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Posted at 1:56 PM ET, 02/25/2011

Where the teachers unions go, the union movement will follow

By Ezra Klein

teachunionsign.JPG

I keep thinking about something Andy Stern told me Wednesday. Organized labor "seem like a legacy institution and not an institution of the future," he said. "And legacies get shed." Harsh words.

But he's right, of course. Insofar as most people see or hear about unions at all, they tend to see or hear about auto workers and teachers. Detroit and the American education system are not great brands to be associated with -- a fact for which unions deserve some blame, albeit not as much blame as they often get.

At this point, Detroit's unions are doing most of the right things. The cars they're making are, increasingly, pretty good, and the companies they're yoked to are getting back on their feet. But the bottom line of the situation, I think, is that the future of the union movement is in the hands of the teachers unions.

Most people don't have much contact with the janitors at their city hall or machinists in Chicago. But they do have contact with their child's teacher and they do read about how well the schools are doing. The education system is a shared American project. It is the only place where people really notice unions on a day-to-day level. It's the only place where they really care about unions. If they loved teachers unions, they'd probably have a much better impression of the union movement in general. But though they love teachers, they don't love teachers unions. Not even close. And that does organized labor an incalculable amount of damage.

The teachers unions protest that they've been unfairly maligned, the victim of a hit campaign that vastly overstated the quality of the solutions proposed by the Michelle Rhees of the world and vastly underrates how much teachers unions have done to professionalize teaching. And that might be be true. But it doesn't really matter: America has a broken educational system and the people who seem to have a plan are being opposed by the people whom that system is paying. That doesn't look good. That looks like how you lose the future.

So I'm glad to see Randi Weingarten, head of the American Federation of Teachers, come out with a proposal (pdf) outlining a specific process for evaluating and, if necessary, firing underperforming teachers. It's a couple years late, but it's a start. In the end, Stern is right: Unions have no chance if the public continues to see them as part of the problem afflicting sclerotic bureaucracies and industries rather than as a force for aggressive and overdue change in those institutions. Weingarten's proposal isn't enough to refashion teacher's unions as agents of change. But it's at least an admission that that's what they need to become.

Photo credit: Mark Gail/The Washington Post.

By Ezra Klein  | February 25, 2011; 1:56 PM ET
Categories:  Unions  
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Next: How Medicare -- and health-care reform -- help with 'job-lock'

Comments

I think all this hand wringing about whether or not unions are bad or good wouldn't exist without the budget crisis states and cities are in. We have the same teacher's unions we had five years ago when the economy was booming. It's all about money. You don't have to look farther than that.

Posted by: AuthorEditor | February 25, 2011 2:17 PM | Report abuse

Many teachers don't like the teacher's unions. This is especially true for younger, newer teachers, who are discriminated against by union policies, and who are obligated to pay expensive union dues out of their meager beginning teacher salaries.

Posted by: Beagle1 | February 25, 2011 2:21 PM | Report abuse

Perhaps it depends on where you live to see the influence of unions. In Massachusetts, you see state and local police at EVERY road construction or utility site (mandated by the unions), you see construction in downtown Boston and KNOW you're paying twice what you should because of prevailing wage laws, you see the schoolbuses roll out early on many schooldays because of "teachers conferences" held once or twice a month. In Massachusetts anyway, you see the influence of unions every day of your life.

Posted by: Hieronymous | February 25, 2011 2:24 PM | Report abuse

Hieronymous, but the police presence at road construction is mandated by state law-- it's not a collective bargaining right negotiated in police contracts. The legislature could simply repeal that law any time they wanted, but they don't (in part because the police union is an effective lobbying organization, but so are plenty of other lobbying groups).

Posted by: constans | February 25, 2011 2:29 PM | Report abuse

Ezra,
So glad to have you researching, interviewing and writing about the union movement. I'm a third-generation union member and I staff the International Labor Communications Association.

Organizing of new, yet-to-bargain unions is happening. Their growth has gone totally unreported by papers like the Post. Readers may also wish to pay some attention to the organizing efforts among the taxi drivers in NYC and other cities, the Domestic Workers United who recently won a legislative victory in Albany to protect their health, safety and a bit of paid time off, the Restaurant Opportunities Center, as well as the Freelancers Unit of the California Media Workers' Guild and the Freelancers' Union. All of these, with the exception of the Freelancers' Union, have said that their ultimate goal is to secure collective bargaining agreements for their members. Many of these members are immigrants, all of them are low-paid. Stern wouldn't have mentioned them to you because he focused on the unions founded in the early-mid 20th century whose success/failure rests partly on his legacy.

Again, glad you are paying attention and I hope you manage to cover some of these nascent unions as they are growing fast enough to become major players soon.

Mariya Strauss, Baltimore, MD

Posted by: unionmaidn | February 25, 2011 2:32 PM | Report abuse

I think we need to think a lot harder about "education reform" in this context. Especially given the actual outcome of Rhee's tenure in DC -- alienating key stakeholders, instituting difficult-to-analyze reforms, and seemingly failing to actually achieve lasting improvements, all while using blatantly illegal methods to fire a bunch of teachers.

It's not a coincidence that we're suddenly asked to support a type of "reform" that largely comes down to finding new ways to fire public employees in a context of state and local budget crises. There's not a huge difference between Rhee and Walker. I'm all in favor of improving school quality, but I'd like to see liberal institutions step back a little and think about whether Rhee-style reform is the best way to do it.

