Thursday, July 28, 2011

Special Interest: Teachers Unions and America's Public Schools

I enjoyed this review of Terry Moe's new book on the unions, Special Interest: Teachers Unions and America's Public Schools (, which I'm in the process of reading.  It was written and sent to me by someone on my email list who goes by "A Rationalist" from the Bay Area:


Your old friend who presented to NEA obviously hasn't read Terry's new book (see my review below).  I bought a few hundred copies to have StudentsFirst and our local free-markets think-tank (Pacific Research Institute) distribute -- it is outstanding.


4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:

5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding & Stunningly Detailed Expose on Teachers Unions, June 11, 2011

By A Rationalist (Bay Area, CA USA) - See all my reviews


This review is from: Special Interest: Teachers Unions and America's Public Schools (Hardcover)

You know the teachers unions are losing in the court of public opinion, when the card-carrying, unionized director of the liberal documentary An Inconvenient Truth - Davis Guggenheim - almost wins another Oscar for his shred-job on the teachers unions in Waiting for Superman. While Davis does an admirable job of making the emotional case for public school reform, Terry Moe's timely empirical analysis goes a mile deeper into the "systemic pathologies" in public school organization, focusing on the enormously powerful and completely self-interested teachers unions. A quote from former AFT President, Albert Shanker, says it all: "When school children start paying union dues, that's when I'll start representing the interests of school children." Unequivocally, if every parent in America read this book from cover to cover, they would take up pitch-forks and torches and storm their state capitals demanding the end of archaic union rules like "last-hired, first-fired" that persist under the current tenure system. Terry does a wonderful job distinguishing, importantly, between the personal feelings of teachers - which are almost always intrinsically motivated to benevolence towards their pupils - and the outcome of their collective bargaining, which always results in protecting solely the interests of teachers first and foremost. Expecting a union to embrace reform is like asking a cat to bark - its just not going to happen. If you analyze the teachers union for what it is, there is virtually no chance of it changing on its own, without being subject to outside forces. Incentives matter, and unions have every incentive to myopically watch out for the interests of its own members - not school children. You'll need anti-depressants for the first 90% of the book, which focuses on the horrid current state of affairs, how we got in this mess (liberal democrats opening the legislative floodgates for unions to gain power and influence that became self-perpetuating) and how it is unlikely to change in the absence of a big exogenous shock. Fortunately, the final chapter, "A Critical Juncture," leaves readers with hope that the second-derivative from here is positive due to the disruptive potential of emerging technology on the education process. If Terry is right, the teachers unions are about to follow the atrophying arc of the United Auto Workers, though it will likely take a long time to erode their current level of influence. Bottom-line is that this book is an absolute must-read for anyone interested in education reform and improving the future human capital capacity of the United States. Be sure to also Google "The Widget Effect" and read that paper, along with watching "The Lottery" and "The Cartel," which are both excellent and very similar to Waiting for Superman, just without an Oscar-winning director doing the PR. Spread the word on Terry's excellent work here - I literally bought a case of "Special Interest" books to distribute to 'thought leaders' in my community, hoping his work and conclusions will go viral.

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