What Is to Be Done? A Twenty-four-Point Wish List
From Peter Brimelow's book "Worm in the Apple"
Short-Form of the 24 Point List Here
What Is to Be Done? was the title of V. I. Lenin’s famous 1902 pamphlet, which argued that the only way to achieve a revolution in Russia was through a disciplined, elite vanguard—the Bolsheviks, a.k.a. the Communist Party. Amusingly, we can ask the same question, exactly a century later, about America's own home grown socialist government school system and its disciplined vanguard—the teacher union.
Note that this Wish List, unlike every other education wish list you've ever seen, does not pontificate about teaching techniques. For example, it does not advocate Open Classrooms, closed classrooms, just-ajar classrooms, or any other type of classroom. As I have argued, I think these educational issues should be left to the market—i.e., teachers (sellers) and parents (buyers). The problem with the government school system right now is precisely that there is no market.
Nor does this Wish List consist of whatever the Education Establishment Blob currently wants to do anyway for other reasons. (Although I'm less sure of this—the Blob, especially its Teacher Trust component, is very tricky. It has survived many reform waves before. In particular, I think it’s quite capable of capturing the charter school reform wave. However, I do think that all of these Wish List reforms taken together will give the Blob a Bloblem.)
It is also important to note that I am deliberately Listing our Wishes while totally ignoring the secondary question of whether or not they are "politically possible." These Wishes are what Bill Bennett's Department of Education staffers used to call, ruefully, "Full Moon Proposals" (as in throwing your head back and baying at). They assume an ideal world, except possibly for union executives.
I ignore the question of what s politically possible for two reasons.
Firstly, it actually helps to know where the moon is. You can navigate by it. In other words, by looking at the ideal, we throw into sharp relief the deep, systematic problems of the real world and avoid the minutiae that is typical of so much education policy discourse.
Secondly, the plain fact is that no one really has the faintest idea what is politically possible. Least of all professional politicians. They appear to have been designed by evolution to snuffle along like blind shrews, following their exquisitely sensitive snouts from one day to the next, reacting savagely if asked about next week—let alone next year—and thus able to perform 180-degree turns without rupturing their consciences.
Or even noticing. On innumerable issues—price and wage controls, welfare policy, the efficacy of military intervention overseas—the American conventional wisdom has changed out of all recognition over relatively short periods of time, without the conventionally wise seeming to feel much need to reproach themselves for being wrong. It can happen in education too.
Or, to put it another way: the Soviet Union—completely unexpectedly— collapsed.
The National Education Association doesn't look any healthier.
Although there is much pious talk about education during federal elections, the government school system still basically remains in the hands of state and local officials. Nevertheless, federal politicians cannot escape our Wish List so easily.
This point was explained to us by Dick Morris, the political consultant associated with President Bill Clinton's famous "triangulation" strategy, whereby Clinton was to win reelection in 1996 by distancing himself from the congressional Democrats and stealing the Republicans' issues. (It worked, of course, but Morris himself had by then been evicted from the White House inner circle after a scandal involving a prostitute that was colorful even by Clinton administration standards.)
In a remarkable passage in his memoir Behind the Oval Office, Morris considers the hypothetical question of how he would have gone about winning the 1996 presidential election for the Republicans—which he would have certainly been happy to do, on payment of the appropriate fee. He writes:
Had I been running Dole's campaign, I would have said, "President Clinton did a fine job of helping to get our economy in order. He did well to set us toward a balanced budget. But now we must turn to the new issues we face, the values issues/Then I'd have focused on a host of issues that the president was afraid to touch or that his interest-group support wouldn't let him touch— ending teacher tenure, school choice, school prayer, an end to school busing, the balanced-budget amendment, a moratorium on immigration, passage of a federal right-to-work law. ... I'd have piled it on. [Emphasis added]
Five of Morris's proposals were government school—related; three— with our emphasis added—strike directly at the Teacher Trust (lightly disguised here as a part of President Clinton's "interest-group support").
Morris did not make these proposals because he had spent time in long and careful study of education or the teacher union problem. He just thought they would work with the electorate. This is a measure of the NEA's very real political vulnerability. Someday, Dick Morris (or someone like him) will be advising a national candidate who has the freedom—and the courage—to run on these issues.
But what about the fact that teacher tenure is hardly a federal issue? Isn't it between the teachers and the school boards? Interviewing Morris for Forbes, I naively raised this question.
Morris waved it aside airily. "Oh," he said, "you just threaten to with hold federal funds from the states unless they comply. It would be like the 55-miles-per-hour speed limit."
Of course, this is distressing if you worry about the grand old American constitutional principle of federalism—the respect for the autonomy of local communities that has been critical to keeping this continent-sized country together. And it certainly seems to confirm the fears of those grinches who opposed federal funding of education because it would tend to centralize education policy in Washington's paws.
But Morris s proposal does show what could be achieved by enterprising, not to say ruthless, education reformers—both in the White House and in Congress.
The Wishes on my List are in theory the responsibility of different levels of governments: federal, state, local. But in practice, these categories are fluid. So we proffer our Wish List generally, to whoever can figure out a way to implement any part of it.
Our Wish List has two overall themes:
- Disinfect the apple. The problem with America's government school system is socialism. The solution is capitalism—the introduction of a free market.
Or, to put it another way, just as economists realized in the nineteenth century that the tariff was the mother of trusts, so in the twenty-first century we must recognize that the government school system is the mother of the Teacher Trust—and American education's chronic qualitative and quantitative failure.
Viewed from this perspective, dealing with the National Education Association is both a means and an end.
As it happens, desocialization is something with which economists have much more experience now than even a few years ago, because of the collapse of the Soviet Union and the liberation of Eastern Europe. One interesting development: quite often privatization actually meant that former Communist apparatchiks seized control of, i.e., stole, government enterprises and assets, emerging as newly fledged capitalists. Whatever the abstract justice of this, the economy benefits—investment allocation decisions are more rational.
