Scenes from the Class Struggle

by on May 19, 2011 at 7:20 am in Current Affairs, Economics, Education | Permalink

Two quotes:

When schoolchildren start paying union dues, that’s when I’ll start representing the interests of schoolchildren.

and

The key is that unless there is accountability, we will never get the right system. As long as there are no consequences if kids or adults don’t perform, as long as the discussion is not about education and student outcomes, then we’re playing a game as to who has the power.

….I think we will get—and deserve—the end of public education through some sort of privatization scheme if we don’t behave differently.

Surprisingly, both quotes are from Albert Shanker, President of the American Teacher’s Federation from 1974 to 1997. Shanker is quoted in an excellent piece in the Atlantic by Joel Klein, former chancellor of New York City’s school system, who argues that his eight years of attempted reforms in New York were undermined by teacher’s unions who continue to operate according to the former rather than the latter philosophy.

1 ben May 19, 2011 at 7:42 am

“When schoolchildren start paying union dues, that’s when I’ll start representing the interests of schoolchildren.”

Obviously not wise to publicly acknowledge, but entirely accurate

2 bogon12 May 19, 2011 at 7:49 am

The teachers unions behavior reminds me of a corporation.

Lets all agree to condemn any organization that acts with disregard to the public interest.

Or lets say its ok for an organization to pursue its interests with vigor.

But lets not play calvinball with it.

3 jk May 19, 2011 at 8:11 am

I don’t know if you can say a governmental lobby is a corporation in the wealth generating sense. A teacher’s union is a private organization propped up by public funds (teacher’s salaries). So, it is not similar to a corporation.

4 Tyson May 20, 2011 at 10:51 pm

So when does a teacher’s salary become private funds? Ever?

5 Rahul May 19, 2011 at 8:32 am

Shareholders and employees join corporations voluntarily. Unions use coercion for membership. Except in right-to-work states union-membership seems mandatory.

6 Ben May 19, 2011 at 12:48 pm

Union-mandatory positions are negotiated between the firm and the union, just like any other negotiated condition when two parties enter a contract. This is the free market at work, absent direct government intervention, like right-to-work laws, it would almost always show up at the negotiating table as it is a practical necessity to persisting a union. Right-to-work laws are just as much a government intervention as laws that require union membership for some positions, and if you oppose one, and value logical consistency, you should oppose both.

7 Jamie_NYC May 19, 2011 at 1:33 pm

Not really. People who want to work but don’t want to be members of the union are not party to the negotiation between company and the union. Unions are state-sanctioned monopolies that, in aggregate, exploit their position to increase the members’ wages largely at the expense of non-members.

8 Ben May 19, 2011 at 1:56 pm

People who want to work but don’t want to be members of the union are not party to the negotiation between company and the union.
You are offered a job by a firm. The firm is contractually obligated to maintain that position as unionized. The firm offers you the job with that obligation intact. You can accept the job or reject it. Absent state intervention, (1) the union is not required to take the condition off the table, (2) the firm is not free to violate the terms of the contract with the union without consequences, and (3) you are not forced to work in that position.

Unions are state-sanctioned monopolies
State intervention is not necessary for unions (or any other cartel) to form. To persist (avoid mass defection) is another question.

9 Dan Dostal May 20, 2011 at 12:48 pm

You two are arguing past each other. Jamie is referring to public-sector unions while Ben is referring to private-sector unions. Their different natures create very different structure and operation.

10 Sbard May 19, 2011 at 2:53 pm

Absent government intervention, firms wouldn’t have to negotiate collectively with unions if they didn’t want to.

11 CR May 19, 2011 at 8:36 am

Teacher unions enjoy a government-enforced monopoly power. If we had real school choice where parents could choose to take their kids to a unionized school or a non-unionized school, I wouldn’t really have a problem with teacher unions because they’d actually have to compete.

12 clayton May 19, 2011 at 9:17 am

The AFT is not a monopoly. Teachers can also join NEA, or they can opt not to join a union.

I work in a private industry that is not much more competitive than that and still faces virtually no governmental regulation in terms of market structure.

13 Andrew' May 19, 2011 at 9:49 am

Agreed.

Now we need to convince a certain party that they should treat union lobbying the same way they view corporations.

14 Finch May 19, 2011 at 9:54 am

You’ll never get the democrats to do it. Just try initiating antitrust action on a union and see how far you get.

15 Andrew' May 19, 2011 at 10:27 am

“Lets all agree to condemn any organization that acts with disregard to the public interest.”

Actually, I disagree with this. But anyway…

16 Andrew' May 19, 2011 at 10:48 am

I don’t want to initiate anti-trust against unions, I just want to tell them to the the f*#! off my lawn. That’s the thing. I’m the guy that doesn’t want to use the government.

17 Finch May 19, 2011 at 11:40 am

My post at 9:54 was a weak attempt at humor. Perhaps I misunderstood your earlier comments.

Legal treatment of unions differs from legal treatment of corporations in ways that almost entirely favor unions. Treating unions like corporations would dramatically lower their power.

18 Zach May 19, 2011 at 10:52 am

In a lot of school districts, you have to pay union dues regardless of whether or not you join the union.

19 Andrew' May 19, 2011 at 11:51 am

There is a line between advocating for ones rights and advocating to get what is rightfully others’.

Unions aren’t always the best judges of where that line is.

