February 24 2010
Is Education's Anachronistic Era Ending?
Vicki E. Alger, Ph.D
It seems it's getting harder and harder to fire bad teachers based on recent newspaper reports. Union contracts do little, if anything, to assure teacher quality, and evidence is mounting that teacher retirement packages are economically unsustainable (See here, here, here, and here). Given the influence labor unions in general, including teachers unions, reform may seem impossible. But don't despair.
As the Economist reports, last year union membership in the U.S. tumbled to 7 percent, down from 30 percent in 1960. In the public sector, however, "a hefty 40 percent of government workers are unionised and the rate has remained stable for decades... Last year for the first time more than half of American union members worked for the government." For unions "public cash is a lifeline," but with soaring deficits and stagnant student achievement, some elected officials are finally cutting the chord.
Central Falls, Rhode Island, school Superintendent Frances Gallo recommended firing all 74 Central Falls High School teachers after the local teachers union refused to participate in reform efforts (at this chronically failing school less than half of the students graduate, and only seven percent are proficient in math). Gallo offered to pay teachers $30 an hour for additional work-that amounted to about 25 extra minutes a day. First the local union refused. Then it demanded $90 per hour. The school board sided with Gallo yesterday, garnering coverage by the New York Times.
There seems to be mounting evidence that unions are not only an "economic anachronism," as Cato Institute's Daniel Griswold writes in the Washington Times, but they are an educational anachronism that students and states can no longer afford. (See here, here, and here)