Perhaps, after the Revolution, Wayne Johnson will emerge as president, not of the California Teachers Association, but of Combined Teaching Associates, earning much more than his reported $150,000 annual salary (not including benefits).
Hey—whatever it takes.
It’s also quite possible that a reduced but galvanized government school system might be right in there, pitching. The reformed economies of Eastern Europe are still pretty well government-dominated by American standards. Or look at a parallel American case: the U.S. Postal Service. As Harvard's Caroline Hoxby says: "Few analysts expected the Postal Service to be able to compete with its new rivals [when competition was allowed in package-delivery], yet several decades later it is a worthy opponent."
(However, it’s important to realize that this happened because the Postal Service was confronted with competition from private enterprise from without—not because it was transformed through incremental perestroika-style, market-socialist reforms from within. Moral: charter schools may not be enough.)
Our Wish List's second theme:
- Extracting the worm. The teacher union is a creature of legal privilege. The way to deal with it: remove its legal privileges.
When it dawned upon Americans, just over a century ago, that the modern corporation was here to stay—news brought to them largely by muckracking journalism, most famously Ida Minerva Tarbell's McClure's Magazine articles, published in book form as The History of Standard Oil— they passed laws aimed at combating monopoly, notably the federal Sherman Antitrust Act. And then they insisted that governments enforce those laws. Economists and lawyers argue about whether this was an appropriate response, and how antitrust laws should be interpreted today. But antitrust is undeniably part of the American business landscape.
Which brings us to our first Wish:
[I] Bust the Teacher Trust
Well—why not? Federal antitrust law prohibits any contract, trust, or conspiracy in restraint of trade. The Sherman Act actually says that no person "shall monopolize, or attempt to monopolize, or combine or conspire with any other person or persons, to monopolize" trade or commerce. And the entire purpose of a labor union is exactly to "monopolize the supply of labor"—in order to extract a higher price for it.
Turnabout is emphatically not fair play in labor law. Various hopeful employers did attempt to point out to the courts that, if capital is not supposed to collude, then maybe labor should not collude either. The courts did not want to know. But courts are not oracles. There is nothing sacred about their rulings. Legislators can correct them by statute. (See—I meant it when I said I'm ignoring what's politically possible!)
At the very least, a federal antitrust statute could be aimed at preventing Teacher Trust collusion across state lines. This could end the flow of funds from the locals up to the national level—reestablishing something like the situation that prevailed before the "Michigan Mafia" succeeded in unifying NEA local, state, and national membership dues as part of its unionization drive in 1971—and from the national level to subsidize local action that locals could not afford. It could result in the NEA being broken up into state-only units, rather like antitrust litigation broke up John D. Rockefeller s Standard Oil Trust into Standard Oil of New Jersey—the ancestor of Exxon Corporation—Standard Oil of California ("Socal"), Standard Oil of Ohio ("Sohio"), etc.
A state antitrust statute, attacking any "attempt to monopolize" the supply of teacher labor by the union, could effectively cut the Gordian knot of state collective bargaining statutes, which would otherwise have to be disentangled strand by strand. (See below, Wish II.)
Most industries don't have legislation aimed specifically at them. But it’s by no means unprecedented in cases that are considered especially vital to the public interest. For example, railroads are governed by the highly specific Railroad Labor Act of 1926.
So: is K-12 education vital to the public interest—or not?
[II] Reform Public Sector Collective Bargaining Statutes
The modern Teacher Trust is the creature of legal privilege. The basis of its power is the collective bargaining legal regime as it exists in each state.
As we have seen, the most extreme versions of state collective bargaining law allow the union to claim, and compels the school board to accept, the right of monopoly bargaining. After bitter dispute, the courts have established the constitutional principle that Americans cannot be forced to join a union to get or keep a job. But monopoly bargaining means that a union can claim to speak for them, whether they like it or not. And in many states they can be forced to pay fees to it.
Monopoly bargaining also means that the Teacher Trust and the school boards decide public policy in conclave. Not just non-members of the teacher union, but also members of the public, are effectively excluded. However, the U.S. Supreme Court has rejected Edwin Vieira's argument that this is a violation of the equal protection clause of the constitution.
"But Congress could easily reverse that under Section Five of the Fourteenth Amendment, which would apply to the states," says Vieira animatedly. "Congress could say exclusive representation violates equal protection, freedom of assembly, freedom of speech. They could restrict exclusive representation to matters of wages, hours and so on. That could leave a union of truck drivers pretty much the way it was. But it would reduce teacher union power dramatically."
There are state-level solutions to this problem. The simplest, of course, would be for a state whose government school teachers are covered by a collective bargaining law to just up and repeal it. Then school boards would no longer be forced to deal with the union just because a majority of teacher voting in a certification election supported it. School boards could still choose to deal with the union—unless the state got really enterprising and prohibited it, as is the case now in North Carolina and Virginia. Life would not come to an end, the union could still organize and lobby, but it the would lose its monopoly access.
Of course, most commentators assume that collective bargaining legislation is somehow like a ratchet and can never be reversed. But that's what; the British thought about nationalizing industries—until Margaret Thatcher came along.
Or the collective bargaining laws could be picked apart piecemeal. A state could establish the right of teachers to opt out of union contracts and bargain for themselves, as attempted in Michigan in 1993 and in Indiana, more comprehensively, in 1995.
One proposal, advanced in Education Week by Henry F. Cotton, a former school administrator, is "Educational Free Agency." He argues that it will establish a link between reward and performance in the teaching profession.
