Andy Matthews

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.


As I mentioned a while back, I spent this past Christmas in rural Massachusetts, which is where I grew up and where most of my family still lives.

That trip offered a real change of pace from my typical day-to-day life and reminded me of one of my favorite things about America: that the customs, climate and experiences you’ll find in one part of the country can differ so vastly from what you’ll get in another. As if to drill the point home, I was out driving one morning in the small town where my parents live and I came within a few feet of running over an entire rafter of wild turkeys. That’s never happened to me in Las Vegas.

Still, there are some constants, and I was reminded of one of them on the morning of Dec. 27. As I was drinking my coffee, my dad handed me a copy of the local newspaper, The New Bedford Standard-Times, a paper for which, incidentally, I used to write sports articles as a teenager. In particular, he told me to check out the lead story on the front page. The headline: “New Bedford teachers union calls for United Way boycott.” Somehow, he knew I’d be intrigued.

Now, before I get to the teachers union’s vendetta, let’s have a little back story. New Bedford High School has been performing miserably for years, so much so that it could face a takeover from the state in the near future. New Bedford’s superintendent of schools, Dr. Pia Durkin, has proposed a plan to turn things around. That plan includes replacing 50 percent of the teaching staff — a requirement that state officials, and a firm they’ve retained to track the progress of reform efforts, say stands above all other factors as a predictor of success. Not surprisingly, the plan has generated some controversy.

That brings us to Michelle Neves Hantman, the president of the United Way of Greater New Bedford. She became a character in this story when she put her name on a petition expressing a vote of confidence in Dr. Durkin.

And that brings us to the teachers union, which, naturally hostile to Dr. Durkin’s plan (as teachers unions tend to be toward anything suggesting a whiff of accountability), called for a boycott of Dr. Durkin’s supporters and their organizations — including the local chapter of the United Way.

My point is not to endorse the Durkin plan. Whether a 50 percent teacher turnover in New Bedford is a good idea, or whether it goes too far — or not far enough — is not something I’m in a position to judge, given my lack of expertise on the various factors at play locally. But at least Dr. Durkin has a plan to bring accountability to her school system, which obviously needs it.

Union leaders also have a plan — threaten anyone who dares to support an idea with which the union disagrees.

That’s the constant.

North, South, East or West — whether you drink soda or pop, whether you eat hoagies, subs or grinders, and whether you spent this past holiday season under a palm tree at the beach or up to your waist in snow — you can always count on America’s public-sector unions to try to bully their way to their desired ends.

We’ve certainly seen it here in Nevada, haven’t we?

For decades, the Nevada State Education Association has been the most dominant force on education policy in Carson City. From increasing spending to protecting ineffective teachers to promoting class-size reduction, no group has influenced Nevada’s education policy more than the teachers union.

The results have been entirely predictable. Over the past 50 years, Nevada nearly tripled education spending, while our graduation rate sank to worst in the nation. It is extremely difficult to fire ineffective teachers and administrators. Unlike 21 other states, Nevada lacks any school-choice options for parents.

So instead of accepting responsibility and apologizing to the tens of thousands of children they’ve hurt, what do union officials do? Put a margin-tax initiative on the ballot that’s so destructive that even the AFL-CIO doesn’t want any part of it.

And to what end? So we can pay the same teachers and administrators more to do the same job? And pay them more based not on their ability, but on their longevity and degrees, of course.

What a joke.

There is another constant here. NPRI will continue to promote the solution that is improving the lives of children around the country: school choice.

Until next time,

Andy Matthews
NPRI President

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