20 Anthony May 19, 2011 at 5:37 pm

“Teachers can also join NEA, or they can opt not to join a union.”

However, in many states, they can not choose to not pay union dues to the recognized bargaining units.

21 Andrew' May 19, 2011 at 10:49 am

They can pursue their interests with vigor, I just don’t want them to wield the power of government to do it. There is (should be) a third option in tug-of-war, to not play.

22 Rahul May 19, 2011 at 7:50 am

Given the strong and nasty teachers unions, the one body that might wield enough power to make a difference seems a PTA. At least for local, incremental changes. PTA’s might also effectively equal the public and press sympathy teachers get. Are enlightened PTA’s in this struggle at all?

23 Andrew' May 19, 2011 at 8:11 am

As Carl Milsted once said, we don’t need another wolf, we need to arm the sheep.

24 Rich Berger May 19, 2011 at 8:49 am

You obviously are unfamiliar with government school systems. The PTA is not a power. One would think that the school board could restrain the teachers’ union, but they tend to be captured by union, and provide no resistance. My kids went through a suburban school district in NJ, and I am quite familiar with the goings on.

25 Andrew' May 19, 2011 at 9:43 am

In fact, I would suspect that a Parent-TEACHERS'(!) Association would be the opposite of a check against the teachers’ union.

What we need is an organization like “Parents Involved to Support Student’s Education Demands”:
PISSED

26 dave May 19, 2011 at 9:52 am

PTAs often devolve into power struggles for helicopter parents. School boards become ways for parents to get special privileges for their own children by playing ball.

27 Rahul May 19, 2011 at 10:31 am

Yes, I am unfamiliar. Intuitively though, next to the kids themselves the parents ought to have the purest incentives to get the best teachers and teaching. Maybe someone will take the “T” out of a PTA, one day.

The problem with school boards, studies, think tanks , education czars and everyone else is that they all often have incentives other than students on their mind.

28 The Anti-Gnostic May 19, 2011 at 11:12 am

What should occur to you intuitively is that the costs of public education are socialized, so education suffers the same perverse incentives as just about any other government service.

Students, parents and teachers and their abilities and goals vary dramatically. The idea that government can provide such a particularized commodity should have been rejected long ago. This modern experiment needs to be abandoned.

29 Rahul May 19, 2011 at 2:43 pm

For the best part of the last century unions have plagued the private sector almost as badly (if not worse) than the public sector. Think coal, steel, railways, stevedores and automobiles. Socialization and union troubles are distinct problems.

30 Andrew' May 19, 2011 at 11:27 am

The problem IS organization. By definition, put two people together and they no longer have the same interests in mind as they did individually.

31 The Anti-Gnostic May 19, 2011 at 11:46 am

Then education needs to be left up to the individual and whatever family or friends he/she chooses to involve. The idea that everybody can or should be “educated” at public expense is unworkable and counter-productive.

32 Dan Dostal May 20, 2011 at 12:54 pm

Can’t reply to the anti-gnostic, but I would at least like to leave a similarily useless rebuttal:

Privatizing education will cement the ever increasing divide between the haves and the have-nots. This massive gap will inevitably destroy the societal bonds between the working class and the ruling class that has traditionally kept America stable. If public education is unsustainable, then America is unsustainable.

33 Lou May 19, 2011 at 2:32 pm

You are exactly right about school boards being captured by the union. In fact, in New Jersey, school board elections are not widely advertised, they take place in May instead of November with other elections, and happen at schools instead of normal polling places, so obviously what happens is only (unionized) teachers vote in any significant numbers. And incumbents are virtually always unopposed. Outcomes are less competitive than elections in Cuba and Venezuela. Read that again- I’m not exaggerating. With the exception of last year, when Governor Christie made overturning school board budgets a major issue. But this year was back to business as usual. Not surprisingly, NJ ends up with the worst abuses, like teachers buying out their sick days for $200k at retirement.

34 CPV May 19, 2011 at 8:07 am

So where’s the argument for the government beng a monopoly provider of services as opposed to a voucher printer and regulator? Krugman makes the argument for health care on cost, which I find dubious. What about other services other than say defense and security? Where’s the intellectual framework?

35 jk May 19, 2011 at 8:18 am

Hah, Krugman consistent? I wonder why he never mentions Germany in his writings: you know with all of it’s austerity reforms, a semi-realist look at retirement age, high interest rates/anti-inflationist agenda, government spending in control, and privatization of many public assets, it undermines his thesis.

36 dave May 19, 2011 at 9:52 am

His theory is the fact that they actually make things people want to buy is a weakness.

37 Scott F May 19, 2011 at 11:58 am

I believe that Krugman has argued that Germany has found success by exporting its economy to health – a solution which by definition cannot be pursued by every country at the same time. Also, German gov’t consuption have actually increased at a faster pace in Germany than the US from 2007-2010. Not exactly uber-austere.

And, AFAIK, German corporations have union representation on their boards. Not a feature anyone on in this discussion seems to be in favor of.

38 Dan Dostal May 20, 2011 at 1:03 pm

If true democratic unions had incentive to see their companies succeed, I think both would benefit greatly. I’d love to see HR expenses and training budgets handled by the union while giving them board representation. Several more changes would be necessary, but I mostly wanted to speak in favor of good unions. Americans love to hate on our crappy unions without noticing that other countries put them to good use.

