While they remain a powerful backbone of the Democratic Party, a recent poll from Rasmussen Reports indicates that a growing number of Americans feel that the nation’s two major teachers’ unions are more interested in protecting their jobs and benefits than ensuring the education and opportunities of their young charges.

[T]wo-thirds of U.S. voters (66%) say the teachers’ unions – the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers – are more interested in protecting their members’ jobs than in the quality of education.

Only 23% of voters say educational quality comes first for the unions, according to a new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey. Twelve percent (12%) are undecided.

Men and women are equally critical of the teacher’s unions. Married voters are more critical than unmarrieds by 12 points. Seventy percent (70%) of voters with children at home think the unions are more interested in jobs, compared to 63% of those without children in the house.

While 78% of Republicans and 66% of unaffiliated voters say teachers’ jobs are the chief focus of the unions, only 55% of Democrats agree.

This brings up two related issues: unions in general and education policy in specific. I’m not one of the “destroy the unions” types and I recognize the important role they played in our nation’s early days of industrialization and the useful purpose they can continue to serve today. However, as the economic battleground shifts, I have become increasingly aware that some unions have grown into self-feeding beasts which can – in the wrong hands – grow into positions where they cease helping their own members and begin to damage the industries providing the jobs their workers need. While this has been more apparent in the auto industry of late, the current state of education in this country certainly warrants some attention to their policies and practices.

Unions seem to fight any change to the status quo, such as charter schools, vouchers, home schooling and other alternative theories. With the sad state of affairs in American education, it would seem that anything might be worth a try. I’m not terribly surprised that voter confidence in the unions may be on the decline and this may be a well timed wake up call to union leadership. If we are truly moving into a “post partisan” age of new politics, here’s one opportunity to get started.

How will Obama’s choice of Chicago School Superintendent Arne Duncan affect this debate? Time alone will tell, but it will require some skill to build a bridge across the partisan lines of battle in this one.

JAZZ SHAW, Assistant Editor
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Copyright 2008 The Moderate Voice
  • I’m confused as to why you would think that a union would care more about education than jobs. That’s what a union is for — negotiating for wages, benefits, and yes, jobs of those in the union. This should NOT be confused with the fact that individual teachers are EXTREMELY concerned with the level of education their students are receiving, and at least those teachers I know do everything in their power (including things like putting in extra hours, using their own money to buy supplies, advising student groups with no extra pay, etc) in order to meet that goal. Do they expect to get paid for their work, and to have some job security? Yes, of course they do, and that’s why they have a union. We don’t confuse the role that unions play in other industries with whether or not individuals in that industry care about the quality of their work. We sometimes forget, I think, that teachers not only need a 4-year degree, but also a 1 year graduate degree to be credentialled. Saying that they don’t care about education because they expect to be paid more than $12/hour is kind of a silly point of view, but one that seems to be rampant, according to the stats listed above.

    It should also be noted that systems like vouchers and home schooling don’t really work for the majority of people. I’m sure I’ll be slapped down for that statement with tales about how your little genius child is thriving on one of these systems, but again, I’m talking about the majority of people, as in the majority of family situations.

  • superdestroyer

    the solution is to leave the teachers unions out of educational reform. Let them worry about pay or working conditions but teachers unions have no business in educational policy, cirriculum, etc.

  • elrod

    Teacher’s unions don’t oppose charter schools. They oppose vouchers, and for good reason. Vouchers don’t provide enough money to poor families to afford high-quality private education.

    The real purpose of vouchers, from the very beginning, was to subsidize white kids in the South whose parents didn’t want to send their children to desegregated public schools. As states like Mississippi and Georgia saw their public education systems become mostly black, white conservatives started to demand that they not pay for “other people’s” education. “Why not privatize the whole thing and put everybody on an equal footing?” That’s what they asked in the 1960s and 1970s. The notion that vouchers are geared toward poor blacks seeking escape from failing public schools is a ruse. Conservative white suburban Republicans moved to the suburbs in the first place to get away from blacks. They sure as heck didn’t want the blacks (other than a token one or two) to follow them into their new “Christian academies.”

  • Jim_Satterfield

    Who wouldn’t have doubts about an organization that has had an unrelenting drumbeat of smears aimed in their direction? How many years has conservative propaganda been aimed at them? How many people wouldn’t feel defensive after the kinds of attacks that have been leveled at teachers? When Republicans try to pretend that it’s only the unions that they criticize they somehow apparently have lost sight of the fact that union leaders are elected, thus representing the teachers.

  • superdestroyer

    elrod,

    In many states, the teachers unions have pushed for rules on charter schools that were meant to ensure that they fail. In Colorado, charter schools were forced to have parents help organize the schools but had to admit students based upon a lottery. The rules in many states are meant to make it as hard as possible to start a charter school because the teachers unions have openly opposed charter schools.

    Jim,

    People would be hard on the professionals in the education system who have been truing out such a lousy product for decades. Even President-Elect Obama knows that the public schools are incapable of teaching his own children to the level needed to compete at the highest levels.