Posted by: NS12345 | February 25, 2011 2:35 PM | Report abuse

After you back out the tens of millions of "public union" folks, wsho do you really have left?
I think it boils down to a lot of folks in the service industry, a few old line manufacturers, the construction trades.
Now look at the "trades" guys... let's be honest, what are they beyond a sort of lobbying service to keep other folks out of the trades and keep government money flowing in.... in a fashion they look a lot like a "public employee union".
I remember 20 years ago when the sheetrocker's local got mad at a little resturant chain for not using "union" sheetrock guys... they started to picket the place every day but after a week or two, the relatively well paid actual "sheetrockers" got tired of picketing so they started hiring half drunk day laborers from one of those "cash for labor" places to do their picketing for them... let's just say it turned out to be a counterproductive move for the local.
After you pull out the trades look at the old line manufacturering unions, they are definately going the way of the buggy whip.
In the end, you have truckers, airline folks, some mechanics and what ever it is that is SEIU....
Not more than three or four million people..
I think that the writing is on the wall and the public sector unions aren't going to fare well if they do things like walk out of schools and leave the parents scrambling or funnel public money through complicated scams like the WEA insurance trust.
Ezra, I never really noticed the extent of your output before, I don't agree with all you say but, man you're pumping out the product....
be careful or the newspaper copy writer's union is going to insist that you slow down the production.

Posted by: Cheesy1959 | February 25, 2011 2:37 PM | Report abuse

After you back out the tens of millions of "public union" folks, wsho do you really have left?
I think it boils down to a lot of folks in the service industry, a few old line manufacturers, the construction trades.
Now look at the "trades" guys... let's be honest, what are they beyond a sort of lobbying service to keep other folks out of the trades and keep government money flowing in.... in a fashion they look a lot like a "public employee union".
I remember 20 years ago when the sheetrocker's local got mad at a little resturant chain for not using "union" sheetrock guys... they started to picket the place every day but after a week or two, the relatively well paid actual "sheetrockers" got tired of picketing so they started hiring half drunk day laborers from one of those "cash for labor" places to do their picketing for them... let's just say it turned out to be a counterproductive move for the local.
After you pull out the trades look at the old line manufacturering unions, they are definately going the way of the buggy whip.
In the end, you have truckers, airline folks, some mechanics and what ever it is that is SEIU....
Not more than three or four million people..
I think that the writing is on the wall and the public sector unions aren't going to fare well if they do things like walk out of schools and leave the parents scrambling or funnel public money through complicated scams like the WEA insurance trust.
Ezra, I never really noticed the extent of your output before, I don't agree with all you say but, man you're pumping out the product....
be careful or the newspaper copy writer's union is going to insist that you slow down the production.

Posted by: Cheesy1959 | February 25, 2011 2:40 PM | Report abuse

Let me clarify that last statement -- Rhee and Walker may be coming from different places. I believe Rhee really cares about education reform despite the fact that I don't like the way she went about it in Washington, and I believe Walker doesn't really care at all as long as he can screw some union members. But the ultimate outcome of their policies is disturbingly similar.

Posted by: NS12345 | February 25, 2011 2:41 PM | Report abuse

@constans: I appreciate that, and indeed an effort was made to modify the law somewhat a few years ago. Way I remember it, police thugs showed up and intimidated the newly legal (non-union) flagmen to flee.

I do appreciate your recognizing the law remains in force, if not in place, because of unionized police thugs.

Posted by: Hieronymous | February 25, 2011 2:41 PM | Report abuse

@constans: I appreciate that, and indeed an effort was made to modify the law somewhat a few years ago. Way I remember it, police thugs showed up and intimidated the newly legal (non-union) flagmen to flee.

I do appreciate your recognizing the law remains in force, if not in place, because of unionized police thugs.

Posted by: Hieronymous | February 25, 2011 2:43 PM | Report abuse

Why do teachers need a union? They work 9 months of the year, have off many holidays, Christmas, Thanksgiving, snow days, and teacher work days. And, they can be lousy at their jobs and get full retirement and medical benefits! Sounds like a cozy deal to me!

www.eclecticramblings.wordpress.com

Posted by: my4653 | February 25, 2011 2:43 PM | Report abuse

*I do appreciate your recognizing the law remains in force, if not in place, because of unionized police thugs*

I shall from now on refer to myself and my colleagues as a "scientist thugs" next time my interest groups succeed in getting more NSF funding approved.

Posted by: constans | February 25, 2011 2:48 PM | Report abuse

To be fair, NS12345, many of those teachers held on to their jobs *illegally* because they were never being evaluated, in part so they could not be fired for incompetence. DCPS was a morass of educational failure that put it on par with the low-quality school systems that is typical of non-unionized states. Thankfully, the budget crisis allowed Rhee the opportunity to do a reduction in force of the most egregious offenders.

Posted by: constans | February 25, 2011 2:52 PM | Report abuse

I'm 50 years old, and I've been reading that America's educational system is broken since I was a teenager.
And yet . . .

Posted by: RZ100 | February 25, 2011 2:54 PM | Report abuse

"...America has a broken educational system..."

America's system for educating poor children is broken.

Apart from that, not so much.

http://rortybomb.wordpress.com/2011/02/22/education-and-our-honors-kids-versus-theirs/

Posted by: davis_x_machina | February 25, 2011 3:00 PM | Report abuse

unionmaidn makes a fantastic point. There's a line that's not mentioned by those that want to protect all unions. Like in anything else some people need unions more than others. Government workers and teachers need them much less than taxi drivers and other low wage or immigrant poplutions. The problem is that all the power in unions derives from the public sector. That's what's not mentioned but makes what's going on now very important.

Also sadly as you say Ezra this is too late in coming and is absolutely reactive on the teacher's union's part. An example is in the NYT article that shows how poor our NYC kids are in science. The answer can't be to shovel more money at teachers. We need to reform the entire education system as well as address somehow parents that don't take active enough roles in their children's lives.

