August 10 2010
Teachers Unions are Real Roadblock to Education Reform
This is not an attack on teachers. There are excellent teachers throughout the nation. These teachers work hard every day of their professional lives to effectively educate millions of American children so that they too can realize the American dream. These teachers deserve merit pay for the hard work they do in educating our children. Also, they deserve to be free encumbrances like the teacher tenure programs promoted by various teachers unions that make it all but impossible to terminate the employment of ineffective and unmotivated teachers. By every measurable standard that our public education system broken. It is a national embarrassment. Each year, our government spends well over $500 billion on public education. And what are the results? Not even three quarters of students graduate from high school and we continue to lag behind many other countries on international standardized tests.
The management consulting firm McKinsey and Company looked at the effects of our failure to provide a quality education and compared it to a "permanent national recession." They estimated that our GDP would be between $1.3 trillion to $2.3 trillion dollars higher if our education system actually providing students with the skills they need. That works out to between $4,300 and $7,600 per person. Our nation would be wealthier, we would all be more prosperous, if our public schools did the jobs they were designed to do.
But forget the money. Forget that our public education system is making us all poorer. Consider what it is doing to the millions of kids who are stuck in substandard schools. They aren't just losing earning potential. They are losing out on life potential. Without an education, kids are more likely to end up in poverty, pregnant, addicted to drugs, and living a life of crime.
Education is supposed to be a ladder that allows all students to climb out of poverty and fulfill their potential. But especially in poor, urban areas that ladder is broken. This is travesty. More than 50 years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Brown vs. the Board of Education, that "...it is doubtful that any child may reasonably be expected to succeed in life if he is denied the opportunity of an education. Such an opportunity...is a right which must be made available to all on equal terms."
Does anyone think we have lived up to that promise?
Too many will try to tell you that the schools need more money. But a lack of money isn't the problem. Per pupil spending has been steadily rising and class sizes have been shrinking yet for decades, there hasn't been any meaningful improvement for students.
What we have is a problem with the system. We have public school systems that have been designed to serve teachers and education bureaucrats, instead of our children. That's what we need to change. For example, it has been reported that in Chicago, "83 percent of bad tenured teachers 'rarely or never' get fired." In Columbus, terminating a tenured teacher for cause can cost up to $50,000 and in Idaho, it can cost $100,000 to $200,000. This makes absolutely no sense.
We've seen that some reform efforts can work. The D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program, for example, was launched in 2004 and was helping over 1,700 students from low-income families in Washington D.C.--which has one of the very worst public school systems in the country--to attend schools of their parents' choice. Last year, the U.S. Department of Education released a study that proved that this program was working: test scores showed that students using vouchers were performing two years ahead of their public school peers on standardized reading tests. These are incredibly powerful results for a modest investment.
Yet this is the one program that Congress could bother to defund. It only cost a couple million dollars, but Congress is getting rid of that program. Why? Because it made certain teachers union's uncomfortable. It showed that when you move kids, even children from the poorest communities, from terrible public schools to good schools, they can succeed.
Other schools have been proving the same thing. Innovative charter schools are breaking the mold and getting incredible results from kids that the system had written off.
We need to write the system off. We need to get rid of the system that protects bad teachers and makes it impossible to reward the good, hard working teachers that are getting results. We need to make sure that parents have choices about where their kids go to school. That decision shouldn't be made just by a zip code. In every area of life, we expect to have some choice and some control. Schools should be no different.
This is an issue that has to be a priority. And it can be, even when we are in a recession. In fact, a recession is a perfect time to take a hard look at our education system. More money isn't the answer. A better system is.