I suggest that the teacher be his or her own salary negotiator and be allowed to accept or reject an offer, as is the case in the sports world. . . . Unions and boards could set minimums and maximums, but every teacher would be able to negotiate within that range. A look at the sports environment shows clearly that when the best have been rewarded better, all the players have ultimately done better. The young talented teacher will be able to be rewarded right away, the best of the experienced will benefit commensurably, and the mediocre will be driven out by the talented who will have incentive to enter the profession.
When such ideas are proposed, the unions always want to know: how will administrators fairly and equitably distribute reward? Cotton has a sensible answer:
The complaints about who will evaluate teachers and how it will be done are begged every time one spends more than a day in a school. Yet students know who the best teachers are. Parents know, too. Even the teachers know who the best teachers are. Its only the teachers' organization that apparently is not privy to this information.
(Professor J. E. Stone of the Education Consumers Clearinghouse argues there is an objective method: "Since 1993, Tennessee has measured teacher performance by looking at how much students gain as opposed to their progress in previous years. It's objective, impartial and works regardless of entering differences among students. Even unions"— he concludes, possibly optimistically—are starting to like it!")
Similarly, school boards could be allowed to opt out of mandated collective bargaining, a less radical approach than outright repeal of the collective bargaining statute.
Individual bargaining may be, at first, too much of a culture shock for teachers. (And for some school boards. Employers get used to living within union rules, like blind pit ponies.) Milton Chappell, a senior staff attorney with the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, has a modest and comforting alternative: adopt what he calls the "Europe Model," under which unions can represent only employees who agree to be represented, and no one union has the exclusive right to represent workers. There could be several different unions competing—and any individual union would be less able impose its ideological agenda.
Some of Chappell's other recommendations for progressively unpicking the collective bargaining knot give an idea of its complexity:
- Resignation at will—teachers enrolled in the union should be allowed to leave whenever they want, not just in the summer or—as has been the case in states like Pennsylvania and California—only when each multiyear contract expires.
- Mandatory recertification elections—the union's monopoly bargaining privileges should be reviewed by the teachers every three years or so, with provision for competing organizations to be considered.
- Contract ratification by all bargaining unit members—that is, including teachers who don't want to join the union but whom the law decrees that the union represents anyway. Excluding them from voting puts them under pressure to join anyway.
- Reduction of mandatory subjects of bargaining—to hours, wages, conditions, etc., helping taxpayers and parents resist the union’s progressive takeover of the entire education complex.
- Mandatory discussion with public, independent groups—basically to prevent the school board from being cowed or co-opted.
Chappell notes that, in some states with extreme prounion legal regimes, teachers who resist being dragooned into the union "are denied both membership on school committees and any voice in the day-to-day workings of their school.*
*While this book was in galleys, Myron Lieberman published a Cato Institute pamphlet proposing legislation to promote a market in teacher representation, instancing the United Educators Association in Fort Worth (www.ueatexas.com), a for-profit company representing 11,000 teachers.
[III] Pass State and/or Federal Right-To-Work Law
Although teachers cannot be forced to join the union, they can be compelled to pay their alleged share of the costs of collective bargaining. This forced tribute could be ended through more state right-to-work laws (there are currently twenty-two) or through laws that specifically target teachers or government employees. (Teachers do not pay agency fees in another eight states). Alternatively, how about a federal right-to-work law reversing the U.S. Supreme Court's questionable 1977 Abood ruling?
The teacher unions would still exist under right-to-work laws. But it might turn out that many teachers don't want to pay $400 to $600 dues a year.
[IV] Pass Paycheck Protection
Right-to-work weakens the union by allowing teachers to work without being forced to pay any tribute to the union, thus weakening it financially. And Abood did weaken the union in non-right-to-work, agency shop states because non-union teachers are not compelled to pay that portion of their union tribute that goes to political activity. "Paycheck Protection" (they have people sitting around thinking up these terms) would weaken the union even further, by allowing union members to opt out of paying the political portion of their dues. This means no teacher anywhere would be forced to finance politics of which they disapprove, which those who belong to the union effectively are doing in many states today.
Paycheck Protection sounds so reasonable to most Americans that the CTA and other unions had to spend $30 million to defeat it, in the shape of California's Proposition 226, in 1998. Paycheck Protection was then pronounced dead, but it promptly rose like a phoenix in other states. In 2001, Paycheck Protection was established by legislation in Utah and by an Executive Order in Colorado.
The enforcement of Paycheck Protection—as with all reforms affecting the tricky Teacher Trust—will have to be watched carefully. In California, for example, the CTA had an ingenious backup plan. The union drew up two budgets. If pay check protection had passed, all the money that would have gone to the union's PAC was instead to be shunted over to a newly formed "Public Policy Center" Among other things, this Center would have allowed the union "to engage in organizational outreach to other interested groups with common goals and objectives to obtain visibility and coordinated advocacy on educational issues." Obviously, the Public Policy Center, although barred by state law from providing funds to candidates or initiatives, would have simply provided "outreach" money to other organizations. If those organizations deposited that money in their general funds, they would be free to do with it what they wanted thereafter—even form PACs or donate to candidates.
Something like this happened in Washington State, where voters in a 1994 referendum liberated teacher members of the state NEA affiliate, the Washington Education Association, from being forced to contribute to the union's Political Action Committee. It turned out that (surprise!) only 13 percent of them really wanted to do so.
TheWEA responded by spending at least $700,000 out of its mandatory general fund to influence the 1996 elections. Amazingly, in 2002, a Washington State Appeals Court judge ruled that this amount was not "meaningful" in relation to the WEA's $20 million annual expenditures. Lynn Harsh, the executive director of the Evergreen Freedom Foundation, noted that this apparently meant that Boeing Aircraft, Washington State s largest employer, could have poured $52 million into an election without reporting it—because that would have been equally "meaningful" in proportion to its annual expenditures.
But courts, as we have pointed out before, can be corrected by legislation.