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/25/nyregion/25science.html?_r=1&scp=4&sq=18%%20in%20science&st=cse

Posted by: visionbrkr | February 25, 2011 3:10 PM | Report abuse

"America has a broken educational system and the people who seem to have a plan are being opposed by the people whom that system is paying."

Ezra - Respectfully, you need to connect the dots a little better on the performance of our educational system. In fact our educational system is not broken. We think our Ed. system is broken because test scores are falling or don't match up well against other countries. But the fact is our country doesn't match up well against other countries and the test scores are just another indicator of our massive wealth/income inequality.

Our educational system can't fix poverty and we have a lot of poverty right now. Our Ed. system actually works very well but our society is poorer now than it was 30years ago and that means a lot of the inputs into the Ed. system have changed and as a result the outputs are not as good.

Please don't just buy the conventional wisdom on our 'broken educational system.' The problem is not the teachers or curriculum or unions. The problem is that more kids are poor and malnourished and less prepared (and encouraged) to be educated than before.

Posted by: shahntowers | February 25, 2011 3:35 PM | Report abuse

Our educational system here is a joke. It should be run more like any business. If you do good, you are rewarded, if not, then you are not. It's that simple. If teachers are not held accountable for what their students are learning, and the unions are protecting them from dicipline then what you will eventually have is bad teachers, which will turn into bad students, which will turn into a failing education system... which is exactly where we are today! (coincidence??) School reform should be simple. Schools should do one thing...teach stduents the fundamentals. Reading, Writing, Math Science and History...and when that stuff is not being touhgt properly (bad test scores), then schools should be able to make the proper corrections to fix the problem, and not be blocked from the unions. It's simple... teachers unions are slowly bringing our educational system down by not holding teachers accountable for what their students are learning.

Posted by: JoshDeckerBand | February 25, 2011 3:44 PM | Report abuse

I hope that teachers unions aren't the future of all American unions, because they're unlucky enough to stand at the nexus of two right-wing obsessive projects: the destruction of unions AND the destruction of public education. Both projects are well on their way to complete success.

Posted by: qalice1 | February 25, 2011 4:27 PM | Report abuse

We've known for a LONG TIME, that Unions were Out of Control.
They are like Parasites.."feeding off" the weak.
Democrats and Unions are Parasites: Feeding off the weak-minded and the ignorant.
Unions are Dinosaurs and they're taking down the Teachers with them!
It was eye-opening, startling for many people who never thought teachers would stoop this low. These teachers obviously are out-of-touch with the real world.
And these are the people spending 8 hrs. a day with our children!
And we wonder why our Education system is a FAILURE?!

Posted by: ohioan | February 25, 2011 4:52 PM | Report abuse

While unions may have once had a place, today unions exist pretty much for one reason: funnel money to Democrats.

Consider this: thanks to the stimulus, $1 billion taxpayer dollars will go to Democrat campaign coffers.

Follow this...the CBO report this week claimed somewhere between 1.5 million and 3.5 million jobs were 'created or saved' by the stimulus. Roll your eyes along with me and let's pretend that Ezra's wildest dreams came true and 3.5 million is the number of jobs created by the stimulus.

But here's the thing...if you know anything about the jobs suppodedly saved by the stimulus, you know they were pretty much all union jobs. Remember? This was all about saving police, teachers, public service employees....i.e., mostly union members.

Even 'infrastructure investment' jobs done with stimulus money were typically required to pay 'prevailing wage' in most states (read: you must employ union members, or pay the equivalent of what you would have to pay for union-work so you can't save money by employing non-union workers)

Stay with me....so, if we assume 3.5 million union jobs were saved by the stimulus, that means 3.5 million more people were paying dues into unions than there would have been without the stimulus.

Now, let's plug in three rough but probably fairly accurate estimates:
+ the average union member pays about $1,000/yr of dues
+ 30% of union dues go towards "political activities"
+ 90%-95% of political spending by unions goes to Democrats.

3,500,000 (union jobs 'saved')
x $1,000 (avg annual union dues)
x 30% (% of unione dues spent on 'political activities')
x 95% (share that goes to Democrats)
= $1.05 BILLION of your tax dollars going to Democrat political campaigns.

Hold on, I just realized I made a major mistake. The $1.05 BILLION isn't your tax dollars. It's your kids and grandkids tax dollars, since every penny of the stimulus was added to our debt.

So next time you wonder why Democrats are so supportive of 'jobs bills' that require the jobs created to be union jobs, you will know why.

Posted by: dbw1 | February 25, 2011 4:55 PM | Report abuse

For a self-styled policy wonk, Klein gets weirdly ideological when it comes to education. How incurious does one have to be to believe that firing older teachers will somehow supply "better" teachers in their place?

I do like to believe that when the Rhee/Obama/Duncan troika gets around to herding all the black kids into charters and things get worse for them, that Klein will be around for his mea culpas.

Posted by: falsedichotomy | February 25, 2011 7:32 PM | Report abuse

@dbw1:"today unions exist pretty much for one reason: funnel money to Democrats."

that's funny, cause republicans exist to funnel money to corporations. so it all works out.

Posted by: cerrano | February 25, 2011 9:16 PM | Report abuse

I'm from Illinois, a poster-child for mismanagement of budgets and pensions. Seriously, I think if our overzealous prosecutors wanted something useful to do, they should go after former politicians who caved to union demands. From a recent WSJ article, true and shameful:

>Critics claim pension-related borrowing in the past eight years has plunged Illinois deeper into debt without addressing fundamental problems that plague its retirement system.

"It is enormously expensive for the state to borrow for this purpose," says Laurence Msall, president of the Civic Federation, an Illinois budget watchdog. "If you can't afford the pension contributions, you have to get serious about reducing the cost."

