Thursday, February 24, 2011

Union, Through and Through...


You'll be happy to learn that thanks to some of your recent posts, they've quadrupled my already dangerously high dosage of Thorazine. I've taken to putting it in a Pez dispenser and popping it like candy. The mental institution I practically live at now is considering naming a wing after me. You'd make a stunning consort for the White Queen, Steve, who could "believe six impossible things before breakfast". But then, why limit yourself to just six?

You heard somewhere that firing the least competent 10% of teachers would improve test scores by 50% - clearly indicating you consider teacher's unions to be the main obstacle to this handsome plan. Really?

Five states (including Georgia) effectively bar collective bargaining by teacher's unions - thereby removing that obstacle. If you were correct in your reasoning (and you aren't), these states would be near the top in national SAT/ACT rankings. Funny thing is, all six of these states rank in the lower third of the rankings. Wisconsin by the way, where the WEAC (teacher's union) has till now been particularly strong - and where according you, all these incompetent teachers can't be fired - traditionally ranks near the top of the rankings.

All of this argues against taking important positions based on vague, anecdotal generalizations - as they have the habit of coming back at you like boomerangs. Let me simplify it this way then. IF this 10/50 hogwash was true, states which are not barred from firing and replacing that lower 10% would have HIGH scores and states which are would have LOW scores. But this isn't true. Steve, you need to tow that particular bromide back to the hangar and see if you can add enough horse power to get it off the ground. Moving right along...

Weighing the effect of unions on scholastic achievement can be a tricky business. One Angus Johnson (PhD in education from City University of New York, 2009) has a thoughtful, balanced post on the subject: "Teachers Unions, ACT/SAT, and Student Performance: Is Wisconsin Out-Ranking the Non-Union States?" And by the way he starts the post with the observation that comparisons of the "non-union" five states I just mentioned with Wisconsin are usually based on faulty information.

Dr. Johnson directs us to a (2000) Harvard study which: "found a statistically significant and positive relationship between the presence of teacher unions and stronger state performance on tests...", after " controlling for factors like race, median income, and parental education...".


"They found that the presence of teachers unions in a state did have a measurable and significant correlation with increased test scores — that going to school in a union state would, for instance, raise average SATs by about 50 points."

Why would that be? Let me guess. The people who are doing these studies are all in unions and have a vested interest in confirming the positive effect of teacher's unions? Well that's easy enough to check. Fire up your search engine and look for state SAT and ACT rankings. See?

Steve, firing and replacing the worst ten performers in any group of a hundred in principle should always improve the overall performance of the group - and possibly a useful rule when managing ditch diggers or parking lot attendants. But as you move up the scale, other principles become equally important.

Suppose you managed a shop with a hundred mechanics. If they're good mechanics, and perform well as a group, why would you assume that arbitrarily firing the ten least skilled among them would improve overall performance? First, now you have to go out and get ten more mechanics and hope they're better than the ones you fired. Second, you've now demonstrated to the remaining 90 that tenure and attitude are pretty much worthless. Don't you think that demonstration would have some effect, not only on the way they approach their jobs, but also on the respect they have for management and the company as a whole?

The Harvard report summarizes:

"...other mechanism(s) (ie, better working conditions; greater worker autonomy, security, and dignity; improved administration; better training of teachers; greater levels of faculty professionalism) must be at work here.”

And it makes sense. Sure, certainly, unions in all trades have frequently helped incompetent boobs to stay on jobs for which they frankly aren't suited. I've seen that myself first hand, many times. And sometimes also the nature of the trade itself comes into play. Unions seem to produce positive benefits more often in some trades than in others.

But the point here is that teacher's unions, especially, can and do provide their members with a sense of dignity and security, and protect them from capricious and arbitrary administrators - or - in other words - raise the level pride and professionalism, on both sides. The payoff is a better education, and isn't that what all of us want to see?


No comments:

Post a Comment