To the Editor:
“Do you think unions protect bad teachers?”
That was Anderson Cooper’s question for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton at her party’s recent primary debate in Flint, Mich. (“Hillary Clinton: Teachers Are Often ‘Scapegoats’ for Low-Performing Schools”). Clinton’s answer was clear: “I have told my friends at the top of both [teachers’] unions, we’ve got to take a look at this because it is one of the most common criticisms. We need to eliminate the criticism.”
That might take a while. One estimate based on federal data suggests only one out of every 500 tenured teachers is fired for poor performance.
America’s national teachers’ unions—the National Education Association and American Federation of Teachers—are notorious for protecting underwhelming teachers through generous tenure policies and last-in, first-out firing procedures.
Their staunch support for the status quo spills over into politics. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the NEA and the AFT’s super-PACs have spent nearly $228 million on political activities and lobbying since 1990, without taking into account millions more in non-PAC expenditures. And almost all of the money has been spent on the Democratic Party and special-interest groups.
Meanwhile, according to the 2012 Program for International Student Assessment, our country ranks 35th in the world when it comes to mathematics—behind Russia and Vietnam. Reading scores are even more troubling: Only 36 percent of America’s 8th graders read at or above grade level.
The time for change is now. And teachers’ unions are getting in the way.
Center for Union Facts
A version of this article appeared in the April 27, 2016 edition of Education Week as Teachers’ Unions Protect Ineffective Teachers