"The teachers united will never be defeated!" chanted thousands
of public-school teachers at a union rally. They may be right
unfortunately. Teachers unions in this country are very influential because
they can assemble a crowd. Randi Weingarten, head of New York's teachers
union, put out the word, and thousands of teachers filled Madison Square
Garden to demand a new contract and more money. That clout brings timid
politicians into line.
The unions can pay for expensive rallies at "the world's most
famous arena" because every teacher in a unionized district like New York
must give up some of his salary to the union. Even teachers who don't like
the union, teachers who believe in school choice, and teachers who could
make more on the open market must fork over their money to support the
unions that fight against school choice and merit pay.
The unions use their clout to fight against the interests of the
best teachers. Union leaders make sure the teachers who work hardest don't
get raises or bonuses. Everyone with the same seniority and credentials must
be paid the same. That guarantees that no teacher will take home a dime for
making extra sure that students learn. Joel Klein, who as New York's schools
chancellor runs the country's largest public-school system, put it this way:
"We tolerate mediocrity, and people get paid the same whether they're
outstanding or whether they're average or, indeed, whether they're way below
Klein said that out of 80,000 teachers, only two have been fired
for incompetence in the past two years. That's because it takes years for a
principal to fire an incompetent teacher. I can't explain the rules here,
but you may be able to read a flow chart about them in my next book "may
be" because the flow chart may be too big to fit in a book. The rules are so
complex that they ought to begin: First, take a week off from running your
school to study these rules. Many of the rules come from the union contract,
which has 200 pages plus a mess of addenda. Even Klein, who used to practice
antitrust law for the federal government, called the contract a "regulatory
But the unions fight to protect the nightmare. Weingarten has a
remarkable excuse: "Our union has actually stepped up to the plate and said
we'll police our own profession."
I'd like to police my own job, too. And I'll bet some students
would just love to police their own homework!
Of course, unions do more than just protect incompetents.
Weingarten, on behalf of New York's teachers union, fought for a uniform day
of six hours, 40 minutes. "Which is what normally happens in the private
sector," she told me.
Funny. I work in the private sector every day, and I haven't
seen that. Have you?
The teachers no longer have that either, though. Last year, they
made a big concession. Now they have a uniform day of six hours, 50 minutes.
That's nearly a whole additional hour every week!
Some teachers care about the students, so they want to do more
than the contract requires. But astoundingly, some of them told me they are
actually afraid to stay at school when the union says it's time to go home.
They worry they'll "get in trouble with the union." It's as if the teachers,
united, never to be defeated, made a decision: Instead of letting the
administrators crack down on bad teachers, the union will protect the bad
teachers by cracking down on the good ones.
Maybe that's what Weingarten calls policing their own
I confronted Weingarten. "Unionized monopolies like yours fail.
In this case, it is the children who who you are failing."
"We are not a unionized monopoly," she retorted. "And ultimately
those folks who want to say this all the time, they don't really care about
Really, Ms. Weingarten? You fight to protect a system that
rewards mediocrity, and then you claim your critics don't care about kids?
Give Me a Break.