For years, Illinois had failed to make actuarially required annual contributions to its pension funds, deepening the shortfall. Investment losses during the financial crisis and recession accelerated the crisis.

Last year, Illinois lawmakers approved a sweeping pension overhaul, which is expected to reduce pension liabilities by $220 billion over the next 35 years. But those changes do little to ease the immediate pressure.

In his budget for the fiscal year that starts in July, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn last week compared the pension fund's unfunded liability to "a big, decades-long mortgage problem, a big risk." The Democrat said the funding problems will persist unless the state can increase annual state pension contributions, make additional changes or seek "a federal guarantee of the debt." Some Republicans in Washington have vowed to stop any effort to bail out state pension systems.

Posted by: johnk14 | February 25, 2011 9:47 PM | Report abuse

--*Unions have no chance if the public continues to see them as part of the problem afflicting sclerotic bureaucracies and industries rather than as a force for aggressive and overdue change in those institutions.*--

One of the dumbest things collectivists do is frame their analyses as a matter of changing *perception*, as Klein does there, as though "failure" and "incompetence" can be made into "success" and "excellence" if we just start calling them that.

Further, all the prattling about re-inventing unions as part of some brave new economic world is another failure to come to grips with reality. Unions *can never be* what entrepreneurs and owners *are*, because they do not own that which they seek to control. Unions can only leech off what owners do, and owners must continually plan and strategize taking into account the costs associated with unions.

As a practical matter, unions exist to consolidate and hold gains for their members, not make businesses better.

Posted by: msoja | February 25, 2011 9:57 PM | Report abuse

YES to what shahntowers said:

"Our educational system can't fix poverty and we have a lot of poverty right now. Our Ed. system actually works very well but our society is poorer now than it was 30years ago and that means a lot of the inputs into the Ed. system have changed and as a result the outputs are not as good."

I can't take anyone seriously who thinks that test scores alone are a useful measure of teacher quality, and that "education reform" is more about doing something to fix schools/teachers than about doing something to fix society at large. I grew up in affluent suburbs and had plenty of crappy teachers just going through the motions. Still got fantastic test scores along with all my peers with well educated parents because we were destined for such things, regardless of who stood at the front of the class.

Now I've been teaching in inner-city charters for years with top-notch educators pouring their hearts, souls and early mornings/late nights/whole weekends into the task who still do not always succeed in raising test scores (especially when you look at low-income scores specifically--there is almost always a gap remaining no matter how much tutoring, how many weekend/summer programs, how many hundreds of hours you dedicate to the students).

It would be amazing if someone at the top would just stand up and say, "It's the poverty, stupid. The rest is just rearranging deck chairs."

(And just to pre-empt those who will start ranting about lazy parents who can't get a job and don't care about their kids and leach off the rest of us--most low-income families I work with work so many job/hours just to scrape by that they rarely see their kids, much less have time to sit and help them with homework, etc. They already work TOO much, not not enough.)

Posted by: jhoedem1 | February 25, 2011 10:22 PM | Report abuse

What education system is broken? Montgomery County? Fairfax? Loudoun? Howard? Our local high-achieving systems?

Oh, DCPS! This has been true there for generations, and suddenly it is a national crisis? Fire all the teachers, and break all the unions!

This isn't about education, this is about inner-city poverty, broken homes, lack of parental guidance and supervision. In short, class.

Many poor urban school systems are surrounded by high-achieving systems in nearby affluent suburbs. It is a pattern found all over America.

There is nothing new in this problem; the only thing new is the magical thinking in the so-called reform movement that higher quality teaching alone can solve this problem, without addressing the poverty at all.

Posted by: thisone | February 26, 2011 12:02 AM | Report abuse

There are not many unions in right to work states. Give the people a choice and they choose to not be part of a union. Unions are forced on the people by Democrats who want their union dues to finance their reelection in return for screwing the cities and states on behalf of the union members.

Posted by: dfox71 | February 26, 2011 2:02 PM | Report abuse

While the teacher's unions are a big part of the labor movement, and they will certainly help shape the future of the movement, I'm not sure I agree that they are the end all and be all. I've worked in the labor movement for the last 4 years, and there are a lot of smart, nimble, talented unions and locals working to organize retail and service workers. If they succeed, that could be the future of unions. People don't necessarily know the janitor at town hall, but they know the guy checking them out at the supermarket, the person making their sandwich, or the woman helping them at the department store.

The service industry is growing in leaps and bounds. They will provide a big chunk of jobs in the future. Take a look at unions like UFCW, SEIU, RWDSU, Unite Here! and IWW. They're working to organize Walmart workers, fast food workers, hotel workers, retail workers, and more. They're doing good work, and for the movements sake, I hope the service industry becomes a mainstay for unions the way manufacturing once was.

Posted by: taylorleake | February 26, 2011 2:22 PM | Report abuse

This is why it is so important to get the government out of education at all levels and privatize, privatize, privatize. We need to crush the teachers unions and hire individual teachers in private schools. That will break the money laundering scheme where taxpayer money is used to finance the communist Democrat party. Unions are communist, and unions are Mafia-style organized crime. Reagan knew exactly how to deal with them - fire them all.

Posted by: doctorfixit | February 26, 2011 3:07 PM | Report abuse

Why is the WaPo publishing Ezra Klein -- the original Journ-O-list?

Was George Soros too busy counting his Obama-enhanced Monsanto and Petrobras profits that you had to use one of his stenographers?