39 sam May 19, 2011 at 8:16 am

Called to mind that line in Woody Allen’s Sleeper. When asked by Woody’s character how civilization ended, the guy he’s talking to says, “Our records show that someone named Albert Shanker got his hands on a nuclear weapon.”

40 Dean Sayers May 19, 2011 at 8:19 am

In my experience, wherever teachers were freest (i.e., less standardized tests and curriculum) I found that they worked better; not only did they flourish within their own self-determined syllabi, but they also provided much better service to students.

Classes which were heavily regulated, or where teachers were given a high ratio of students:reward, always seemed to do worse. Teachers were stressed for entering a field primarily due to their interests (as compensation is so low) and having absolutely no room to explore that interest.

Clearly, certain disparities cannot be fixed with such a simple diagnosis. Most intensive science courses or accreditation courses have very specific curriculum, standards and even guidelines which serve an indispensable need. However, I think that the students:reward ratio is almost universally adjustable, given expanded teacher training and hiring.

It’s important to note where teachers stand in the industrial process. They are not usually high-paid resources involved in significant capital acquisitions, like bankers can be. They serve a specific role and I don’t think there is a lot of obvious value in the finances of individual schools to giving them their own autonomy. The reward:students ratio is diametrically opposed on the hand of parties involved in the maintenance of budget (or bureaucratic positions competing for the same funds).

Nonetheless, expanded autonomy and compensation have clear value for teaching. I find it hard to believe that the extreme, expanded union presence to the point of teacher management of the school, would not lead to a much better education system. However, this is not necessarily in opposition to the OP, either. A lot of unions have had to shift their model of business to a very calculated form of capitalism. For a business-oriented labor union, it is a lot more structurally dangerous to fully represent teachers interests, especially if that leads to potential conflict with schools. The legal fees and contractual wrangling tend to tie up a lot of business agents – I know a labor union in VA has been struggling to be operative after having all of its dues seized over a renaming issue. It seems likely that the same kinds of existential / political wrangling is the problem with the NEA & AFT.

41 Rich Berger May 19, 2011 at 9:00 am

“I find it hard to believe that the extreme, expanded union presence to the point of teacher management of the school, would not lead to a much better education system.”

The teachers’ unions (at least in NJ) believe that they should run the schools and the role of the taxpayers is to pour money in and butt out. The government school system is one area in which productivity is in constant decline – smaller class sizes mean higher costs per pupil. In order to increase productivity, ways must be found to amplify the power of good teachers (see Khan Academy and his related TED talks for ideas), get rid of the bad teachers, and restore discipline in the schools. In talking to teachers, I believe that the presence of a small number of disruptive or uncooperative students in a class is one of their biggest problems and needs to solved in order for productivity increases to occur.

42 Dean Sayers May 19, 2011 at 1:56 pm

Perhaps I didn’t make it clear. I don’t see teachers as antagonistic to productivity; contrarily, I think a bloated bureaucracy with significant political competition is to blame. At the same time, I thin students should be playing a far greater role in the institutions, as well.

I don;t see NEA and AFT as necessarily contradicting these interests in the union by-laws, but their manifestation in the political landscape today, and where they pool their resources now, seems contradictory to these aims. The Democratic party has largely hijacked their political/social roles, and it has been incredibly damaging.

43 Rahul May 19, 2011 at 8:24 am

Albert Shanker’s NYT obituary:

In the second act of his [Albert Shanker’s] life as president of the American Federation of Teachers, with 900,000 members concentrated in large cities, he was widely regarded as a champion of rigorous educational standards. In a column that he wrote weekly for years as an advertisement in the Week in Review section of The New York Times, he called for a national competency test for teachers, pay increments tied to teacher quality and more rigorous requirements for high school graduation.

I don’t get it. Is this the same man? Something doesn’t make sense.

44 Bill May 19, 2011 at 8:34 am

If you read the end of the article, you would also find the following:

“Surprisingly enough, the best case for greater accountability was made by Albert Shanker, four years before he died, in his capacity as the leader of the American Federation of Teachers. In a truly remarkable speech to the 1993 Pew Forum on Education Reform, which I’ve never seen quoted by any teachers-union official since, Shanker said:

‘The key is that unless there is accountability, we will never get the right system. As long as there are no consequences if kids or adults don’t perform, as long as the discussion is not about education and student outcomes, then we’re playing a game as to who has the power.’

Two points are critical here. First, Shanker makes clear that accountability needs to be measured by “student outcomes,” which he goes on to explain must be based on progress on standardized tests. And second, he calls out the fundamental truth about the system: because it’s not anchored to outcomes, it ends up being about “who has the power,” which can then be used to serve other agendas—such as better pay, political support, or vendor contracts.
…..
Finally, as Shanker emphasized, meaningful teacher accountability means major consequences for student outcomes. Those teachers and principals whose students do well should get substantial merit pay; those who don’t should be fired. Similarly, schools that do poorly should be replaced. Without real consequences tied to performance, the results won’t significantly change. Again, resistance to this kind of accountability is always fierce. In New York, we closed many large, overwhelmingly minority high schools that were posting abysmal graduation rates—some even below 40 percent—and replaced them with new, small high schools. Although research showed that the new schools were getting significantly better results, I wasn’t surprised when the teachers union sued us to block future closures—they want to protect their members. But I was shocked when the NAACP joined the suit. How could it defend schools that were consistently graduating fewer than half their African American children?

