Ph.D. Octopus

Politics, media, music, capitalism, scholarship, and ephemera since 2010

The Left Must Become Critical of Teachers Unions

with 2 comments

This article in the New York Times is frankly disturbing. In general, I’m a big supporter of unions. To be more specific, I’m a supporter of workers’ right to unionize to prevent exploitation and receive fairer wages, more benefits, etc. Historically, unions have been important forces for good in America, and many still are. Even the libertarian economist Henry Hazlitt recognized this.

But the Teachers Unions must be treated differently. The task they perform is very different to that of unionized manual labourers. The training necessary is very different. And the service they provide is very different. A huge problem with teaching is the standing it faces in society. To me, it would make sense if teachers agreed to institute some form of merit pay, but also made it easier for principals to fire them. I think teacher salaries should be doubled, even tripled. But they should teach more hours (longer days, shorter summers) and they should subject themselves to real performance reviews. That way teaching can become a more respected profession again, and the quality of education will improve overall. This is a goal in the public interest, and certainly worthy of leftist support.

I have no idea how many New York city teachers are incompetent. But surely the number is much greater than 3. And the system where potentially incompetent teacher sit in the “rubber room” and continue to be paid is also absurd. What’s more this is another issue that might inspire bipartisan support (not that bipartisanship is everything, in fact, it’s way over-fetishized in American political discourse, but here it could be useful). Something has to be done here. My ideas are perhaps utopian. I’m not sure of the way there. But the status quo is untenable.

I’m not saying Teachers Unions should be abolished. But they should be willing to compromise for the sake of better outcomes for their students.


Written by David Weinfeld

February 25, 2010 at 18:40

2 Responses

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  1. I agree, except that the idea that teachers work short hours is the biggest lie in the book. Considering that most teachers (high school) teach 5-6 periods of up to 35 students each, and frequently grade daily homework (not to mention tests), means that hours are spent at home grading. And calling parents about detention. And prepping for classes (often three separate ones).

    Some schools have raised teacher pay and instituted mandatory group prep sessions, where teachers collaborate, on school property, to do their prep work. I like this idea a lot–holds teachers more accountable while at the same time encouraging collaboration.

    As for shorter summers, I agree, but more because short vacations (say, seven weeks on, two off) have been shown more effective in terms of student learning retention, ESPECIALLY for low-performing students.

    I’m being lazy but I can find all the data for this at some point….

    And I feel similarly about the NYC UFT, and then I feel bad about it. I want to like it.


    February 25, 2010 at 20:49

  2. […] strong supporter of unions in a rather moderate way (I also support teacher’s unions, though not without criticism). I think the right to form unions, and the right to strike, are important in terms of keeping […]

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