Posted by: RomeoHotel | February 26, 2011 3:09 PM | Report abuse

I appreciate all the support that people have given the public unions. They have made the point that the unions desrve the salriy and benefits that they recieve. That's good, let's take the comitment one step further. Currently, the unions benfits are unfunded by three trillion. Show your support and mail in your portions as one of the 100 million taxpayers of this country. For those of you that went to public schools , that's $30,000. Time to pony up. It's alot more in California or Illinois. I'm guessing you want bank CEO's or Hedge fund managers to fund your portion, but unfortunately there aren't enough of these people. So I guess if you do not want to ante up, the states will have to continue to cut services for the truly needy in order to continue the growth of public employee costs.

Posted by: ejc5216 | February 26, 2011 3:25 PM | Report abuse

Most americans despise the unions; as Klein points out they're key players in everything that has gone wrong in the US over the last 40 years.

But, IMO we don't hate the unions because they take care of good performers and provide them protections and bargaining power. No, we hate unions because they're primary role is to protect the worst of their employees. Unions are reactionary organizations that resist accountability for their members, hamstring management at every turn, and prevent firing of bad employees.

Posted by: JohnR22 | February 26, 2011 3:27 PM | Report abuse

I hate when the pacifier falls out of your mouth Ezra.

Posted by: jpalm32 | February 26, 2011 4:28 PM | Report abuse


Folks, if unions want to garner support from taxpayers for Teacher’s Unions, establish some standards their union members will have to maintain – such as the following:

*Obtain and maintain certification in the subject/discipline taught in the class room.

*Obtain degrees from accredited institutions of higher learning – not diploma mills.

*Require discipline updates EVERY FOUR YEARS at an accredited institution of higher learning. Much of what a college freshman learns their freshman year is out of date when they graduate.

*Unions foster technological advances and training for teachers (NOT TAXPAYERS) in the use of robotics and artificial intelligence to set their union members apart from other teachers.

*Support the FIRING of inept and incompetent teachers (including the loss of teacher’s license and certification) who fail to show student improvement in standardized tests. The underwriting of incompetence by unions is forcing HOME SCHOOLING AND INCREASED PRIVATE SCHOOLS – parents paying double for no union standards.

*Unions, in concert with local school systems, provide leadership training for school administrators – assistant principals and higher.
This SHOULD NOT BE ‘how to build self esteem’, but rather:
** Maintaining discipline in a diverse culture
** Establishing a climate of order
** Pros and cons of a dress code
** Developing, articulating, and enforcing rules to support the learning process
** Positive steps to obtain parental involvement
** Punishments to fit infractions

In other words, it is past time that teacher’s unions in particular do something for the people who are filling their coffers – the taxpayer. They need to make their members unique, special, and COMPETENT, or KICK THEM OUT OF THE UNION – just like a private sector employer!!

Now, before all of the bleeding hearts start whining, the following is the current AVERAGE PAY SCALE FOR TEACHERS. Do you know anyone in your neighborhood that would like a job paying this salary with benefits – working about 9 months a year????

High School Teacher $43,355
Elementary School Teacher $40,432
Middle School Teacher $42,311
Special Education Teacher, Preschool, Kindergarten, or Elementary School $41,016
Special Education Teacher, Secondary School $43,889
Secondary School Teacher $42,223
Special Education Teacher, Middle School $42,060

Posted by: wheeljc | February 26, 2011 4:30 PM | Report abuse

Ezra Klein, uber-liberal-twenty-something of limited work and life experience, should go over to RealClearPolitics.com and read an article from a more mature person with both life and work experience and read a great essay about the sniffeling teachers union. It is written by Victor Davis Hanson and he knows from whence he speaks.
It always amazes me when there are millions of talented people unemployed, that Ezra Klein has a job. It just goes to show that life is not fair.

Posted by: Futurist1 | February 26, 2011 4:33 PM | Report abuse

With the deplorable condition of DC schools, do not think I would be out begging for more money and perks with the graduation rates and test scores these teachers produce. They would not be hired in other developed countries!

Posted by: wheeljc | February 26, 2011 4:33 PM | Report abuse

Posted by: AuthorEditor
I think all this hand wringing about whether or not unions are bad or good wouldn't exist without the budget crisis states and cities are in. We have the same teacher's unions we had five years ago when the economy was booming. It's all about money. You don't have to look farther than that.
************************************************

.... and the reason we are in such a deep budget crisis is because of the unions' greed. The other problem is we still have the same teacher's union we did five years ago and our children are even less educated today than they were then.

Unions have outlived their usefulness and have brought about their own demise through their excessive greed and corrupt ways. I am enjoying watching these union goons scream and cry like spoiled brats that aren't getting their way anymore.

Posted by: MikeJ9116 | February 26, 2011 4:49 PM | Report abuse

When all teachers are forced to pay union dues, the rank and file has little influence over the union agenda. Their interests become secondary to the passing of largess back and forth between the unions and the spendthrift politicians whose campaigns they finance.

Also excluded are the interests of the taxpaying public. And should the voters revolt against the fiscal madness, all we get is flee-bagger politicians, going to any lengths to run and hide from their fundamental legislative responsibility: balancing the budget.

This perverted process benefits neither schools nor teachers, and must end.

Posted by: Maxbert1 | February 26, 2011 4:56 PM | Report abuse

The teachers unions are at the heart of efforts in Wisonsin to maintain the corrupt deal between the public employee unions and the democrats. The deal where the uniosn spend billios to elect democrats who then vote hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars for wage and benefit levels that have reached levels that are bankrupting states and the nation. One would have more sypathy if the unions had taken those record amounts of compensation and given us a #1 educational system. Instead like the auto-unions they collected more and more money while driving American education into the gutter. Let all hope the corruption begins to end in Wisconsin!