Despite the setbacks, we are seeing progress. In response to President Obama’s $4.3 billion Race to the Top Fund, which requires states to compete for big federal grants, and rewards accountability systems that measure whether teachers add value, several states—including Colorado, Florida, Louisiana, New Mexico, and Ohio—have enacted legislation moving in this direction. Under Michelle Rhee’s leadership, Washington, D.C., adopted the best of these systems with the agreement of its local and national teachers unions, including the union headed by Randi Weingarten. The District was authorized to award substantial merit pay (resulting in salaries of up to $130,000) and to fire teachers who were not performing well. Rhee fired more than 200 of them. “

45 Andrew' May 19, 2011 at 9:54 am

ONE thing. You don’t really need standardized tests.

Go tell a statistician that you need MILLIONS of datapoints.

Then stand back.

46 Andrew' May 19, 2011 at 9:55 am

Then go tell a black belt that you have to sample EVERYONE.

Then duck.

47 Lou May 19, 2011 at 2:34 pm

Then explain to a psychometrician that you can’t figure out a reasonable way to test student achievement.

48 Keith May 19, 2011 at 8:33 am

I thought there was a good solution to the whole teacher retirement issue: Tie teachers’ retirement benefits to thw wages of their former students. The the teachers unions are better incentivized.

49 Dan Dostal May 20, 2011 at 1:19 pm

That also either creates an incentive to pass all the students (assuming an absolute scale) or remove students before failing (assuming a per student scale). Systems that are not directly tied to student performance (such as yours and the chutes and ladders system we currently have) can be gamed. I most strongly agree with the second statement in the blog because the only way to game a system tied to student performance is to improve the student’s test scores. Any such gaming is then directly tied to the teacher’s personal ethics and teaching ability. Even if they are teaching to a test, at least they are teaching something that we consider useful, whether it’s rote math or grammar skills. Frankly I needed more rote education. Make those kids sit and do some time consuming, difficult tasks.

If we could somehow tie standardized test scores to the amount of time students spent (in class and homework) on “teaching to the test” vs. other learning, I think we would approach the most useful metrics currently available.

50 RZ0 May 19, 2011 at 8:52 am

Can someone show me a large U.S. urban area that doesn’t have enormous educational problems? I find it hard to believe that every teachers union in every wealthy suburb throughout the entire country is more competent and less corrupt than its urban counterpart.

51 Andrew' May 19, 2011 at 12:06 pm

Well, what if they all have exactly the same positive or negative impact (or tend to be average)? Then the other variables would control the outcome.

52 clayton May 19, 2011 at 9:22 am

I’m not sure why commenters (and bloggers) at an economics blog are surprised to find an agent advocating the interests of the organization paying his salary. (Maybe they expect more of an effect from agency theory? I think ideology is more at play.)

I’m no fan of the teacher’s unions, to be sure, but the problem with most reforms is that all they want to do is bust the union to gain political power and lower costs. They don’t realize that improving education, according to research, involves having high quality teachers, and that the only way to attract high quality people is to offer more money, not less. At least the teachers union provides job security to compensate for the low wages.

Until we realize that improving education is going to require paying teachers a salary competitive with the other jobs those quality people would be giving up by going to the classroom, I’m going to oppose narrow attempts to bust the union.

53 meter May 19, 2011 at 9:41 am

I am fine with paying teachers in line with equivalent private sector professionals, but in return they must give up their pensions, Cadillac lifetime benefits, and must work 230 days per year like the rest of the private sector workforce.

54 clayton May 19, 2011 at 11:57 am

meter: agree 100%.

The bargain we have now as a society is this: “You’ll make a low wage, but you can’t get fired, get summers off, and have a safe and decent pension.”

The result is, we have some excellent teachers — people who are not motivated by money, but by being the best teacher they can be, or inspiring young people, or some other idealistic leaning — and we have a lot of mediocre and poor teachers who were attracted to summer’s off and job security.

When we should have this bargain: “You’ll make a lot of money, but you better teach well, or else you’re out.”

55 Popeye May 19, 2011 at 12:50 pm

What reason is there to think that this bargain is cheaper for taxpayers than the existing bargain?

56 clayton May 19, 2011 at 2:06 pm

None. Why should cheaper be the goal? I can think immediately of how to minimize educations costs, but it’s trivial and absurd.

The goal is and should be: the minimum cost system that delivers the educational outcomes we want.

What evidence do I have that this bargain would be closer to that goal? Not much in terms of costs, which will obviously be higher than current system (which should not be a problem), but there’s much evidence that this would improve educational outcomes.

57 charterj May 19, 2011 at 1:02 pm

Seriously, can we stop claiming teachers are overpaid. Compensation is compensation, and even taking into account benefits packages and pro-rating for the school year (and remember, it is not out of the question for a private sector employee with 10 years seniority to have 6+ weeks of vacation and paid holidays) teachers still make less then the private sector. Take away the benefits and you have to pay them more, still costs the district the same.

58 Cliff May 19, 2011 at 2:21 pm

No, I think that is out of the question in the U.S. I don’t think anyone, anywhere in the U.S., under any circumstances has 6 weeks of paid vacation. Even the gov’ment doesn’t give anyone that.