Paycheck Protection could possibly be imposed federally. Governor George W. Bush actually proposed it while attempting to counter Senator John McCain's advocacy of campaign finance reform during the 2000 Republican presidential primaries.
Nothing much has happened since Bush reached the White House. But you never know.
How many teacher union members really want to go to the trouble of putting up their hands and asking to be allowed out of the political portion of their dues is perhaps questionable. But the idea certainly annoys the Teacher Trust, which is a good thing.
[V] Give Teeth To Anti-Strike Laws
Attempts to prohibit teacher strikes have been so ineffective that, paradoxically, strikes are at least as common in the forty states where they are illegal. But real penalties can be imposed: A Michigan law now docks teacher pay for every day on strike—and in Iowa, not just the public employer but any district resident can sue if unions break no-strike agreements ... so they don't.
In Middletown, New Jersey, in 2001, teachers refused to return to work during an illegal strike. Judge Clarkson Fisher began giving teachers individual hearings and jailing them in alphabetical order. The Middletown Township Education Association agreed to return to work soon after the Rs had been jailed. By an amazing coincidence, the union president had a last name that began with an S—Diane Swaim.
[VI] Support Independent Teachers Associations and Unions
Conservative and even some liberal pundits have generally gotten the message about the government school monopoly. But, significantly, they are for the most part blissfully unaware of the even more harmful oligopoly of teacher representation held by the NEA and AFT. If these two organizations do succeed in merging, choices for most education employees will sink to one (1).
A monopoly "management"—government—will negotiate with a monopoly labor force—the merged NEA/AFT.
It is not commonly known, however, that there are several independent education associations. In some states, they thrive. In Texas, Missouri, and Georgia, the membership of independent teacher organizations, which are not unions, exceed the membership of both the NEA and AFT affiliates in those states. The Association of Texas Professional Educators has a membership of over one hundred thousand. A national independent group, the Association of American Educators, helps organize education employees who don't have a large independent association in their states.
Further, there are actually local teacher unions that are unaffiliated with any state or national teacher unions. In Ohio, the Akron Education Association represents two thousand members. In Indiana, there are ten districts with independent local unions. In California’s Warner Springs, after the decertification of the CTA affiliate, the teachers' contract was negotiated by the fledgling Associated Warner Educators (AWE).
"Pitting attorneys against each other on opposite sides of the table has never been the best approach," says AWE president Doris Burke. "We're all in this together, so we believe it will serve everyone in the district better if we negotiate King Arthur-style around the table. AWE will always strive to put the needs of our students first. If we do that, there will be much less conflict in negotiations."
These local groups still generally oppose vouchers, support class size reduction, etc. Some may have education agendas barely distinguishable from NEA/AFT's. But in each case, the independent organizations are less militant, more professionally oriented, and a lot easier to get along with.
If you add the membership of all the independent professional associations and unions together, it comes to about 300,000—roughly one-tenth of NEA/AFTs membership. Nevertheless, the Teacher Trust is terrified that these organizations are gaining a foothold among government school teachers.
During the 1994 NEA Representative Assembly, Carolyn Hart of the Georgia Association of Educators, the NEA affiliate in that state, called on delegates to destroy the independents.
"Help us to eradicate—no, better yet, help us to stomp them out in nonbargaining states before their poison spreads," she shouted.
Sounds like they're doing something right!
What independent professional associations and local unions need, above all: a favorable legal environment in their state.
It is no accident, as Marxist polemicists used to say, that independent professional associations are strongest in Texas, Missouri, and Georgia—all states without compulsory monopoly bargaining or agency fees. Where a state government has already conceded compulsory monopoly bargaining, independents have great difficulty breaking in. Where a state considers introducing such a collective bargaining law, independents face a ruinous winner-take-all battle with the better-funded national unions in order to get control of each local bargaining unit.
That's why the Missouri State Teachers Association spent some $300,000 opposing a proposed collective bargaining law in Missouri—it was a mortal threat. And it's why Missouri state representative Steve McLuckie (D-Kansas City) proposed it—he was the Missouri NEA affiliate’s head organizer.
[VII] Apply Private-Sector-Type Restrictions to Union Encroachment on Management
The National Labor Relations Act, which governs the private sector, specifies "management prerogatives"—such as questions of product quality, marketing, and the like. These prerogatives have been violated in the government school industry—if for no other reason that that teachers, spouses of teachers, and even spouses of union officials often sit on school boards and vote on salary increases. Prohibitions on these obvious conflicts of interest could be extended and enforced in most states.
Another possible solution: forbid teacher unions, and all other groups that stand to benefit directly (textbook publishers?), from contributing to candidates in school board elections.
After all, U.S. corporations are banned from giving money to federal and state legislative candidates.
[VIII] End "Unfunded Mandates"
A common union-backed "school reform" tactic is the "unfunded mandate"—state legislation that end-runs local voters to impose duties and costs on school districts. "Massachusetts' 1993 reform law imposed teacher protections like restrictions on school board authority to hire and fire," grumped Peter Rogers, a disgruntled former chairman of the Nahant, Massachusetts, school board management study committee, in 1995.
[IX] End Bargained Taxpayer Subsidies To The Teacher Trust
As a rent-seeking parasite, the NEA is quite open-minded about who exactly it parasites upon. Normally, the victim is the government school system. But, quite often, the victim is you—the taxpayer—directly. The union bargains its way into your pocket in a number of ingenious ways— resisted feebly, if at all, by your nominal defender, the school board.
As the Education Policy Institute's Mike Lieberman repeatedly says (in effect), it takes one to tell one—only an ex-union operative, like Lieberman, can anticipate all these ingenious scams:
- Taxpayer/funding of retirement benefits for union staff. When teachers metastasize into union officials, the government school system often continues funding their pensions. Rhode Island general treasurer Nancy J. Mayer said in 1995 that legislation ending this practice was saving her state $13 million annually. The NEA affiliate suit challenging the Rhode Island law backfired: One local chapter began withholding dues to its parent in protest against union financing of the appeal.
