Why Unions Can’t Work in Education

The Atlantic’s Megan McArdle had a great piece pinpointing exactly why unions don’t work, especially for education. Her piece headlined “How Unions Work,” really brings it home why unions can’t agree to merit pay for teachers.

McArdle’s post was prompted by a piece by left-winger Matthew Yglesias whose post is meaningless and I won’t go into too much here. But it did spur some good points by McArdle. Suffice to say that what Yglesias said was that he thought unions could come to like merit pay but that the discussion is messy because people “have ideological opinions about unions in general.” In other words, Yglesias thinks it’s everyone else’s fault, not the union’s fault.

Yglesias is fooling only himself.

McArdle, however, is dead on in her retort to this absurd Yglesias argument. She says that unions can’t agree to merit pay because fighting merit pay in any situation is inherent in the way a union, any union, works.

McArdle says that unions don’t care about the quality of anyone’s work and that they negotiate their contracts for the largest number of their members, not the top most meritorious few.

Unions are set up to minimize frictions and maximize benefits for the bottom 55%. That’s how they work everywhere–in schools, and out. That’s how they have to work. No amount of cajoling, no number of white papers, is going to change that.

This is beyond question. Teachers unions don’t care if kids learn, they don’t care if schools have the best curriculum, they couldn’t care less if their teachers are the worst of the worst, and they certainly don’t give a crap if the tax money spent on education is spent wisely. The goal of unions, all unions, is to get the most for the most. Merit, capability, ability, expertise…. none of this matters to a union.

In fact, working for the best is antithetical to a union. This is because only the top tier of any workforce, the best of any field, is the smallest number. Unions are only interested in what they can do for the majority and the majority are not the best.

McArdle is dead on, here. Unions are bad for excellence and being bad for excellence is bad for our kids.

(Cross posted at TheUnionLabelBlog.com)

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