59 meter May 19, 2011 at 3:44 pm

(Most) private sector employees don’t have pensions nor do they have lifetime gold-plated medical benefits. Take a look back at what these obligations did to the auto industry not very long ago and you can start to form an idea where this current scheme for public teachers is headed.

Total comp for teachers from employment through expiration far outweights what a private sector employee is going to enjoy. And for a 9-month (less with all of the holidays and “teachers conventions”) work year.

So, I propose paying them a higher base salary, but requiring that they contribute to health plans and 401ks as the private sector does, and having them to work through the summer as everyone else in the nation does. They can work in kids’ camps, tutor, teach music lessons, run sports clinics, etc.

60 Rahul May 19, 2011 at 10:42 am

It’s not the advocacy that is surprising it is the hypocrisy. Usually, teacher-unions say they have the best interests of kids on their mind. Here was one brave man that said otherwise. I admire him for that.

61 Brian J May 19, 2011 at 11:20 am

Agreed. Regardless of your opinions on teacher unions, it sounds like he was saying that his role as union leader was to advocate for the union, as opposed to his separate role in a classroom. There’s nothing remotely controversial about this.

62 Brian J May 19, 2011 at 11:24 am

Agreed. Reading just the first quote, it sounds like he’s saying his role as a leader of the union is to advocate for union interests, which is no different than a lawyer advocating for a client or some sort of similar arrangement. It’s different from any obligation that he might have as a teacher in a classroom. There’s nothing remotely controversial about this statement, regardless of your feelings on teacher unions.

63 Andrew' May 19, 2011 at 12:10 pm

But a defense attorney or prosecutor can in all honesty believe that by advocating vigorously for their client the system overall achieves the best result.

But he really could have added “and we work hard to align the interests of students and parents with those of the teachers.” He didn’t.

Defender is to prosecutor as Massive Teacher Union is to ____________

64 Tyson May 20, 2011 at 11:27 pm

He somewhat did. “I don’t represent children. I represent teachers… But, generally, what’s in the interest of teachers is also in the interest of students.”

And keep in mind that just because Joel Klein put quotation marks around that first “quote” doesn’t mean Shanker actually said it. There is no verifiable source for that quote.

http://shankerblog.org/?p=2562

65 Mike May 19, 2011 at 6:43 pm

There’s little research demonstrating that “high quality teachers” produce better outcomes. The vast majority of the literature suggests that educational inputs have little to do with output. Parental education and involvement has much greater explanatory power.

I’m not aware of any studies that had an objective measure of marginal teacher quality. If teachers were rotated in and out of assignments – like the military, from one duty assignment to another, then you might be able to measure teacher quality holding most other factors roughly constant.

I certainly DO think that a very high quality teacher can make a difference for problem students. I DO think that a very poor teacher can hurt the chances of a good student. But its the fuzzy cloud of teachers in the center of the skill, experience, and devotion distributions that is the hardest to measure.

Teachers are already overpaid. The simplest test of their worth is to ask them what job they would immediately seek if they were suddenly (and without cause or prejudice) banned from teaching. Anyone know what a Starbucks barrista is making these days?

What are the marginal benefits of a teacher getting a Masters Degree or PhD in Education? Probably close to zero – maybe even negative since their time in school detracts from their daily effort. But they get paid more for getting these worthless degrees.

Their skills are simply not transferable to many other endeavors, and nearly ANYONE with a college degree could do the job they do with little to no additional training. I’m a successful teacher at a proprietary college, teaching Math and English at the 7th grade level to high school dropouts from rough neighborhoods. Who is going to tell me that I couldn’t be a successful 7th grade teacher without an Ed Degree and certification? I earn much less per hour than a public school teacher. But, thankfully, this isn’t a career for me.

66 CPV May 19, 2011 at 9:25 am

I think the idea of implementing “accountability” in a monopoly provided service with unions is bogus. In a competitive (say, semi-privatized) school system, accountability is delivered by moving students to higher performing schools. The schools themselves will have to decide how to evaluate and compensate their teachers, and more importantly how to prove to parents that they are indeed higher performing schools. It’s a really interesting question how schools will be able to demonstrate differential performance through testing, etc. controlling for student quality/behavior. For high schools college acceptance rates will be the ticket probably.

RZ0 – most poor people don’t live in the suburbs. Suburbs of big cities attract better behaved families, better behaved students, better teachers. Urban areas are also rife with distractions. think a comparison of poor students from rural areas and urban areas might be interesting. Many rich people in the cities send their kids to private schools. It’s an interesting question that even with great schools how well kids from poorly behaved families will do in them.

67 Rich Berger May 19, 2011 at 10:00 am

Amen to that, brother.

68 The Anti-Gnostic May 19, 2011 at 11:21 am

That’s the $100 million bet that the benefactors of Promise Charter in Harlem are making. If that doesn’t work, I’m guessing we’ll just have to go the Full Bullock on urban kids and send them all to suburban foster homes. If that doesn’t work say, for instance, adoption studies don’t show an appreciable effect, then maybe we should just stop trying to pound square pegs in round holes.

BTW, can we drop the specious “urban” and “suburban” tags? Everybody knows what we’re really talking about.

69 Andrew' May 19, 2011 at 12:10 pm

It’s not bogus, it’s power.