- Release time with pay/or teachers to conduct union business. Similarly, taxpayers get to pay union activists to organize against them. Currently bargained into union contracts far in excess of private-sector equivalents, this could be restricted by state-level legislation.
- Government agencies' collection of PAC contributions. Many school districts agree to deduct union PAC contributions from payrolls. This cuts NEA fund-raising costs and requires individual teachers to take positive, sometimes difficult, steps to opt out.
[X] Provide Alternative Services, Benefits, And Discounts to Teachers
"I'm in it mainly for the magazine discounts," a New England teacher once replied when I asked him about his membership in his state's NEA affiliate. He seemed sincerely puzzled by the question. For many teachers, the NEA really is like the American Association of Retired Persons, a sort of cooperative that you join to get good deals on a vast range of purchases. (Rather unsportingly, the union struck Forbes magazine off its discount program after our first cover story about it.)
Or, in the memorable words of the Michigan Education Association lobbyist Al Short, quoted in Chapter 4, "You take members that don't believe in collective bargaining, that don't believe in our political ends, but you talk to them about MESSA; they'll stand in the middle of a highway to defend it;5
Breaking this tie requires school boards and states to interpose themselves between the teachers and the union, brandishing these services. And, of course, they have to figure out what the services are.
[XI] End Teacher Tenure
And what about Morris’s proposal to abolish teacher tenure? It strikes me as a fairly marginal reform—the mirror image of merit pay, dangerously close to being a tough-talk version of the panaceas that are epidemic in the government school industry. Not being able to fire bad teachers is, of course, unquestionably a problem for many schools. But abolishing tenure (or awarding merit pay) only alters one part of the complex of incentives and disincentives—rather like Soviet commissars deciding to shoot Russian peasants for drunkenness.
Some teachers might be stimulated, for a while. But the deeply dysfunctional system—particularly the "Unholy Alliance" of unions, administrators, and co-opted school boards—would remain the same.
Thus the state of Oregon actually did eliminate tenure for teachers in 1997, putting them on two-year renewable contracts. When the first two-year period expired, most districts simply rehired everyone. One exception was Portland, the largest school district in the state. Portland fired six teachers and one principal and non-renewed five teachers. (They have one more year to improve). Ten teachers and two administrators resigned. That total is still less than 1 percent of certified employees. Nevertheless, Richard Garrett, president of the Portland teacher union, denounced it as "barbaric."
"We give them a tool to be able to get some of the poor teachers out of the system, and they just don't use it," said Oregon senate majority leader Gene Derfler, author of the tenure elimination law.
Similarly in Georgia, Governor Roy Barnes made tenure elimination a centerpiece of his school reform package. But while Barnes was working his bills through the legislature, Georgia Association of Educators affiliates in Clayton and DeKalb counties were working with their school boards to get tenure protections written into local policy. Of the nine people on the Clayton school board, three were teachers.
"This is an attempt to see if the local boys will allow through the back door what he and the General Assembly have prevented through the front door," said Barnes spokesman Howard Mead.
Abolishing tenure without other counterbalancing reforms might well result in abuse by administrators, which the NEA would certainly use to discredit any non-Blob reforms at all.
Nevertheless—it's better than nothing.
[XII] Allow Merit Pay
This speaks for itself!
[XIII] Two, Three, Many School Choice Initiatives
(For those too old to remember, "Two, three many Vietnams!" was a slogan of the international Left during the Vietnam War.)
In many respects, the NEA resembles nothing so much as Leonid Brezhnev’s Soviet Union after the fall of South Vietnam in 1975. It appears everywhere triumphant. It’s political organizers, like the Red Army, are unmatched and undefeated. It even has its equivalent of Eurocommunism— the easier sell so ardently desired by many of its apologists in the gaijin media—the "New Unionism" And it has it’s Brezhnev doctrine, the equivalent of the rule propounded by Brezhnev when he ordered an invasion to suppress the reforming government of Czechoslovakia: Socialism, in the form of government monopoly schooling, cannot be rolled back anywhere.
But, like Brezhnev’s Soviet Union, the NEA has problems. It has shown it can defeat school choice—at least in the form of vouchers—anywhere. But it can afford to lose nowhere.
"If I was running a school choice referendum," the AFT's Al Shanker told Leslie Spencer and myself in 1993, "it would win"
(He declined to say how. But the Education Policy Institute’s Mike Lieberman helpfully suggested one essential: Buy off the incumbent teachers, perhaps with guaranteed benefits, just as British prime minister Margaret Thatcher bought off union member opposition to privatizing nationalized industries with stock options.)
And the danger is growing. There is always the danger that some new, virulent way of marketizing education may be discovered—for example tax deductibility or tax credits—that does not have the convenient but unspoken racial and other negatives that voucher programs seem to have.
The moral of this story: Like Brezhnev’s Soviet Union, not even the NEA can fight on all fronts at once. Increasingly, however, it must. Thus the National Taxpayers Union's Jim Davidson has a simple antidote for NEA opposition to his state-by-state antitax insurgencies: "We like to see a school choice initiative started. That distracts them."
It works. In 1990, the Oregon NEA affiliate defeated a state choice initiative. But a property tax-cap initiative passed. In 1993, when the Wisconsin NEA affiliate narrowly defeated Deborah Hawley, the school choice candidate for state school superintendent, after a bitter battle—this was the case in which the union allegedly ordered teachers to write antichoice postcards to acquaintances and to bring the postcards in to union headquarters, so that their compliance could be checked—Republicans took control of the state senate for the first time in two decades.
In 1998, the California Teachers Associations Herculean effort to defeat the paycheck protection initiative left the field open for software millionaire Ron Unz to get Proposition 227 passed. The measure effectively ended bilingual instruction in California. Students who had previously languished for years in bilingual classes were immersed in English for one year, to greatly increased test scores and higher academic achievement.
