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.

2 thoughts on “The Continuing Fall of the Teachers Unions”

  1. Fast, slow, or somewhere in between, I view as my role to accelerate the process by any and every way possible.

    I would also caution everyone of having any allegiance to the “Federal-Academic Complex,” as they merely seek to nudge unions out of the nest so a group of consultants, bureaucrats, and managers can take over. (think the less-than-effective Gates Foundation)

    If that is the outcome, I’d rather stick with the unions. Even the worst teacher serves a babysitting function. An administrator/consultant accomplishes nothing.

    Leaving that aside, I believe the USSR makes for an appropriate, if not perfect, model. No one, not even Reagan, believed that they would collapse so quickly. He merely started the ball rolling by pointing out that the Empire had no clothes. (moral legitimacy)

    Today’s education system has lost moral legitimacy, and thus, is merely a giant teetering on the brink. It’s dues structure, inertia, and installed infrastructure make it look unassailable. It isn’t.

    A very few properly placed stones can potentially take down this Goliath. The thing that aggravates me most is that the “education reform” donor base is spending too much listening to the same generals that have been failing for 50 years. Their failure is not entirely their own fault, as the monopoly HAS been powerful.

    The problem is that too many people in the reform movement want “evolution not revolution.” This might even be a valid strategy if the stakes were not so high. Every day that an under-served child remains in a substandard or over-priced school is a day of moral outrage.

    Burn it all down. The outcome of the conflagration could be no worse than the outcomes of the current system.

  2. Bruno,

    Excellenht comment! Let me first talk a little about the federal-academic complex, and then address revolution-v-evolution

    We can divide the tasks historically performed by teachers into three broad categories

    First, Control of Student Attention.
    Second, Instruciton.
    Third, Evaluation.

    Control of student attention needs to be conducted on the ground. This is the ‘babysitting’ function you described.

    Instruction can be delivered through the cloud in a large amount of cases. [1] I think there’s really amazing things afoot in this area. It also is an area where a market could quickly emerge — and to an extent already has [2].

    Evaluation, though, is hard. At the simplest level, there needs to be some method for someone to decide if a student is learning or not, or how much a student is learning. This role — creating the tests and measures of improvement — is the role best left to the federal-academic complex.

    On evolution v. revolution, the stakes our high, but not high enough for any stakeholders to revolutoinaize (as opposed to evolve) the system. There is an option staring us in the face if our schools completely fail: indeed, as our schools have been failing, it’s rather close to the status quo:

    Abandon the majority of the American workforce as a source of high-skilled workers. Use the educational system to install a vague belief in ‘Americanism’ while subsidizing the comfort of the masses through a bread and circuses policy. Adopt a transnational elite as the ruling class of the United States, and create safe zones for the elite to live in.

    We adopted an almost identical policy a century ago. President Wilson was a famous proponent of it. It’s easier for most stakeholders to adopt than revolution, but obviously it is a darker future than evolution.

    [1] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hw5k98GV7po&feature=youtu.be
    [2] http://www.khanacademy.org/about

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