Despite a stated interest in professionalism and student achievement, American teacher unions have been unable or unwilling to wean themselves from dependence on government privilege, much of it exclusive. And as a result, their existence and welfare as an organization take precedence over serving their clients, i.e., educating students.
This strikes some as the opposite of a professional attitude.
While negotiating a contract, even as part of a collaborative joint committee, unionized teachers rarely compromise their interests. And allowing teachers a role in school governance may lead to greater union power, but it can relegate children to a priority below that of protecting the teachers’ special interests.
In fact, both the old “industrial” model of teachers unions and the new “professional” model seek to minimize not only the competition faced by public schools but also competition from other systems of teacher representation. Both types of competition are seen as threats to the unions’ special interests — regardless of any benefit to education itself.
The National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers have consistently lobbied elected officials against implementation of such promising reforms as charter schools, vouchers and education tax credits. They have done so, it is argued, to secure a monopoly on government spending on education.
Whatever, if professional unions can only maintain their power at the expense of classroom learning, they are outside any definition of teacher professionalism.
In his work “The Use of Knowledge,” Friedrich Hayek is convincing that wisdom is most likely dispersed among separate individuals rather than collected in totality in any single person or group. Even if reform-minded unionists have the best intentions of providing educational services in an effective manner, they are unlikely to have the requisite knowledge to make rational economic calculations.
Indeed, the absence of market signals to make those calculations is a consequence of public education’s protection from competition. What a teacher proposes and delivers may not be what students want or need. Worse, increasing teacher involvement in management decisions may lead to an even more-regulated and bureaucratized school system, thus an all-the-more inefficient one.
For in the end what determines the worth of professionalism is consumer satisfaction. Merely changing the regulations that govern collective bargaining does not change a systemic fact: Teachers and bureaucrats are making decisions for parents and students rather than parents and students deciding their own fates.
Again, this is due to a union insistence on minimizing all competition — that and an industry-wide arrogance assuming those in authority possess more and superior knowledge.
Just as teachers can only be truly professional by trusting their school’s patrons to choose the services that best fit their preferences and standards, union leaders would be wise to cease making themselves or even their member-teachers the top priority.