Every school choice initiative is a financial victory for the forces of government school liberation. The union always has to raise more than opponents, just to defend the status quo. The special levies that are required put pressure on the union and on its grassroots members' loyalty—often already pretty tenuous.
Hit them again!
[XIV] Explore Tax Credits, Tax Deductibility OF Education Costs
The free-market liberal coalition is split on vouchers. Some normally reliable members fear that any private school that accepted vouchers would rapidly be captured by the Blob, because of the inevitable accompanying regulation. However, it does seem to be generally agreed that making school fees tax-deductible, or even instituting a tax credit for money spent on K—12 education, would not give the government came quite as much chance to get its snout under the private school tent. Of course, tax deductions and credits would only be helpful to parents who pay taxes, not the poor. But perhaps some sort of aftermarket could be instituted whereby tax credits could be sold to those who could benefit from them. Explore!
[XV] Liberate The GED!
"The big difference between my kids today and kids when we went to school," a high school teacher friend once told me (making a tactful assumption about my age) "is how tired they are in the classroom. They're always falling asleep. It's because they all have evening jobs working in the malls. That's why they can afford these great cars. You can always tell the teachers' cars in the parking lot. Look for the clunkers."
Part-time work is a great American tradition and an example of American society's superior flexibility. It's how generations of American students have put themselves through college. Even today, labor force participation for American men aged sixteen through twenty-four is almost 70 percent, as opposed to just over 30 percent in France, although more Americans will attend college.
But for high school students? What we are seeing here is further support for the proposition advanced in Chapter 3: comprehensive high schools have never worked, and can never work, for everyone. But in these cases, the teenagers are not on the street corner (or worse). They are not incompetent. They want to work. But school is getting in the way.
Liberating these kids from high school earlier, with a sound basic education, should be a goal of public policy. And, indeed, it is possible for them to leave school and take the General Education Development (GED) certification. The problem, as we have seen, is that the GED is under a cloud. Employers do not regard it as a true equivalent.
The cloud over the GED should be removed. A reformed program certifying genuine basic education should be designed. Then students who want to get out of school and go to work would have a goal to aim for. (Free at last!)
The economy would benefit. What economists call the "opportunity cost" of keeping kids in the junior and high school—the value of the work they would otherwise have done—has been estimated to be possibly as much as $140 billion a year, about 1.4 percent of GDP. And the taxpayer would no longer be paying to keep these kids awake.
Remember, these kids can always top up their education with evening classes later. Part-time adult education is another example of the superior flexibility of American society—and, it should be acknowledged, the American education system.
Plus getting those great cars out of the school parking lot would make teachers feel a whole lot better.
[XVI] Hands Off Teacher Training and Accreditation!
"The teacher unions exert inordinate control in the certification process," says Professor Michael Podgursky of the University of Missouri. "They have extensive representation in the dominant Education School accrediting organization—NCATE, the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education—and also in the national teacher certification organization—NBPTS, the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. The unions are pushing to shift control of teacher training and licensing from state boards of education, which usually have lay members, to teacher-controlled 'professional boards,' patterned after medicine, dentistry. They've succeeded in about fifteen or sixteen states."
Some of these states are union strongholds—like California and Hawaii. But some are not—Wyoming and Texas do not require collective bargaining or agency fees; North Carolina, of course, prohibits both.
Moral: it's really very tricky, this Teacher Trust. If it can't get in through the door, by getting its rented politicians to vote mandatory monopoly bargaining, it tries to get in through the window, by controlling the teacher certification process.
"Not only is there power to be had but there's money to be made by controlling America's teacher accrediting system," says Sylvia Crutchfield of the Alexandria, Virginia—based Foundation Endowment.302
To an economist like Michael Podgursky, controlling the certification process means one thing: in economistspeak, barriers to entry. In other words, by reducing the supply of teachers able to enter the business, the union will be able to increase their price (salaries). "Combined with the extensive monopoly power the NEA already has through the collective bargaining process, this would really be an unprecedented concentration of economic power," he says.
The consumers in the K-12 education market (parents, taxpayers) have little choice, Podgursky notes: "Moreover, unlike medicine, they cannot sue for malpractice. So even if you think that these 'professional boards' work well in medicine (and most economists think they don't), its important to recognize that consumers in these markets still have the protection that comes from markets—choice—and tort law"
(Sue the Teacher Trust for bad education, increasing costs? Now there's a Full Moon proposal!)
Podgursky's recommendations: Keep the regulatory process in the hands of lay state boards. Don't insist on NCATE accreditation of teacher training programs. Don't subsidize National Board certification of teachers. Don't set up “indepen-dent”—hence easily captured—professional boards.
"Most of all," says Podgursky, "don't buy the idea that only education professionals are competent to make decisions about teacher training and licensing. These are the same professionals who gave us whole language learning!"
As usual, the NEA has contrived to get taxpayers to fund some of its attempts to restrict teacher supply—federal money has gone to the NBPTS. Eliminate this subsidy.
Education is an industry, not a religion. Teachers need to be trained, not ordained by some higher power. Training is a production process that could easily be done by private firms—Podgursky suggests the tutoring franchise operation Sylvan Learning Systems Inc. (NASDAQ symbol SLVN)! Neither the government nor the union should be involved in production process decisions—any more than they are in any other industry.
[XVII] Institute Alternative Teacher Certification
Not only should prospective barriers to entry into teaching be stopped— the current barriers should be relaxed. Why should former Vice President Al Gore teach journalism at Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism, when he can't teach a high school English composition class without a credential and a year of student teaching?
Paradoxically, national politicians expound on the necessity of having "qualified" and "certified" teachers in government schools. Then they send their own children to Washington, D.C., private schools like Saint Albans or Sidwell Friends. These do indeed have instructional staff with great skills and varied experiences—but they do not require their staff to hold a teaching credential.
