Education: A Model for Health Care?

I’m back from vacation, and ready to get back to blogging.

This morning’s Wall Street Journal has an interesting editorial on how unions serve the interests of teachers at the expense of students:

The Ujima Village Academy is one of the best public schools in Baltimore and all of Maryland. Students at the charter middle school are primarily low-income minorities; 98% are black and 84% qualify for free or reduced-price school meals. Yet Ujima Village students regularly outperform the top-flight suburban schools on state tests. In 2006, 2007 and 2008, Ujima Village students earned the highest eighth-grade math scores in Maryland. Started in 2002, the school has met or exceeded state academic standards every year—a rarity in a city that boasts one of the lowest-performing school districts in the country….

However, Maryland’s charter law requires teachers to be part of the union. And the Baltimore Teachers Union is demanding that the charter school pay its teachers 33% more than other city teachers, an amount that the school says it can’t afford. Ujima Village teachers are already paid 18% above the union salary scale, reflecting the extra hours they work. To meet the union demands, the school recently told the Baltimore Sun that it has staggered staff starting times, shortened the school day, canceled Saturday classes and laid off staffers who worked with struggling students. For teachers unions, this outcome is a victory; how it affects the quality of public education in Baltimore is beside the point.

Sadly, this isn’t unusual.  In fact, I think it’s possible to generalize the point in several ways.

  1. The situation isn’t unique to education.  This is what unions do—promote the short-term interests of their members over the interests of consumers, the public, their industry, and even their members’ own long-term interests.  I saw close-up how unions destroyed the steel industry in Pittsburgh.  “Those jobs are goin’, boys, and they ain’t comin’ back”—thanks to the unions, which made them uncompetitive.  The unions are now destroying the auto industry.  It’s no accident that we have the best system of higher education in the world but one of the worst systems of K-12 in any developed country.  Higher education isn’t unionized.
  2. Unions, in particular, harm nonunion workers.  My grandfather, a staunch Republican, hated FDR.  A wealthy industrialist, you conjecture?  No.  He was a nonunion plumber.  The Wagner Act made his life a harder.  Just so, the WSJ article talks about teaching assistants in New York.  The union demands that nonunion workers with graduate degrees be fired and replaced with union workers without college degrees.
  3. As some commenters on the WSJ article observe, public education is likely to serve as a model for government-controlled health care.  Imagine your local hospital having all the problems of your local public schools!

One thought on “Education: A Model for Health Care?

  1. Do you think that unions make things harder for non-union workers? Texas is a right to work state. So is Mississipi. A woman I know is a teacher there. She didn’t want to join a union, but with union membership you get legal representation if there is any “problem.” The meaning is clear: there will be a problem if you don’t join. And what is more inflammatory than a student saying that perhaps a teacher molested her? Said something inappropriate? Even when you are shown to be blameless, you still have your legal bills.

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