Posted by: valwayne | February 26, 2011 5:56 PM | Report abuse

How to fix our schools in three steps:

1. Lift impoverished families out of poverty by paying the working class livable wages.

2. Fully fund our schools.

3. Tax wealth, as needed, to pay for numbers 1 & 2.

davis_x_machina, jhoedem1, & thisone are exactly right. What's failing in our schools has far more to do with our growing income inequality that it has to do with the talent, skill, and dedication of our hard-working public school teachers.

Posted by: Patrick_M | February 26, 2011 6:29 PM | Report abuse

Ezra Klein is an idiot.

As to -
"... At this point, Detroit's unions are doing most of the right things. The cars they're making are, increasingly, pretty good..."

Of course the UAW is doing good: AFTER getting billions from the Federal Government - not to mention that Obama gave the UAW received preferential treatment in the bailout itself.

I digress.

Abolish public education.
Each parent should be given a school voucher.

Thus - instead of being herded into the local public school sausage factory – each parent could decide what school is best for their child.

Posted by: Zexufang | February 26, 2011 7:10 PM | Report abuse

Isn't Andy Stern under Federal investigation for some type of fraud or did his political influence make that go away? I think not engaging in criminal activities would be good for organized labor's public image.

I think it's sort of funny how the teacher unions force governments to devote a majority of their educational resources to wages and benefits thus leaving teachers with large classes and basic supply shortages. Then they use the hard conditions that they've practically created to make people feel sorry for teachers to help justify even higher wages and benefits. Maybe I overestimate government officials, but I think they could make more rational allocations of educational resources without the influence of the unions. Does it really make sense to pay a teacher X if that amount leaves them with a huge class and few supplies? Surely they wouldn't allocate this way if they had a choice.

Posted by: fallsmeadjc | February 26, 2011 7:25 PM | Report abuse

It should be obvious that the American educational system is in poor shape and that teacher unions (like other public employee unions) need be curtailed as regards their unceasing demands for more benefits although the value of their work does not increase proportionally. For decades we have poured more and more money into "education" and yet overall student achievement gradually has dropped.

However, I believe that teachers as individuals in many, perhaps most, instances are less to blame than the parents of their students. I am a volunteer tutor for second grade students and it usually is obvious which students do or do not have parents who actively encourage learning. And which students have parents who participate in parent-teacher sessions and who support discipline in the classrooms.

So please, before making broad criticisms of at least the K-13 educational system, make an honest effort to understand the realities of what teachers face in trying to do their jobs well. Please make at least a small effort to walk in their shoes.

Posted by: tony511 | February 26, 2011 7:42 PM | Report abuse

Government Motors makes terrible cars. The lowest rated cars by far. They owe $90 billion half in loans they can't pay back and half in unique to GM tax breaks. The UAW is finished. Their patron in the White House is politically wounded and will drop his old allies at the first sign of trouble.

As for the teachers, monopoly government unionists have been stealing billions and delivering appallingly bad education. Check Annacostia's drop out rate.

Randi Weingarten in a unionist phony trying to delay the day of reckoning. It isn't going to work. She and her Democrat allies are ready for the ash heap of history.

Posted by: jy151310 | February 26, 2011 8:17 PM | Report abuse

Klein quote "At this point, Detroit's unions are doing most of the right things. The cars they're making are, increasingly, pretty good, and the companies they're yoked to are getting back on their feet.""
*********************
Detroit's unions got the sweetest deal in town as the bondholders got screwed by Obama and unions got a piece of GM for FREE! Gov Motors and chrysler will be back in bankruptcy as soon as UAW renegotiates their contract and get even higher wages than they deserve. greedy unions have already killed the golden goose, it's just that uninformed leftist libs like klein want the Private sector to keep paying until we have no mo money!

Posted by: morphy | February 26, 2011 8:18 PM | Report abuse

I believe the public does see teachers union (in particular) as "part of the problem afflicting sclerotic bureaucracies and industries rather than as a force for aggressive and overdue change in those institutions."

I absolutely believe that. Long live Michelle Rhee and Gov. Walker. Soldier on, guys.

Posted by: mirabeaulamarr | February 26, 2011 9:11 PM | Report abuse

I am a teacher in a right to work state. Layoffs are affecting Texas just as much as any other state. The problems in the economy lie in the mandates placed on schools to exact social change under the guise of education. Many of our most costly programs have little to do with education of the average student and everything to do with what paid junkets were attended by the folks who make the state and federal education policies.

Right now the states are making teachers out to be villains. Part of that is due to union unwillingness to have union teachers separated from their jobs when they fail to do them well. And much of the handwringing is fear at the union administration level that they will also see lower amounts coming in as fewer teachers make lower salaries. Make no mistake, unions are incestuous in nature. They have a good old boy network where strings are pulled and those who are well connected get jobs. This has been the norm in cities like New York, Boston and Chicago for decades. Do you wonder why poor school continue to get marginal teachers? Look no further than the union head honchos who would make sure those young teachers with good union connections never see the iside of an inner city school.

The solutions aren't pretty, but necessary. First, programs like ESL and Special Education that do not directly impact the student population at large need to be centralized and separate from the average school. These programs are limited in size by law and legislators like to use their lower class sizes to mitigate the truly higher class sizes in regular classes. What sense does it make to say there are only 16 kids per teacher when one teacher has two students and the other one has thirty? Which students get more attention? As for mainstreaming, which was a liberal feelgood moment, the reality is that putting students whose needs demand constant attention takes that time away from the rest of the class. When you have a class of over thirty kids and have two very disabled students simply dropped into a class for the sake of mainstreaming the result is that those two students get the majority of the attention and the rest are left to figure things out for themselves. There are only so many hours in a day and so many minutes in a class. As a teacher I come early and leave late daily, but I cannot make up deficits in time created by programs that do not add any benefits to the bottom line. I am sorry, I know this makes people mad, but this is the stark truth. Something has to give. And at some point, we have to educate those kids who will be working even if it means not having enrichment for those that never will.

