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Monday, September 24, 2012


Chicago Teachers Union

Being that we have just finished reading The Logic of Collective Action, I feel it to be an appropriate time to comment on the incompetent mess that is the Chicago Teachers Strike.  Union formation is inefficient – this we know – and in this case, the parents and their children are the ones being forced to suffer the consequences.  If I understand this correctly, the teachers not only want pay increases but they no longer want to be held accountable for student performance.  Well…my question is: What exactly do they want to be held accountable for?  A teacher should be evaluated on how well they are able to engage a body of students – and more importantly – how well they are able to instill a certain level of knowledge within them; with the chief emphasis being on retention of knowledge.  Compensation should be directly tied to that design, just as it is for the rest of us workers.  For example, a plumber wouldn’t keep his job very long if he couldn’t snake a simple drain.  Yet, all he would have to do is join a union that says his performance cannot be directly tied to whether or not he keeps his job and then all his problems would be solved – he wouldn’t have a care in the world.  But customers would certainly be upset, for they would all be stuck with clogged pipes due to ineptitude.  The same scenario applies to this teacher fiasco.  Parents are sending their children off to school and yet when the student comes home after a day’s worth of schooling, nothing has been learned or retained.  “Karen Lewis, president of the Chicago Teachers Union, has objected to any objective analysis of teacher performance despite the fact that just 15% of fourth-graders are proficient in reading and four of 10 CPS students do not graduate from high school.” Who’s to blame for this?  To me, it sounds like an incompetent teaching staff.  But apparently the competence of the teachers shouldn’t really matter.  These teachers must think school is just like day-care, all the way up until students reach the age of 18.  No matter whether the kids learn anything as long as I keep getting that paycheck – and whenever we feel like exploiting the taxpayer, we’ll just throw a strike and demand more money for a job not well done. 
This certainly doesn’t make any sense to me.  A city like Chicago cannot afford any unwarranted exploitation from an already greedy set of teachers.  Check this out: “John Tillman of the Illinois Policy Institute notes Chicago's unemployment rate is just under 11% and that the average Chicagoan makes just $30,203 compared with the average teacher's salary of $71,000, even before benefits are included.  And unlike parents who go to work each day to be judged on their productivity and who fear each day might be their last, dismissing a bad teacher is harder than spinning straw into gold.” What a joke.  And by the way, enough with tenure at the high school level.  I understand why University Professors gain tenure but why do high school teachers need (read: deserve) it?  Unless it is one of the honest, ethical teachers (and it doesn’t look like there are many in Chicago) all tenure does is grant already unaccountable and lazy teachers an extra cushion to abuse the time and knowledge of their students.  Enough already.  I say teachers should absolutely be directly tied to student performance because frankly I can’t think of anything else to judge them off of.  If your classroom of students are repeatedly getting low scores on standardized testing, then adios amigo! That seems to be a better plan than the alternative – which is giving the teacher a substantial raise.  

Well, I don't quite know how to judge if the teachers in question are lazy or incompetent. But, I think you missed an opportunity to point out how incentives matter. Of course unions imply an inefficient allocation of resources. The how this happens is related to many of the points your raise, most of which amount to an opportunity for you to explain how incentives under unions lead to the kind of stuff we witnessed in Chicago.
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