The Continuing Fall of the Teachers Unions

Several months ago, Bruno Behrend reviewedSpecial Interest: Teachers Unions and American Public Schools,” by Terry Moe. I haven’t read Moe’s book, but I found four three main areas of agreement with Bruno’s review, and one where I would take exception. The areas of agreement are over the unions’ web of influence, the role of Democratic Party politics, and the role of technology. The area of disagreement I have is over timing.

According to the review, “Moe also shows school boards, far from checking unions, are easily captured and controlled by them.” Bruno also writes that the National Educational Association was not originally a union, but was coopted into serving the best interests of teachers. I agree completely. Indeed, the NEA and School Boards, along with the AFT and the NPTA, are part of a United Front run by teachers for their own benefits.

Bruno’s review mentions that Moe “highlights two powerful forces undermining union power. The first is an internal battle of shifting political alliances, primarily in the Democratic Party.” As I haven’t read the book I don’t want to impute an argument that Moe did not make, but let me make a guess: Teacher Power has collapsed in the Democratic Party with respect to the following stakeholders:

Additionally, Bruno emphasizes the “radical disruption by technological advances in delivering education.” Technology itself does not make for better teaching, of course, but I like the use of the word “disruption.” While technology as such simply substitutes capital for labor, the rapid introduction of technology can accelerate transitions already under way.

My only area of disagreement is a minor one, and concerns timing. Ironically, timing also appears to be the only substantive area of disagreement between Moe and Berhend! Bruno writes:

This brings me to my only complaint about this valuable and informative book. After detailing the havoc unions have visited upon American children and taxpayers, Moe says the coming changes “will happen gradually,” “much of it coming over two (or three) decades.” Decades! Why not two or three years?

The reason of why not two or three years is that laws and regulations are simply parts of the superstructure are easily done away with, and easy to get wrong. An educational system relies on the political support of numerous factions. Teachers used to have the support necessary to rig the educational system to their favor, because they understood how a 19th century educational system works and were responsive to the needs of political stakeholders.

As teachers lost their touch and their empathy, they lost the ability to set the debate. Instead the federal-academic complex has stepped up to serve the needs of employers, parents, and others.

A new structure is evolving, but with the buy-off of a great many people, over the continental federal Republic we live in.

The future’s coming. It’s coming soon. And it will be (be)coming for a while.