Posted by: TruBluTopaz | February 26, 2011 9:43 PM | Report abuse

Every parent who has shepherded a child through a public school system (one done, one with three years to go) has dealt with excellent teachers, mediocre teachers, and absolutely horrible teachers.

In the private sector we largely live by the rules of do your job well or get fired. For those of us accustomed to having to deliver value to our employers every day, or losing our jobs, having an obviously incompetent teacher of our children paid by our taxes is incomprehensible and galling.

To me there are two issues here. The first is a general issue of public employee unions rights (answer = none), pay (should be the same as the private sector), and benefits (again same as the private sector).

But the second one is far more important. Based upon parents that I talk to, the major source of frustration is the impact of teacher's unions upon the inability of the school system to fire incompetent teachers.

Where I live the good schools (we are fortunate to live in one of those districts), make the lives of bad teachers miserable so they leave and find another school in the same system. Great for my kids, but ultimately this concentrates bad teachers in inner city and poorer school districts. Is this any way to run something that is supposed to give everyone an equal shot at the American dream?

Posted by: Berndh | February 26, 2011 9:57 PM | Report abuse

DESTROY the CROOKED Public Sector Unions!!!! These ZEROS collect compulsory dues from their members through the state and local governments (paid for by TAXPAYERS) and then use that money to purchase the CROOKED DIMOCRAT politicians (that are suppose to be looking out for the taxpayer) that negotiate the union contracts!!!! This is the VERY reason that Jimmy "the Buffoon" Carter and a DIMOCRAT CONGRESS OUTLAWED collective bargaining for Unions with Federal employees back in 1977!!!! Why do you people really think OBONGO has shut-up about what is going on??????? LOL!!!!! Goodbye Tenure!!! Goodbye horse-shyt teachers!!!!! Goodbye pensions that equal or exceed yearly salaries!!!!! Taxpayers have had enough!!!! Gooooodbye!!!!!!

Posted by: rmram | February 26, 2011 10:35 PM | Report abuse

DESTROY the CROOKED Public Sector Unions!!!! These ZEROS collect compulsory dues from their members through the state and local governments (paid for by TAXPAYERS) and then use that money to purchase the CROOKED DIMOCRAT politicians (that are suppose to be looking out for the taxpayer) that negotiate the union contracts!!!! This is the VERY reason that Jimmy "the Buffoon" Carter and a DIMOCRAT CONGRESS OUTLAWED collective bargaining for Unions with Federal employees back in 1977!!!! Why do you people really think OBONGO has shut-up about what is going on??????? LOL!!!!! Goodbye Tenure!!! Goodbye horse-shyt teachers!!!!! Goodbye pensions that equal or exceed yearly salaries!!!!! Taxpayers have had enough!!!! Gooooodbye!!!!!!

Posted by: rmram | February 26, 2011 10:37 PM | Report abuse

The "Wagner Act" made unions a right for the PRIVATE SECTOR...it NEVER addressed Public Sector Unions and is evidenced by George Meany and that Moron FDR, in which BOTH decried Public Sector Unions a CONFLICT of INTEREST AGAINST the Public Trust!!

Posted by: rmram | February 26, 2011 11:49 PM | Report abuse

Wow - Weingarten finally - finally - finds an acceptable scheme for evaluating teachers and if need be letting ineffective ones go. Several years too late, in my opinion. The handwriting must really be on the wall.
It's pretty easy to see why people beat up on the teachers unions. They have jobs with virtual immunity from firing during tough economic times, great retirement benefits at a time when most people wonder if they will ever be able to retire at all. We pay more and more every year and are still ranked 17th in the world in math and science and the union resists any attempt to reform education.
These folks overplayed their hand and now they are paying for it.

Posted by: invention13 | February 27, 2011 12:07 AM | Report abuse

"But the fact is our country doesn't match up well against other countries and the test scores are just another indicator of our massive wealth/income inequality."
I get SO TIRED OF THIS SOCIALIST BALONY. If true, why do homeschoolers, charter and private schools produce so much better results?
Listen, we have a "socialist utopia" in this country right now - it's called The Great Recession.
The teachers union needs to be taught one thing: "We can't afford it."
FDR was right. There should be no unions in the public sector.

Posted by: backsds | February 27, 2011 6:27 AM | Report abuse

"instead of being herded into the local public school sausage factory – each parent could decide what school is best for their child."
BINGO!!

Posted by: backsds | February 27, 2011 6:44 AM | Report abuse

Randy Weingarten's proposal on assessing and weeding out bad teachers is about 35 years too late. This is why the left is so insideous and pathetic. They just think we are all going to keep rolling over and taking their crap for a 1,000 years. NO MORE!

The reason the majority of people are behind Gov. Walker in Wisconsin is because most have awakened to the reality that we simply cannot pay for the largesse that the liberal politicians and the union bosses have created.

I do feel sorry for the rank and file union worker in some ways. But in other ways the blame can only fall on you where you should have told your leadership 30 years ago - "the system can't afford this!" Now you are maybe loosing what you've grown acustomed too - tough luck!

Our system is broken and YOU are part of the problem. Your union leaders along with every politician who ever voted to indebt the system should be tried in a court of law and jailed for life. Now we run the risk of loosing our country and its economic might - for what?

Posted by: Mplynn | February 27, 2011 6:58 AM | Report abuse

"'But the fact is our country doesn't match up well against other countries and the test scores are just another indicator of our massive wealth/income inequality.' I get SO TIRED OF THIS SOCIALIST BALONY. If true, why do homeschoolers, charter and private schools produce so much better results? If true, why do homeschoolers, charter and private schools produce so much better results?"