70 ad*m May 19, 2011 at 1:04 pm

This was tried extensively in Kansas City, with predictable results:

Money and School Performance. Lessons from the Kansas City Desegregation Experiment. Policy Analysis No. 298.

This horse is dead. Truly dead. The pegs are square. The holes are round.

71 zbicyclist May 19, 2011 at 9:28 am

It was a different world when Shanker started his career. Teachers were very poorly paid, the NEA was a “professional” organization which was hesitant to use hardball tactics. Shanker’s AFT changed the game.

IF they ended up going too far, that’s hardly surprising. A natural tendency of organizations that struggle and finally get some power is to abuse it. Where’s the surprise?

72 Don Monroe May 19, 2011 at 9:37 am

Part of the reason why the quotes seem so inconsistent may be that Shanker never said the first one: http://shankerblog.org/?p=2562

73 Rahul May 19, 2011 at 10:59 am

Good find! Talk about wrong assumptions……

74 Rich Berger May 19, 2011 at 12:03 pm

From your source:

“It is very difficult – sometimes impossible – to prove a negative, especially when it is something like a verbal quotation. And we are not professional archivists or historians. So, we cannot demonstrate conclusively that Albert Shanker never made this particular statement. He was a forthright guy who was known for saying all manner of interesting and provocative things, both on and off the record.”

Further on-

“A couple of former Shanker staff members recall an incident that may be the source. The words weren’t spoken in 1985, or “a couple of years” before that. The incident in question occurred during a speech Shanker delivered at Oberlin College, while he was still president of New York City’s United Federation of Teachers (probably during the early- to mid-1970s).

Although nobody recalls the exact wording, it went something like this:

I don’t represent children. I represent teachers… But, generally, what’s in the interest of teachers is also in the interest of students.”

I know you are all excited about this, but is there any question where Shanker’s priorities were?

75 JohnMcG May 19, 2011 at 12:24 pm

Interestingly, I find the revised statement to be more risible than the original.

I have no problem with the head of the teachers’ union believing that his job is to advocate on the behalf of teachers.

I do have a problem with the notion that the interests of teachers and interests of children are necessarily intertwined.

76 Don Monroe May 19, 2011 at 1:18 pm

That’s an excellent point. Conflating one’s own obligations with a broader public good is a common job hazard for advocates of all stripes. But its ubiquity doesn’t make it OK. It’s very dangerous.

Still, the original “quote” says he doesn’t care about children’s interests, which is quite different from saying that they are automatically furthered by his actions on behalf of teachers.

77 Rich Berger May 19, 2011 at 1:36 pm

Right you are. The original quote (which actually was found in a newspaper in Meridian MS, but dismissed out of hand) is in your face. The substitute “quote” is “trust us”.

78 Bill May 19, 2011 at 1:47 pm

Rich, The basis for dismissal of the Original Quote is provided in the article and is believable.

79 Rich Berger May 19, 2011 at 2:02 pm

Let the readers make up their own minds:

“The article, called “Teacher unions made their bed, must sleep in it”, has no byline. Here is the relevant passage:

American Federation of Teachers President Albert Shanker may have hit the key difference between his organization and both the public and the legislature a couple of years ago when he said, “When school children start paying union dues, that’s when I’ll start representing the interests of school children.
So, unless you consider “a couple of years ago” to be journalistically-rigorous sourcing, this is not a source.”

Contrast that with this (from the same source):

“A couple of former Shanker staff members recall an incident that may be the source. The words weren’t spoken in 1985, or “a couple of years” before that. The incident in question occurred during a speech Shanker delivered at Oberlin College, while he was still president of New York City’s United Federation of Teachers (probably during the early- to mid-1970s).

Although nobody recalls the exact wording, it went something like this:

I don’t represent children. I represent teachers… But, generally, what’s in the interest of teachers is also in the interest of students.

First – not rigorous. Second – rigorous. Standards, you got to have standards/

80 Bill May 19, 2011 at 4:07 pm

Rich,

I think your excisions are misleading, so I am posting what the piece said as to the source (?) of the “supposed” quote:

“The first is an article in the Meridian Star (a newspaper in Meridian, MS) from August 13, 1985. It is the earliest published version of the quote, and a couple of subsequent articles also suggest that it is the first (see here). In addition, this paper cites it as the original (page 176), as do a couple of blog posts (this one, for instance). We were unable to locate an electronic copy of this article, so we took a quick trip over to the Library of Congress, and found it on microfilm.

The article, called “Teacher unions made their bed, must sleep in it”, has no byline. Here is the relevant passage:

American Federation of Teachers President Albert Shanker may have hit the key difference between his organization and both the public and the legislature a couple of years ago when he said, “When school children start paying union dues, that’s when I’ll start representing the interests of school children.

So, unless you consider “a couple of years ago” to be journalistically-rigorous sourcing, this is not a source.

The second possible origin is the Congressional Record, also from August 1985. For example, a 1995 book, Do the Right Thing: The People’s Economist Speaks, by George Mason University economist Walter E. Williams, attributes the quote (page 83) to a statement made by Shanker that was supposed to have been included in the August 1985 Congressional Record. A 1997 paper by David W. Kirkpatrick, published by the conservative Reason Public Policy Institute, also uses the quote, citing (via footnote on page 10) a Washington Times article called “Rip-Offs in the Schools?” (9/5/92). This article also attributes the quote to the 1985 Congressional Record.

