I have got to give Randi Weingarten a lot of credit. Every time I write about the president of the American Federation of Teachers and her relentless blather, I think that she cannot possibly sink any lower; yet she always manages to dig herself a deeper hole.
Earlier this month, Weingarten penned “Kids Do Better In Schools With Teachers Unions,” an opinion piece for the Daily Beast, in which she claims to make “a factual case” for all the good that teachers’ unions do for children.
For starters, citing work by some left-wing think tankers, she asserts that teachers’ unions are associated with higher student achievement, especially for Hispanic and black children.
Wrong! The teachers union’s essence is its collective bargaining agreement (CBA), which, as policy experts Rick Hess and Martin West write, is a vestige of the industrial economic model that prevailed in the 1950s when “assembly-line workers and low-level managers were valued less for their knowledge or technical skills than for their longevity and willingness to serve loyally as a cog in a top-down enterprise.” While CBAs may be the cornerstone of the unions’ raison d’être, these agreements have been a disaster for students.
“The Long-run Effects of Teacher Collective Bargaining,” a 2017 study by researchers Michael Lovenheim and Alexander Willen, found that, among males, exposure to a duty-to-bargain law in the first 10 years after passage depresses students’ future annual earnings by $2,134 (3.93 percent), decreases weekly hours worked by 0.42, and reduces employment and labor force participation. The negative effect of CBAs is particularly pronounced among black and Hispanic males. In these two subgroups, annual earnings decline by $3,246 (9.43 percent) and at the same time, employment and labor force participation are reduced.
The Lovenheim-Willen study was not the first to detail CBA’s harm to students. In 2007, Stanford professor Terry Moe reported that collective bargaining appears to have a strongly negative impact in larger school districts.
Caroline Hoxby, also a professor at Stanford, made a three-minute video in 2009 in which she explains in plain language how CBAs stifle any management flexibility in determining the best slot for a teacher at a given school, as well as denying schools the opportunity to get rid of underperformers.
Weingarten then veers off to the “teacher pay penalty.” This fairy tale concerns itself with “the gap between teachers’ compensation and their non-teacher college-educated counterparts that hit a high of 23.5% in 2021.”
Not even close to true. As Just Facts reports, U.S. school teachers in the 2020–21 school year made $65,090 in salary, and received another $33,048 in benefits (health insurance, paid leave, and pensions) for $98,138 in total compensation.
Also, importantly, full-time public school teachers work an average of 1,490 hours per year. This includes time spent on lesson preparation, test construction, grading, providing extra help to students, coaching, and other activities, while their counterparts in private industry work an average of 2,045 hours per year, or about 37 percent more than public school teachers. All in all, with various perks included, a teacher makes, on average, $68.85 an hour, whereas a private-sector worker makes about $36 per hour.
Then the not-so-amazing Randi has the unmitigated chutzpah to spit out, “After the onset of the pandemic, teachers worked harder than ever.”
The fact is that teachers worked far fewer hours after the schools shut down for COVID. The shutdowns, largely orchestrated by the teachers’ unions, had a devastating effect on children—both academically and socially—but all the while teachers collected a full paycheck, maintained their health insurance, and padded their retirement accounts.
In Los Angeles, the union contract stipulates that the professional workday for a full-time regular employee “requires no fewer than eight hours of on-site and off-site work.” Yet during the time of the COVID shutdown then United Teachers of Los Angeles boss Alex Caputo-Pearl engineered a deal that required teachers to provide instruction and student support for just four hours per day and also to “host three office hours for students” every week. So instead of a 40-hour work week, teachers in L.A. only had to be available for 23 hours. Additionally, teachers could create their own work schedules “and were not required to teach classes using live video conferencing platforms.”
Continuing her paean to teacher unionism, Weingarten defends tenure by claiming that “teachers earn tenure by demonstrating competence over a period of up to three years or longer. I have forcefully and consistently argued that tenure is a guarantee of fairness and due process, not an excuse for managers not to manage, not a cloak for incompetence and not a job for life. If someone cannot teach, after they have been prepared and supported, they should not be in our profession. Due process provides a fair and efficient procedure for this.”
Due process? Hardly. In fact, it’s not even really “tenure.” What teachers achieve after a few years on the job is “permanent status.” Think about it. Other than the Supreme Court justices, who else in the world has a permanent job? Do you? Of course not, and for good reason. If you do well, you keep your job; if you don’t perform well, you lose your job. Why do we have this awful law on the books for people who are in charge of our most precious commodity—our children?
In fact, during the Vergara trial in California, it was revealed that just 2.2 of the state’s 300,000 teachers (0.0008 percent) were dismissed for unprofessional conduct or unsatisfactory performance in any given year. This compares to 8 percent of employees in the private sector being dismissed annually for cause. Applying the 8 percent number to teachers, that means about 24,000 bottom-performing teachers per year should be let go.
Then Weingarten gets political, positing that “the culture wars incited by politicians trying to further their careers show no signs of abating. Extremists have made disgusting claims that teachers are grooming and indoctrinating students. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has burnished his far-right credentials by pushing legislation like the so-called ‘Don’t Say Gay’ law and the ‘Stop WOKE Act.’”
No, not “disgusting claims” at all. More accurately, it’s a “disgusting reality” In fact, there are teachers who do indeed “groom and indoctrinate.” To be sure, they are not in the majority, but due to the fact that it is just about impossible to fire a guilty party, Weingarten is, in effect, aiding and abetting the groomers and the indoctrinators.
Lastly, Weingarten denigrates Philip K. Howard’s new book, Not Accountable – Rethinking the Constitutionality of Public Employee Unions. She accuses Howard of deploying “a barrage of empty right-wing rhetoric to claim unions use ‘brutal’ tactics to achieve their ‘demands’ and that they ‘enforce a culture of entitlement’ in which ‘employees are ostracized if they strive to do more than a bare minimum.’ Tell that to teachers as they arrive at school early to give students extra help or head to their second job after the school day ends.”
Weingarten is dead wrong yet again, while Howard is spot on. I will delve into Howard’s provocative ideas in a future article.