More than forty states have alternative teacher certification programs. Though they differ greatly, none of them requires a degree in education from a teacher college. They target mid-career professionals—people with life experiences in business or the military—who receive accelerated training in areas such as classroom management and lesson planning. They perform student teaching and are paired with a mentor while they get their feet wet. These programs also draw a disproportionate number of males and minorities into an overwhelmingly white female teaching force.
"There are a lot of people who would make excellent teachers but are discouraged by the bureaucracy of the certification process," says Arthur Moore, a graduate of the Troops to Teachers program who began teaching fourth grade in Baltimore after twenty-one years in the Army.
These teachers reportedly excel in the classroom. Graduates of the seven-week Massachusetts Institute for New Teachers, designed for mid-career transfers, received higher ratings from their principals than those who became teachers through the traditional route. In New York City, graduates from the alternative program passed a licensure exam at a much higher rate than graduates of the biggest education school in the state.
"The data is unequivocal," say researchers Dr.Vicky Schreiber Dill and Delia Stafford-Johnson."In 1998-1999, 24,000 new teachers have entered teaching through alternative certification routes: in total, nationwide, since about 1985, about 125,000 individuals have been added alternatively. Unlike graduates of traditional routes, these individuals share characteristics that make them a superior choice to teach all children, especially children at risk."
Final word to Professor Podgursky:
The best way to check the power of the unions and the Ed Schools is—create competition. Let school districts make their own choices as to whom to hire. Districts can be held accountable through monitoring—and through parental choice. If Ed schools train nitwits, schools hire them, and unions protect their jobs, then empower parents to avoid them. Ultimately, the best protection from incompetent teachers is—parental choice. [Emphases added]
[XVIII] Liberate Charter Schools
It should be clear that I am generally well disposed toward the charter school movement, as discussed in Chapter 11. But I have more moderate expectations of charter schools than many of their supporters, because I view charter schools as an attempt to import market features into a fundamentally socialist system—a form of American perestroika—and therefore inevitably limited, probably transitional.
Charter schools are entering their first period of backlash. They should be defended against it. Of course, charter schools that do not serve students well should be closed. Of course, administrators who misuse funds should be fired and indicted. But we don't close down a whole chain of supermarkets because one grocery manager was stealing lettuce. Generally speaking, whatever success charter schools have is directly related to the amount of freedom they have to pursue their own visions. Their ultimate responsibility is, and should be, to the people who patronize them, not to school boards, teacher unions, or state agencies.
But in the last analysis, the charter school is, to paraphrase the first American to put foot on the moon, a small step toward market education—a giant step for the American government school system.
[XIX] Break Up Large School Districts
Funny thing: class-size reduction is at the top of the unions' education reform list. Ask a union official whether class size should be reduced (certain answer :YES!). Then ask if school size should be reduced (likely answer: yes.)
Then ask if school district size should be reduced.
(Pause . . .)
Your victim realizes that he has been led into a trap.
The reform wave of the 1960s left the government school system with monstrously large school districts. They are often in poor urban areas, which are home to the worst problems in education. Unions don't control the size of school districts directly, but they do resist efforts to break up large ones. Why?
Because its a lot easier for union officials to organize, administer, and oversee one local union of eight thousand teachers than to have eighty local unions with one hundred teachers each. Similarly, the Roman emperor Caligula once remarked that he wished the Roman people had only one neck, so he could cut it through.
But Caligula, of course, was mad.
Large districts are nicer for administrators too. The larger the district, the larger the bureaucracy and the higher the career ladder.
The American government school system suffers from penalties of scale. Through the principle of bureaucratic bloat know as Parkinson's Law, the larger a school district gets, the more resources tend to get diverted to secondary or even nonessential activities.
The average American public school district has six schools and approximately 3,600 students—for an average school size of 600 students. By contrast, the Los Angeles Unified School District averages 1,039 students per school. In Florida, Dade County averages 1,059, and Broward County averages 1,133.
The differences are even more jarring if you look at individual states. The entire state of North Dakota enrolled about 120,000 students in 1996. If all those students were placed in one district, it would rank only nineteenth in the nation in size. But North Dakota doesn't have one district, it has 236.
The large-district effect is disproportionately hard on minorities. The average American school district has an enrollment of 35.8 percent ethnic and racial minorities. But of the twenty-five largest districts, twenty-two have a higher percentage of minorities. In some districts the ratios are extreme: Houston, 88.9 percent minority; Los Angeles and Dallas, 89 percent; Chicago, 89.5 percent; Detroit, 94.8 percent.
Minority students in these large urban districts bear a double burden. They are stuck in school districts that do not have the tax base of surrounding suburban districts. And the available funding gets diverted to areas unrelated to the district’s primary mission—educating students. Suburban schools may spend more per pupil. But how many, like Philadelphia, have two bus attendants, three non-teaching assistants, four noontime aides, and nine custodians for every school?
Breaking up large school districts will increase the relative influence of parents and the community on the district's actions. And in the process, it will lessen the power of the unions in the process.
[XX] Privatize School Services
Teacher unions fight privatization of any school district service in order to maintain solidarity. But when private companies can perform a district function more efficiently and at less cost, the teacher unions are maintaining solidarity at the expense of their own members. Money that is being overspent on support services could be available to help teachers with text books, supplies—even salaries.
The Mesa School District in Arizona contracts out its transportation and food services. "We're in the business of education," said Chuck Essigs, Mesa schools assistant superintendent of business services. "Anything we can do to be more efficient in support areas puts more money into the classroom."
The Detroit Public Schools have discovered the same thing. "Our core competence is education," said district chief information officer Thomas Diggs. "It's not food service. Its not transportation. It's not information technology."
