hard to overcome given the tremendous social problems confronted daily by much of the school age populattion.

Posted by: Klein's Tiny Left Nut | Sep 5, 2007 9:56:02 AM


I am not sure why you are so focused on paying math and science teachers more money than other teachers as a solution to the systemic problems in education that go far beyond student performance in math and science. Saying that some less-experienced/educated teachers are better teachers than some more-experienced/educated teachers doesn't really tell us much. Overall, there is a correlation between teacher experience and education and student performance.

Also, comparing a non-profit institution such as teaching to other professions doesn't work very well. Other professions have more easily defined parameters when it comes to performance. Lawyers are judged by billable hours or performance in a courtroom. Success or failure is much easier to observe. Doctors (specialists anyway) are paid more because of their observable skill at saving patients lives. What other professions should we consider?

As you point out, teachers alone cannot counter the myriad problems facing school districts; by what measuring stick would you like to judge the success of a teacher? Teachers are not making widgets and have no control of the raw materials they are given. As I have mentioned before, schools have budgetary limitations that make it difficult to have the personnel necessary for oversight; most don't have sufficient middle management to have an equitable system.

"The union likes it this way because, from the leadership's perspective, the system is fair, objective and precisely determinable."

School leadership needs this arrangement as well or budgets become impossible to create with any certainty. Schools can spend only that money they have on hand and must publish budget projections whenever any significant changes are made. Pay scales provide districts fiscal predictability as well.

Posted by: jmack | Sep 5, 2007 11:16:55 PM

The comments to this entry are closed.