Are Teacher Unions Good for Our Kids?


If we want to avoid all the politics, we could try to approach the question more objectively and apply the scientific method to it and run experiments and collect data. This process would require establishing an experiment with a control group and an experimental group. The two groups would be identical in every conceivable way except one group would have the teachers belonging to a union and the other group would not. Data would be collected, presumably by testing the children, and compared. This data would be peer reviewed and, ideally, the peers could rerun the experiments and attempt to duplicate the results.
 
Of course, this is never going to happen. We cannot establish laboratory conditions in the real world. Now, I know there are quite a few studies that show students benefit when their teachers have a union. There are also studies out there that show a negative correlation between unions and student achievement. I'm sure the better studies have done their best to isolate unionization as a factor but the bottom line is that none of these studies were done in anything close to a laboratory environment. Couple this with the fact that a lot of studies are carried out by individuals and organizations with political biases we soon realize that science gets us about as far as a good argument at Thanksgiving except that it's a lot more boring.
 
So are teacher unions good for our kids? Since there's no definitive answer, I think it's a bad question to ask. Instead, I'd like to pose an easier question to answer:
 
"Is it possible to have a world class education system with unionized teachers?"
 
We need only look in our own backyards for the answer. We have a world class education system here in Massachusetts. Monday's New York Times had a good read about the success Massachusetts has been having with its students:
 
"If Massachusetts were a country, its eighth graders would rank second in the world in science, behind only Singapore, according to Timss — the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, which surveys knowledge and skills of fourth and eighth graders around the world. (The most recent version, in 2011, tested more than 600,000 students in 63 nations.)
 
Massachusetts eighth graders also did well in mathematics, coming in sixth, behind Korea, Singapore, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Japan. The United States as a whole came in 10th in science and 9th in math, with scores that were above the international average."
 
Now, it so happens that Massachusetts' public teachers are very heavily unionized. So the answer our question then is "yes" it is, in fact, possible to build a world class education system with unionized teachers. And the answer is yes no matter how you may feel about teacher unions. It's impossible to answer this question in the negative.
 
But if this is so, why are teachers and their unions taking it on the chin for being impediments to our children's educational success? I guess that's another intriguing question that, for now, I'll let you to take up on Thanksgiving Day with your relatives.

Comments