Labor Pains: Because Being in a Union can be Painful

Paying Good Teachers Well

At first blush, examination of a new survey by the Center on Reinventing Public Education at the University of Washington doesn’t bode well for the idea of paying teachers according to how their students perform: 60 percent of Washington State public school teachers “strongly oppose” merit pay, and another 22 percent “somewhat oppose it.”

Among the study’s findings, however, was this interesting result: “to the degree that teachers have confidence in their principal, they appear more willing to support merit pay.” It’s simple: Trustworthy principals can be relied upon to make fair assessments of who is and who isn’t stepping up to give kids the education they need.

And it’s lack of trust in school administrators that teachers unions cite when defending laws that keep principals’ hands tied on critical personnel issues like hiring, firing, and compensation.

Improve the quality of principals, then, and you’ll see more teachers open to merit pay (which will in turn improve teacher quality). The only sticking point is that the very same union-supported policies (tenure, seniority-based pay) that insulate teachers from bad administrators also protect those bad administrators from getting fired! Click here for an unfortunate story along these lines.

It’s true that there are many bad administrators in schools. The teachers unions will tell you that the solution is to strip them of managerial discretion in determining teachers’ salaries and to make it practically impossible to fire teachers, even the bad ones. That kind of stalemate is no solution at all.

We’ve yet to hear of a union leader proposing that it might be better to drop these ridiculous “protections” (which only advance the interests of bad teachers and bad administrators, never schoolkids) and let school districts start acting like every other workplace in the country.

Categories: Teachers Unions