I can't let this go because these examples basically PROVE the point that it's a problem of wealth/income inequality. Parents who can homeschool their children are a) educated enough themselves to do so (meaning they probably did not grow up in abject poverty themselves) and b) have at least enough income that one parent does not have to work. This does not make them wealthy, of course, but it means the other spouse is not working a minimum wage job, for certain, which puts them ahead of the poorest Americans.

Charter schools have the advantage of a) skimming from the top the low-income students who are most likely to perform better in the first place (meaning these students' parents at least knew how to navigate the system and had the time/resources to submit lottery applications with all the necessary documentation a full year before their children needed to start school) and b) kicking out the students who turn out to be major behavior problems. Some charters (ahem, KIPP) are much more blatant and aggressive about this than others, but all charters have that tool at their disposal when push comes to shove.

Independent schools only take the students they want to take in the first place, and sure, while some top-performing low-income students get scholarships, MOST students have parents who can pay thousands and thousands of dollars a year for their child's educations.

At some point, SOMEONE has to take responsibility for educating the poorest, most at-risk, most violently-behaved, most emotionally-damaged, and most challenging-to-teach students. To demonize the teachers (heroes) who attempt to do so just because they can't all be miracle workers is just so unfortunate. And to act like people with college and/or graduate degrees who choose to dedicate their lives to this kind of public service are somehow gaming the system because they earn $40K + benefits is criminal. If you have tried it yourself and can honestly say you felt that you were being overcompensated, I will listen to what you have to say. If not, go be a teacher yourself if everything about it is so appealing and its all such a cakewalk. I wish you luck!

Posted by: jhoedem1 | February 27, 2011 8:16 AM | Report abuse

Because of all these public union slackers that work for 20 years and then retire on your backs we’re losing our healthcare that we worked for. Unlike the nonpublic unions that have to create a product they just have to vote in democrats like Nancy Pelosi so they can get rich and her elected. Their taking Avastin away from 17,000 women with late-stage breast cancer and delabeling it . This means your girlfriends and wives and daughters won’t get to live as long as craggly face Nancy Pelosi. If you don’t believe me do a web search on it and FDA decision. This is one of the reason I wrote this song “Teapartiers I can’t hear you” at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cJfboOindCo. Older Vets and citizens don’t let them do this to your wife and loved ones. Nancy Pelosi can afford and get Avastin if she needs it, she don’t care about you but the illegals that will get your healthcare and will vote for her.
Here’s a verse

Doctors are retiring earlier but we’re getting 17000 new IRS
This is how Obama creates health care jobs I guess
For 234 years this country’s been God’s blessing.
Now he’s following Cloward and Piven’s to bankrupt the country I’m guessing
If Obamacare gives Grandma and Grandpa a scare
Think how when their rationed and die earlier we’ll save on healthcare

Hey guys if you fought at Iwo or the Chosen
when they stop giving your wife her meds and her last breath comes over her face
you’ll find comfort knowing Nancy’d gladly take her place.

Posted by: JoeAstroturf | February 27, 2011 8:38 AM | Report abuse

"At this point, Detroit's unions are doing most of the right things. The cars they're making are, increasingly, pretty good, and the companies they're yoked to are getting back on their feet. But the bottom line of the situation, I think, is that the future of the union movement is in the hands of the teachers unions." - the very left-wing Ezra Klein.....

Ezra.........you're such a propagandist.....serioiusly....Let's talk about Detroit Ezra....

Ezra you failed to mention that the Teachers Union in Detroit only have a 22% graduation rate for the innocent children stuck their......

Ezra that means Detroit has a 78% drop out rate...... yet Ezra you don't even mention that.

Does everyone see what we moderates and conservatives that make up 76% of the US population have to put up with?

Posted by: allenridge | February 27, 2011 8:41 AM | Report abuse

Having spent six years involved with my two children's public high school, including one year as a "Site Council" parent, I will attest to dangers of zealous administrators at the school district level eager to take up reforms, respond to California state level pressures, and obscure their spending decisions. There are problems with teaching, but teachers unfortunately need protections from their public managers -- and so do many other public workers, subject to the fickle behavior of city managers and city council members; the latter especially may be poor at managing the city budgets they find, in part because of their limited experience with public finance and public workers. Maybe there could be other safeguards against the uncertainties of management in the public sphere, but for now, unions provide a bulwark against capricious judgments made by administrators and elected officials, whose challenges are as much found as created, and difficult to change. Negotiation is a part of the solution, and far more so than it is a source of new problems.

Posted by: jkadvany | February 27, 2011 1:35 PM | Report abuse

What some of the wingnut commenters say is true: unions don't produce anything. They do not engage in commerce. They're what Jane Jacobs would have called a "guardian" institution.

And the right in America *hates* non-military and non-church guardians, including unions. The American right thinks everything should be commerce. If you don't engage in commerce, or use force to protect commerce, you'd better be a church, or you should not exist. The outcome of such authoritarian libertarianism is a bizarro soviet system, which is where America is clearly headed.

But regardless, it does make sense to question the existence of any institution, especially if the preservation of that institution has grown more important than the work done by that institution. I think maybe that is what's happened to organized labor in America. But I don't really know. I think the need for unions is obvious, but I'm not sure if we're doing it right.

Posted by: nostick | February 28, 2011 1:36 AM | Report abuse

Neoliberalism 101, ladies and gentlemen: When unions are under attack, attack unions. And yet the neoliberals get upset when we call them corporate toadies! Go figure.

Posted by: stonedone | February 28, 2011 9:46 AM | Report abuse

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