Why Unions Are Dangerous in Education

One would think that a teacher that had 30 some years ago allegedly impregnated a 16-year-old student, a few years later sexually accosted two 12-year-old students, and was accused of molesting yet another student four years after that, would be out on his ear never to teach or be allowed around children again.

But the New York teachers union would beg to differ.

In fact, the union has differed so much that troubled teacher Francisco Olivares has been continually paid his $94,154 a year salary even though he’s been kept from the classroom for the last seven years.

So, who cares what the union says about this guy? Unfortunately, the union’s resistance to getting rid of him is enshrined in state law. The school can’t get rid of this dead weight either.

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As a result, because the school can’t fire him and the union won’t let them, Olivares sits day in and day out in what is called a “rubber room” getting paid his full salary. That is getting paid his fall salary courtesy of the taxpayers of New York.

Olivares isn’t the only one, either. The New York Daily News chronicles many more teachers in this situation. But New York isn’t the only place this is happening. Last year the L.A. Times had a similar tale to tell about its schools and unions.

It all goes to show that teachers unions don’t care if kids learn very much or if teachers they represent are worthy of the job. But, let’s face it, who can blame the unions for this? After all, no union has every cared about quality of work or the effectiveness of its members. A union has no interest in any of that. All a union cares about is getting the most it can for its membership. The quality of the product those members produce is way down on the list of importance.

Recently 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 are bad for education. In her case she was discussing why can’t even agree to merit pay for teachers.

McArdle’s post was prompted by a piece by left-winger Matthew Yglesias whose post isn’t worth going much into 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.

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 darn 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.

With the examples in L.A. and New York, we can see even another example of McArdle’s point being proven out. Unions are bad for excellence and being bad for excellence is bad for our kids.

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