So we searched the Congressional Record, using the HeinOnline search engine, which permits one to search the CR archives from all years. The quote does not appear in August 1985. In fact, there are only two instances in which that quote has ever been entered into the Congressional Record. The first was on March 23, 1994, when former Rep. Dick Armey (R-TX) used the quote secondhand. The second was on May 23, 2001, when the quote was put forth (again secondhand, with no source) by Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-CO).

It is very difficult – sometimes impossible – to prove a negative, especially when it is something like a verbal quotation. And we are not professional archivists or historians. So, we cannot demonstrate conclusively that Albert Shanker never made this particular statement. He was a forthright guy who was known for saying all manner of interesting and provocative things, both on and off the record.

But we believe the quote is fiction, and instead have an alternative explanation.

A couple of former Shanker staff members recall an incident that may be the source. The words weren’t spoken in 1985, or “a couple of years” before that. The incident in question occurred during a speech Shanker delivered at Oberlin College, while he was still president of New York City’s United Federation of Teachers (probably during the early- to mid-1970s).

Although nobody recalls the exact wording, it went something like this:

I don’t represent children. I represent teachers… But, generally, what’s in the interest of teachers is also in the interest of students.

If you omit the third and final sentence, this is similar enough to the “when school children start paying union dues” quote to possibly be its origin. If so, it was distorted and truncated, having reverberated for many years within a political echo chamber, unencumbered by proper attribution, as a weapon against teachers’ unions.”

81 Rich Berger May 19, 2011 at 4:22 pm

I didn’t include the business about the Congressional Record because it’s irrelevant to the original source. I would have searched the CR for testimony by Shanker, not for the exact words. I looked up the search service that they cited with that in mind, but it appears to require a subscription (although the trial membership might work).

82 Bill May 19, 2011 at 7:06 pm

Rich,
The point was that the Mississipi article 1) was unsigned 2) referred to an event that the author could not have attended; the author was reporting of something that happened in “at the legislature” someplace else without disclosing where; 3) there was no identification of the location, time and place of the statement.

Would be like me saying two years ago Rich Berger said X and 1) I wasn’t there 2) did not disclose my name 3) referred to it as occuring two years ago==and, nothing else.

So, I can report that Rich Berger said two years ago he supported Obamacare.

Refute it.

83 Rich Berger May 19, 2011 at 9:45 pm

That’s not what the excerpt stated. If the article was unsigned, how do you know the author wasn’t present or got the information from a first hand participant?

Your quibbles aside, I don’t think the staff members’ recollections dilute Shanker’s comments very much.

I would be more impressed by your hypothetical if you could show me a news clipping from 25 years ago saying I was in favor of Obamacare.

84 Bill May 19, 2011 at 10:52 pm

Rich,

Your will to believe something that can’t be verified is interesting. Sort of like a birther.

But, let me give you an example of how this statement would be cross-examined in court.

First, take the assertion of the SOURCES referred to in the unsigned Mississipi article. Notice I said sources: the sources, so said the article, were appearances (note plural) before the legislature and speaches. Very interesting: when someone lies, the tendency is to double down: say it was not once, but several times. And, add a cherry on top: before a legislature, also.

But, then ask: speaches AND testimony before a legislature::::hmmn, you would think there would be some identification of the legislature, some date, some time, some place. And, if it were appearances also, you would think that would be noted as well.

Second, Then, note the specificity of the quote relative to the absence of OTHER identifying information….no date, no time, no place.

Third, note that this is a Missisippi newspaper–the only one found citing this–and there is no evidence that he spoke to the Miss legislature, and the reference is to “several years ago”–several years ago, for both the testimony AND the appearances??? And, why would a Mississippi newspaper be covering a legislative statement, but no one from NY has the statement. Just pops in out of the blue in Mississippi in an unsigned article with no references….Nothing before you can cite to.

Fourth, the statement is inconsistent with other statements of the witness that are recorded and quoted elsewhere, including in the article by Joel Klein. Two persons or one person and a fabricated statement. You choose.

85 Rich Berger May 20, 2011 at 10:48 am

I found several mentions of Albert Shanker in the index to the Congressional Record in the early to mid 80’s, but was unable to access the text.

Did Shanker say what he was quoted as saying? Not proven until the quote is documented. Given that his staffers remember a similar quote, I think it’s a fair characterization of his views, early and late.

Based on my following of the teachers’ unions in NJ and in the Wisconsin protests, I know that the students do not come first.

86 CPV May 19, 2011 at 9:44 am

Keith – in some sense all our retirement benefits are tied to the wages of their former students through SS. That’s the problem.

87 The Anti-Gnostic May 19, 2011 at 12:18 pm

Well this is working out well, isn’t it?

I thought the plan was we just import millions of residents of the Third World to have children and pay taxes for us. But it turns out that their offpsring require billions of dollars in social services and endless education ‘reform’ to try and eke out a 2.5 instead of a 2.0 GPA.

So in a decade we are going to find out that 1) the children of the new population we imported are not going to grow up and become aerospace engineers and IT wizards and 2) their parents get old and sick as well, as do all the grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins who chain-migrate.

So billions of dollars and millions of people and increased social pathology later, our goose is pretty much cooked.

Anybody got any more bright ideas?