Some companies, like Standard and Poor's and School Match by Public Priority Systems Inc., even evaluate school systems to see if they are spending their money wisely—a commonplace service in the business world, but almost unheard of in public education.
Private enterprise is already heavily involved in the public schools. It provides textbooks, curriculum, and tests. But it is now entering the world of classroom instruction. The OPIS company in New England, an affiliate of the U.K. firm Select Appointments PLC, and Kelly Services Inc. nationwide, now contract with school districts to provide substitute teachers. Kelly says it already has two hundred districts signed up, mostly in the South and Midwest. In Denver, Aspen Learning Systems, a subsidiary of financier Michael Milkens Knowledge Universe company, opened Colorado's first privately run reading center. The company has a nine-week program that emphasizes heavy phonics. In the first quarter of 1999, students gained an average of two years and four months in reading ability.
The federal government provides school districts all across the country with additional funds through the Title I program to help their neediest students. Some districts, like Chicago, used Title I money to hire Success Labs, Inc. to help teach kids how to read. The school district in Pasadena, Texas, uses Sylvan, while Los Angeles and New York City use Kaplan, Inc. for the same purpose.
Ironically, perhaps the most prominent case of education industry privatization is Bob Chanin. Originally a union employee, he is now a partner in the Washington, D.Q, labor law firm Bredhoffand Kaiser, but still NEA general counsel and the union’s gray eminence.
[XXI] Promote Union Democracy
Or: Repeal the Iron Law of Oligarchy. Congress has long been concerned about the capture of labor unions by their permanent officials. In 1959, it passed the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act (the "Landrum-Griffin Act"), which regulated union affairs and finances, including the requirement of internal free speech and regular secret elections. Extend Landrum-Griffin-type rights to the Teacher Trust, federally and/or state by state. (Carefully, because we don't want to infect states with monopoly bargaining.)
For many years, the teacher unions have had a stranglehold on their internal communications. The only place to get news about the union was the union itself. But the Internet has changed all that. It enables previously isolated individuals to communicate with each other. The Internet bypasses union filters, and empowers the vast majority of union members who don't listen to what their union tells them, and who don't believe what they do hear.
Ironically, the Teacher Trust is dropping millions of dollars into cyber-technology, using the Internet to hook up its activists all over the country. But there is reason to think that grassroots union members will no more pay attention to the unions' electronic messages than to the printed messages they already get. And once they get a horizontal flow of information, instead of the current vertical flow, they will find more and more opportunities to cooperate with other dissident teachers on internal union issues.
The Teacher Trust is not monolithic. There are many contrary voices within NEA and AFT. But they are disjointed, unorganized, and easily drowned out by the zealots. If the contrary voices can form a critical mass, they may eventually form opposition factions, with competing interests that run the gamut from A to, oh, say G or H, instead of the current A to B. The unions may develop true democracy.
It would be helpful, of course, to give these contrary voices something to talk about. Legislation can help provide information. Establish Teachers' Right to Know. Improve current labor union reporting laws so that members can easily find out union officials' pay and benefits. Make notification of Beck/Abood Rights mandatory, so that teachers know they can opt out of paying the political portion of their fees. Make sure teachers know that they can't be forced to join the union. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Marquez vs. Screen Actors that everyone knows employees don't have to join a union, even if the contract says they do. But (not for the first time) maybe the Supreme Court was wrong.
[XXII] Empower Parents Through Choice
Whatever method of school choice is devised, it is essential that parents become the ultimate arbiters of their child's educational future. If government transfer payments are necessary, they must follow the child and its parents should decide where it goes.
Parents need information. The government school system controls the information flow, and it tries to create a rosy impression. Good news is trumpeted, bad news spun, even—perhaps especially—in report cards. Frequently, it is only when students start college that their true level of preparedness becomes apparent. Parents who work at staying informed are corralled, not least through Blob-captured Parent Teacher Associations.
Grassroots consumer organizations are emerging as an alternative channel. For example, the Education Consumers Clearing House, www. education-consumers.corn, is a paid subscription service for parents, policy-makers, and taxpayers.
[XXIII] Empower Teachers Through True Professionalism, or, Give Teachers A Stake
In poll after poll, teachers say they want to be treated like professionals. Who can blame them? Despite the best efforts of their unions, teachers are not mine workers or ditch diggers.
The aspect of professionalism that has most interested the Teacher Trust is, as we have seen, the ability of some professions to restrict entry into their field. But in the real world, being a professional is high-risk as well as high-reward. Educators who compared their measly salaries with those of computer programmers and web designers in Silicon Valley haven't said much after the high-tech bust, when many of those folks lost their jobs.
By continuing to build castles to protect their members from risks and consequences, teacher unions are also building prisons—confining their members to being little more than hourly wage-earners.
A better model than "professional" might be "entrepreneur. "Why can't teachers run their own schools? Why can't they receive stock options instead of just step increases on the salary schedule? Under a completely open system, teachers could be the movers and shakers, at least as much as doctors in hospitals or in private practice. Teachers could seek out—or perhaps even hire—the best support and administrative staff available. Educator/entrepreneurs would not tolerate the mismanagement and bureaucracy if it was their money.
There's a lot of money in the education business. Remember, average per-pupil spending is currently over $7,000 a year. Every extra child that a teacher can take in her class, every extra child that she can help graduate a year early, is $7,000 that could go to her. She needs a system that permits her to claim her reward.
Think about it.
(Actually, I think this "profession" stuff is overblown. Journalism is not a "profession." It’s a trade. Anyone can start writing, there is no code of conduct or particularly vital common body of skills that anyone—-apart possibly from journalism schools—can see. But generally, reward depends on individual effort, and some individuals do very well, which is stimulating. It's fan. I recommend it.)
[XXIV] Abolish THE U.S. Department OF Education
The NEA wanted this federal toehold. Chop it off.