It seems that you can’t have a conversation about improving education without someone blaming the teachers union for the all of the problems with public education. Are teachers unions perfect? No. Are they the problem with American education? No.
First it should be noted that only 38%of the nation’s educators belong to a union . Given that nearly two-thirds of public school teachers are non-union it seems like a stretch to blame the unions for the failings of public education. Also, if the teachers unions were at fault for the downfall of public education, there should be some research that provides evidence for such a claim. The data, however, shows that there is little to no difference in test scores of students taught by union teachers versus non-union teachers.
Given the lack of data to support the attack on teachers unions, the next argument you often hear is that teacher tenure is ruining public education. This belief was fueled by the following quote from the documentary Waiting for Superman:
…in Illinois, 1 in 57 doctors loses his or her medical license, and 1 in 97 attorneys loses his or her law license, but only 1 teacher in 2500 has ever lost his or her credentials.”
Unfortunately this “statistic” has no basis in reality. Unlike the filmmakers, Leonie Haimson from the Huffington Post actually took the time to examine the data and found that the numbers across these three occupations are nearly identical.
But even these numbers don’t give an accurate picture of the situation. To get a law license in most states you need only to get a law degree and pass the bar. To get a license to practice medicine you need to earn a medical degree, pass the boards and practice medicine for one year. To get tenure you need to get a degree in education and teacher for around 4 years (varies by state).
Given the fact that 46% of teachers leave the profession within 5 years, it should come as no surprise that the turnover rate for tenured teachers is low. Those teachers that make it to tenure tend to be those who are most dedicated to the job.
Regardless of these facts, many people will still argue against unions because they claim unions cost the taxpayers too much. Again, this is a fallacy. Most often we debate what a teacher makes without ever considering the cost of living. Teachers unions tend to be the strongest in the states that are the most expensive to live. When you take cost of living into account, teachers in states with fewer or no union teachers actually make more money per year than the teachers in states with fewer or no non-union teachers.
If the goal is truly to improve education in America, then there is plenty of good data on real solutions which make a difference. Focusing on unions is a politically motivated diversionary tactic that helps no one but the politicians.