88 clayton May 19, 2011 at 10:16 am

I’m wondering why commenters (and a blogger) on an economics blog are surprised by an agent advocating the interests of the organization that pays his salary. (Perhaps they expect more effect from agency theory? I suspect ideology is the real driver here.)

I’m no fan of the teacher’s unions, to be sure. But many reforms only seek to bust the union, to gain political power or to lower costs. They fail to recognize that attracting quality teachers — which research suggests is key to improving education — will require paying people enough to compete with jobs those people would be giving up for the classroom. At least the teachers unions realize that job security needs to be in place to compensate for low pay.

So until reforms wise up, I’m not going to support busting the union.

89 Arthur May 19, 2011 at 10:19 am

“When schoolchildren start paying union dues, that’s when I’ll start representing the interests of schoolchildren.”

That seems like a great idea. A Union of schoolchildren, or their parents, to defend their interest against teachers or government interest.

90 David May 19, 2011 at 10:22 am

From the article …. “I am convinced that without a major realignment of political forces, we won’t get the dramatic improvements our children need.”

It seems like the thing to work on is a realignment of political forces.

91 Floccina May 19, 2011 at 10:43 am

About the chances of privatization improving things, I think that the evidence is pretty strong that we do not know how to get the students to lean much more (but I think that we could teach them more useful stuff but privatization would probably not move in that direction). On the other hand I think that privatization could lower the cost of schooling greatly and by watching the students better private schools could keep timid children from being beat up and intimidated so much at school.

92 Floccina May 19, 2011 at 10:48 am

When schoolchildren start paying union dues, that’s when I’ll start representing the interests of schoolchildren.

There is nothing wrong with the above statement. We only have to have a mechanism that makes in the long run interest of dues payers to have the children do well.

93 Brian J May 19, 2011 at 11:27 am

How do you propose to do that?

I don’t mean this as a hostile question, by the way.

94 Floccina May 19, 2011 at 12:19 pm

Allow the parents to choose which schools and teachers their children will have might help.

95 David May 19, 2011 at 12:25 pm

How do you want to do that? In practice, the unions seem to be very effective at preventing this.

96 Andrew' May 19, 2011 at 12:38 pm

My idea was an auction where next year’s teacher buys options on students from the prior year teacher.

97 Scott F May 19, 2011 at 12:10 pm

Since factors other than teachers account for the greatest portion of a student’s performance it is amusing that we think busting up teacher unions is going to save our supposedly collapsing education system. Are all the teachers in the union gold-bricking? Are there a million super-duper-teachers waiting to work in over crowded schools and face layoffs every year that tax revenues drop but can’t because the unions won’t let them in? Bad teachers? There are some. Get rid of them? Sure, but with due process and insulation from political pressure.

And for any of you self-styled economic realists who believe in actual data, we can check out the levels of student performance in non-union states and decide whether all those nasty old teachers are holding back our children or if it is , say, the parents’ insistence that they be protected from the teaching of science – i.e. evolution:

“Of the ten states in the US without teachers’ unions, only one — Virginia — had NAEP results above the national average, and four — Arizona, Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi — were in the bottom quintile.”

98 JohnMcG May 19, 2011 at 12:22 pm

If that is the case, I never want to see another, “Can you read this? Thank a teacher” bumper sticker.

99 David May 19, 2011 at 12:30 pm

Have you seen The Lottery?

100 Floccina May 19, 2011 at 12:32 pm

Here this is evidence for your comment at the link below:

http://super-economy.blogspot.com/2010/12/amazing-truth-about-pisa-scores-usa.html

Not that PISA measures anything important, but the USA seems to do best.

insistence that they be protected from the teaching of science – i.e. evolution:

It is hard to believe that that not teaching evolution would be very important.

Never the less I am for charging middle class and rich families directly for their children’s education expense because I think that we can get the same education cheaper, perhaps with less bullying. Anyway you cannot subsidize the middle class.

101 Floccina May 19, 2011 at 12:33 pm

“Of the ten states in the US without teachers’ unions, only one — Virginia — had NAEP results above the national average, and four — Arizona, Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi — were in the bottom quintile.”

Is that even when you measure by race?

102 Andrew' May 19, 2011 at 12:40 pm

Didn’t you just say it wasn’t the driving variable?

103 Andrew' May 19, 2011 at 1:02 pm

Scott F,

I’m liable to argue with a dead skunk but I’m not sure who is arguing the other side. My assumption is that there will be a rough correlation in standardized test results with how much money we throw at schools, which would also roughly correlate to the unionization. The problem is not that there is no correlation, but that the correlation may not be as strong as it could be.

104 JohnMcG May 19, 2011 at 12:20 pm

I think the first quote reveals why there’s so much tension around this.

There is nothing wrong with the head of the teacher’s union having a single-minded focus on the interests of its constituents. That’s the union’s job. Just like any lobby or interest group is going to be primarily, if not exclusively, focussed on advancing the interests of its clients.

The problem is that the teachers’ unions have leveraged a bit of a “halo effect” from their professions. In many quarters, opposing the teacher’s unions isn’t seen as opposing a special interest group, but opposing the people who have daily contact with your children, and are responsible for their education.

So when we hear the teacher’s union head declare he is not in the business of advocating for children, we recoil in shock, even though that is a perfectly reasonable statement for him to make.

But the real issue is that in our minds, we’ve conflated support for the teachers’ union with support for children, and see statements like this as a betrayal.

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