Uninformed and misinformed teachers

By Larry Sand
June 19, 2018

Too many educators are clueless on issues relating to their profession. 

In 2006, I co-founded the California Teachers Empowerment Network, whose mission is to give educators unbiased information and to combat union spin and outright lies. While we have helped a good number of teachers, there are still way too many who are in the dark about issues that affect their professional life. A recent poll by Educators for Excellence (E4E) exemplifies this sad state of affairs.

E4E released partial survey results on May 23rd (the questions were posed in late April-early May) and the full report is due August 1st. One of the stunners is that 78 percent of all teachers had heard not much (21 percent) or nothing (57 percent) about the Janus v AFSCME Supreme Court case which would free public employees nationwide from being forced to pay dues to a teachers union. Also, 47 percent of union members said they had heard nothing about the lawsuit.

A claim could be made that many teachers don’t need to know about the litigation, as they live in right-to-work states and will not be affected directly by the imminent ruling. But given the magnitude of the case, the numbers are still startling.

The lack of teacher awareness is in part due to their unions, which don’t seem to feel the need to inform their members that they may have a right to refrain from forking over $1,000 or so a year to them. While the unions are not legally bound to clue in their teachers, you’d think the organizations that constantly showboat their affection for educators would feel some moral obligation to do so. But they don’t. And when union leaders talk about the case, they often lie.

For example, after attending the Janus oral arguments in February, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said, “I listened as the right wing launched attack after attack on unions and on what collective bargaining gains for working people, those they serve and their communities. Indeed, Justice Sotomayor nailed the right wing’s argument, pointing out, ‘You’re basically arguing, do away with unions.’”

If that’s all a teacher heard about the case, she would be horribly misinformed. The lawsuit has absolutely nothing to do with collective bargaining (CB) or eliminating unions. It is simply about giving teachers and other public employees a choice whether or not to join and pay them as a condition of employment.

Another question of note from the E4E survey asks teachers if they concur with the following: “Without collective bargaining, the working conditions and salaries of teachers would be much worse.” A whopping 86 percent of those polled agreed (somewhat or strongly) with that statement.

But are teachers really informed about all the data that show that CB agreements actually don’t do anything good for their wages, and in fact may serve to suppress them? Just this past March, yet another study found that across the country, after CB laws went into effect, there was little change in teacher salary or education spending. The study by Agustina Paglayan, a professor at University of California, San Diego, was hardly the first research that showed the inconsequential or detrimental effects of CB.

In 2011, Fordham Institute’s Mike Petrilli 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.”

In a 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 Paglayan, Petrilli, Lovenheim and Coulson, CB is inconsequential at best, and could actually damage a educator’s bottom line. Randi Weingarten won’t tell teachers any of this.

Weingarten also won’t tell her members about Clovis, a city in California, whose teachers have been never unionized. Yet, educators there have a voice and a role in governance. Instead of a union, they have an elected Faculty Senate, in which each school has a representative. The mission of the Faculty Senate is to be “an effective advocate for teachers at all levels of policy making, procedures, and expenditures, in partnership with our administrators, fellow employees, and community as a quality educational team.”

Teacher salaries are competitive in Clovis. While starting teachers make a few thousand dollars a year more in neighboring unionized Fresno, the differences dissipate as teachers rack up more time on the job. And, while Fresno teachers are saddled with payments of over $1,100 a year to the Fresno Teachers Association, Clovis teachers aren’t burdened with union dues.

The E4E survey, among other things, points to teachers’ ignorance on many issues that directly affect them. Especially with a Janus decision imminent, it is imperative that they become more informed. Not listening to Randi Weingarten and other union leaders’ disinformation and fabrications would be a great first step.

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. The views presented here are strictly his own.

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