Collectively, Not a Bargain for America

Are teachers unions and collective bargaining bad for STEM education? One technology expert shares his opinion.

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So what should America do about teacher unions and the power of collective bargaining?

Frederick Hess and Martin West offer this five-part solution; "1) have teacher pay be based on the teacher's skills, the difficulty of their assignments, the extent of their responsibilities and the caliber of their work, 2) the benefits (pension and health) offered by unions should be akin to similar programs offered by the competitive marketplace, 3) tenure should be eliminated from K-12 schooling, 4) teachers should be assigned to work positions on the basis of educational need rather than seniority and 5) work rules should be weeded out of contracts."

Terry Moe, an expert on union organization in America and author of the book "Special Interest," advocates more drastic measures. He claims that "it is unreasonable to expect unions to reform themselves in ways that make education for children a priority. Unions should be expected to behave in the same way other organizations behave – that is, to promote their own interests. If the education system is to evolve in ways that truly promote the education of children, union power over schools should be weakened, or eliminated." Albert Shanker, a teacher union icon in the 20th century, reportedly agreed that the focus of a teacher's union should be its members, not the students they teach. "When school children start paying union dues," he said in a disputed quote decades ago in "The Meridian Star," "that's when I will start representing the interests of school children."

Collective bargaining drives up the cost of public education in America. Collective bargaining drives out talented teachers after five years. Collectively bargained back-ended, pension-laden compensation packages drive away talented young Americans from careers in teaching because they seek much higher starting salaries.

But most important: Collective bargaining has had no discernible impact on improving the quality of education in America. In fact, when you analyze the test results from domestic examinations like the National Assessment of Educational Progress with the results from global tests like TIMSS and PISA, this picture emerges: The deeper an American student progresses through our nation's public school system, the further behind their peers in other countries they fall.

Not that they are asking for it, but I have advice for Dennis Van Roekel, president of the National Education Association and Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers. Teacher unions got the power of collective bargaining accidentally in 1959. Fifty-four years later, it is time to give it back. Collective bargaining has done nothing to improve the quality of education in our country. The continued widespread use of this practice threatens nothing less than the future growth of our country, the global employability of our workforce and the strength of our national security.

Gary J. Beach is the author of "The U.S. Technology Skills Gap: What Every Technology Executive Must Know to Save America's Future," from which this article was adapted with permission. Follow him on Twitter: @GBeachCIO.

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