The Poor Teacher Canard Redux – Part II

The Poor Teacher Canard Redux – Part II

The unions’ effect on teacher pay? Not what you think.

Last week, I wrote about the fallacy of the underpaid teacher. When compared to other professions, teachers actually do considerably better when taking into account the various perks they get – generous healthcare and pension packages, etc.

But, uninterested in facts, the unions continue to bang on the table. NEA/AFT and their state and local affiliates continuously hyperventilate about how teachers need to be paid a “living wage.” And of course these unions try to position themselves as saviors, doing their best to convince teachers that any salary enhancement is dependent on organized labor.

But just what is the effect of unionism on teacher pay?

At the behest of the unions, collective bargaining (CB), a socialist contrivance, is the norm throughout much of the country. But does it work favorably for teachers?

The Fordham Institute’s Mike Petrilli doesn’t think so. In 2011, he compared teachers’ salaries in school districts across the country which allow CB with those that don’t. Using data collected by the National Council on Teacher Quality, he looked at 100 of the largest districts from each of the 50 states and found that teachers who worked in districts where the union was not involved actually made more than those who were in CB districts. According to Petrilli, “Teachers in non-collective bargaining districts actually earn more than their union-protected peers – $64,500 on average versus $57,500.” He adds that the unions are really about “… protecting benefits and seniority – not pushing for higher pay. If you’re a young teacher earning a lousy salary and paying union dues, that’s something to be very angry about.” (Emphasis added.)

While Petrilli’s analysis was limited to large districts, it does jibe with other studies that find the unions are not instrumental in securing higher salaries for teachers.

In an elaborately detailed 2009 study, “The Effect of Teachers’ Unions on Education Production: Evidence from Union Election Certifications in Three Midwestern States,” Stanford Professor Michael Lovenheim concluded, “I find unions have no effect on teacher pay.”

While Lovenheim’s study used data from just three states, Cato Institute’s Andrew Coulson, using national data, came to the same conclusion.

So, according to Petrilli, Lovenheim and Coulson, the teachers unions are at best inconsequential, and at worst actually damage a teacher’s bottom line.

But a new study leaves no doubt. In the Fordham Institute’sThe Hidden Half: School Employees Who Don’t Teach,” we see how teachers’ and other educational staff unions most definitely have a negative effect on teacher pay. Masters of featherbedding, the unions – taking advantage of an endless procession of government mandates – have managed to find places for workers where none are really needed.

The number of non-teaching staff in the United States (those employed by school systems but not serving as classroom teachers) has grown by 130 percent since 1970. Non-teachers, more than three million strong, now comprise half of the public school workforce. Their salaries and benefits absorb one-quarter of current education expenditures. But is this growth necessary—or even sustainable? (Emphasis added.)

It’s important to note that the countries which regularly kick our butts in achievement haven’t experienced the non-teacher employee hiring explosion that we have. Switzerland spends 70 percent of its compensation dollars on teachers and just 14 percent on other staff. In Finland those numbers are 51:11 and Slovakia 54:14. But in the U.S., we spend 54 percent on teachers and a whopping 27 percent on non-teaching staff.

In another study, The Friedman Foundation – using U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics data – found that between fiscal years 1950 and 2009,

… the number of K-12 public school students in the United States increased by 96 percent while the number of full-time equivalent (FTE) school employees grew 386 percent. Public schools grew staffing at a rate four times faster than the increase in students over that time period. Of those personnel, teachers’ numbers increased 252 percent while administrators and other staff experienced growth of 702 percent, more than seven times the increase in students. (Emphasis added.)

While some of those additional jobs may be important and necessary, most are not. As a middle school teacher during the 90s and aughts, I saw this first hand; my middle school experienced a steady uptick in the number of deans, counselors, psychologists, coordinators, coaches, teaching assistants, etc., but we fared no better academically with all the extra personnel.

In reality, with public employee unions leading the charge, public education has turned into one behemoth jobs program. And without the addition of needless jobs, there would be considerably more education dollars available for teachers.

At the beginning of the new school year, the United Teachers of Los Angeles and other teachers unions across the country are threatening to strike if their wage demands aren’t met. Too bad the teachers involved can’t fire their unions and negotiate for themselves. On their own, they couldn’t possibly do a worse job than the union they are forced to pay for that service.

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues.

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