Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Saying something nice about the teacher unions

It's Labor Day, so I'm going to say something nice about the teacher unions.  While I think they are, in general, obstacles to genuine reform, they are unfairly blamed by many for everything that is wrong with our schools.  They are certainly easy targets for reformers to rail against, but I've never heard a good answer to my response: "Look at schools in Houston, for example, where the teachers union is very weak -- not much more than a professional association.  The schools there are every bit as awful as those in other big cities with strong unions, so what makes you think that if the union went away tomorrow that things would get any better?"  My point (to paraphrase Bill Clinton): It's the system stupid!  There's a bit of chicken-or-egg, but I think, in general, the unions are not the cause of the dreadful system but rather the result of it.  Go back and look at the history of teachers unions and you'll see that they rose in response to a system that treated teachers horribly, discriminated against women and minorities, etc.  To a large extent, sadly, we got the unions we deserve.  And once this vicious cycle begins, it's really hard to break.

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