Unions protect the teachers, not the students

Patrick Gibbons

Unions exist to protect the interest of their members, and often that means direct confrontations with those who ultimately employ them. The teacher unions are no different. Thus, a recently highlighted study by the Citizens Commission on Civil Rights pointed a finger at the teacher unions for working to prevent meaningful education reform.

The Wall Street Journal has spotlighted some additional instances of unions working to protect themselves at everyone else’s expense.

KIPP Academy, notes the Journal, operates public charter schools in 19 different states. The schools focus on low-income kids, mostly minority students in troubled neighborhoods. Despite the apparent disadvantages faced by such students, KIPP shows a record of success. Ujima Village Academy in Baltimore has a student population that is 98 percent black with 84 percent of students qualifying for free or reduced lunches. Yet, since its founding in 2002, it has met or exceeded state standards.

Unfortunately for Ujima Village, state law requires that charter schools hire union teachers. Already Ujima Village pays its teachers 18 percent above union pay scale to attract teachers who will work longer, and more school days (including some weekends and three extra weeks in the summer). That’s not enough for the union, however, which demanded pay be increased 33 percent above the schedule. This forced the school to lay off some teachers (including specialists for troubled kids), reduce hours and shorten the school year.

The Journal also highlights a case in New York City where a few public schools used funds donated by parents to hire non-union teacher aides at a cost of $12-15 an hour. The teacher union is working to put a stop to this practice on the grounds, said a United Federation of Teacher spokesman, “It’s hurting our union members.” Union-member teacher aides cost $23 an hour plus benefits in New York City, but are, according to the local schools, less experienced and less qualified than the non-union teacher aides they hired. Forcing the schools to use money voluntarily donated to them by concerned parents to hire union workers means the school would get fewer employees who are also less experienced. How, exactly, does that help students?

These are not isolated examples. Many have arisen all around the country. Just remember: The teacher union exists to protect the interest of its members – as perceived by the union bosses. Sometimes those bosses’ efforts come at the expense of the students – the very individuals the teachers are employed to help.