Magazine article The American Enterprise

How Unions Hurt Schools

Magazine article The American Enterprise

How Unions Hurt Schools

Article excerpt

Quick: Who are the arch enemies of effective U.S. school reform? Try, sadly enough, the National Education Association (NEA) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the two national teachers' unions. A recent conference sponsored by the Education Policy Institute outlined some of the ways these two organizations have blocked sensible change.

David Kirkpatrick, former president of the NEA's Pennsylvania state affiliate, warned that the unions often act against the best interests of their own members. In San Francisco, for instance, union officials filed a grievance against a charter school which proposed to pay union members up to $3,600 a year more than they would earn in a standard public school. The reason: Union members negotiated the contract without getting union approval.

Kirkpatrick also recalled the fate of calculus teacher Jaime Escalante, whose stunning success at teaching advanced mathematics to poor children in Los Angeles's Garfield High was the basis of the popular film Stand and Deliver. Because Escalante wouldn't turn down any child who wanted to enter his class, he frequently taught up to 70 children at a time--three times the maximum number allowed under the union contract. Union representatives then ensured that Escalante was removed as chairman of the Garfield math department. Escalante concluded that the union was "more interested in politics than kids."

Education Policy Institute president Charlene Haar reported on the way unions use mandatory dues to reward their political allies on the left. In recent years, for example, the NEA has donated more than a million dollars to left-wing organizations like People for the American Way, the National Organization for Women, the American Association of University Women, the Children's Defense Fund, and the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. …

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