We are not the 16 percent!

Every week, NPRI President Andy Matthews writes a column for NPRI's week-in-review email. If you are not getting our emails, which contain our latest commentaries and news stories, you can sign up here to receive them. Just enter your email in the box on the top right.

For today's week-in-review email, Andy asks, "Do you belong to the government?".

Would you say no to a 16 percent pay raise?

Better yet, would you respond to being offered a 16 percent raise with hurt feelings, righteous indignation and an insistence that such an insulting offer represented an affront to the cause of social justice? If you were a teacher-union boss in the City of Chicago, you would.

The spectacle now unfolding in the Windy City is only the latest example of a teacher union publicly debasing itself, though to be sure, it's a particularly striking one. Despite already being among the highest-paid teachers in the country (average salary: $76,000, plus benefits), members of the Chicago Teachers Union have responded to the board of education's offer of a 16 percent raise over four years by ... going on strike.

To those of us living in the real world - you know, the one beset by ongoing economic and financial strife, in which most folks feel lucky even to have a job - this is absolutely nuts. But in the world of the teacher unions, it makes perfect sense to demand that already-strapped taxpayers cough up ever-exorbitant sums of money to keep the party going. To say that a 16 percent raise wasn't enough is to miss the point. To the unions, it's never enough.

It's important to note, however, that this strike isn't solely about money, or even primarily so. What's really sticking in the union's craw is a recently adopted system of teacher evaluation, which union leaders fear may lead to the dismissal of ineffective teachers (re: dues-payers). Nothing so horrifies a union boss as the idea of accountability for performance.

And indeed, in that regard, what's happening in Chicago is hardly anomalous. NPRI's Geoff Lawrence penned a commentary this week describing how a union-backed organization staged a protest at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., to voice outrage over the screening of a movie called Won't Back Down. The movie, Geoff writes, "details the struggle of dedicated parents to transform a failing public school using 'parent-trigger' laws" which "allow parents to force major changes at a single school if more than 50 percent of the schools' parents sign a petition urging the change." Not surprisingly, teacher unions have fought tooth-and-nail against these accountability-enhancing parent-trigger laws all across the country.

It's not just with parents that teacher unions want to duck responsibility, either. As we've seen here in Nevada, the union bosses don't even want to be held accountable to their own members. You may recall a recent effort here at NPRI to inform Clark County teachers of their right to opt-out of the teacher union if they chose to do so. Even more memorable was the hysterical response our effort drew from the union brass.

Exasperating as this all may be, those of us who champion serious education reforms ought to be welcoming these public displays of union fatuity.

For decades, as union bosses have resisted meaningful changes to the status quo while clamoring for higher expenditures on public education, they've insisted that their sole motivation has been a concern for "the children." It is, of course, a preposterous claim, especially in light of union resistance to accountability measures - since the evidence shows clearly that teacher quality is the single most important school-controlled factor in student achievement.

So it's nice to see the unions discredit themselves more thoroughly and effectively than any white paper or policy analysis ever could.

In the end, all of their antics will simply reinforce, in the public eye, an incontrovertible truth: We can placate the teacher unions, or we can improve education for children. We cannot do both.

Thanks for reading, and have a great weekend.

Andy Matthews
NPRI President

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