Opinion: Liberals and Teacher Unions - The End of a Long Romance

One of the things I've been struck with over the years is how much of a shift I've seen in most of the liberals I know who have kids in public schools, on this issue of education. These are still union supporting people, but after seeing the terrible system their children are learning in, they become ardent supporters of reform.

And this isn't just my personal experience. Education is one of the issues where the Democrats have become so beholden to the teachers unions, who overwhelmingly are against major education overhauls that threaten their near monopoly on a captive labor pool within the educational system, and threaten the status quo in a whole slew of ways, that they have lost touch with the vast majority of Americans that just want results.

Most people don't care what needs to happen, they just want their kids to go to school and learn the things they need to learn to be prepared for life as an adult. They see that other countries, who's children are not inherently smarter, who often spend less per student and whose teachers cannot be inherently less talented and passionate about the youth in their charge... and wonder why big changes haven't been made.

But it appears that the teachers unions are beginning to lose their grip on the Democrats. A bill making its way through the House Education and the Workforce Committee recently had supringly little pushback from the Democrats there.

From the National Journal:

...unlike other education fights in the House where government-wary Republicans rule the day, the charter-schools bill passed the committee with wide bipartisan support. It encourages states to repeal caps on charter schools or the percentage of students that may attend them. It allows the Education Department to award grant funds directly to charter schools in states that did not win a quality charter school grant. It consolidates the current federal funding scheme such that state educational agencies, charter school boards and governors can award grants to new charter schools and replicate existing high quality schools.

The usual argument against charter schools is that they often aren't all that much more effective than public schools they replace. This is true. But what is ignored is that there are some charter school systems that have been shown to work far better. What these laws are missing, as far as I've seen, is a clause that goes out of it's way to create a system that mimics natural selection.

This system could choose a set of problems found in schools across the country, say inner city schools within a range of poverty and a range of African American students, find a number of failing schools that fit those criteria, and let several private school organizations pitch ideas on how they would turn those schools around.

The most promising plans would be given the opportunity to give their plans a try for a handful of years, and the ones who are the most successful would be given the chance to take over the ones who did not succeed, as well as other failing public schools. Eventually, this is how the entire system should work. Regardless of whether the system being brought to a failing school comes from a public school, or some form of private system, the only thing that matters is whether it has a track record of success with the kind of population that school serves.

If teachers unions get in the way, they need to be fought tooth and nail. If they're smart though, they'd see that they are much better off in the long term by doing whatever they can to make our schools produce better results, instead of spending so much of their time fighting measures to even find out what the results are in the first place.

With a more successful school system, teachers can be sure they will have an easier time getting better pay, and if teachers unions want to represent charter or otherwise private school teachers, they can do what most other unions have to do... convince them to organize and decide themselves.

Solomon Kleinsmith is a nonprofit worker, serial social entrepreneur and strident centrist independent blogger from Omaha, Nebraska. His website, Rise of the Center, is the fastest growing blog targeting centrist independents and moderates.