NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

The End of Teachers' Unions

August 1, 2012

All of the problems of the American public education system can be classified into two broad groupings. First, it has a performance problem.  As a result, American students are repeatedly outclassed by their international peers. Second, it has a political problem: those with control over the system choke reform that might solve its performance problem, says Terry M. Moe of the Hoover Institution.

According to Moe, the performance problem cannot be adequately addressed until the political problem is overcome. In that regard, it is his belief that the public schools' teachers unions are most responsible for preempting reform efforts.

  • Accountability efforts have had few real consequences for poorly performing schools and none for bad teachers.
  • Despite high demand, charter schools have enrolled just 3 percent of public school children in 2012, laboring under severe restrictions on their numbers and funding.
  • Voucher programs for disadvantaged families have been small and uncommon in 2012, and the few in existence are continually under union attack, leading to the demise of programs in Colorado, Florida, Arizona, and Washington, D.C.
  • Pay for performance plans have been aggressively resisted and, when adopted (which is exceedingly rare), relied on criteria that had little or no connection to how much students actually learned in the classroom.
  • Efforts to get bad teachers out of the classroom -- which required simple modifications of state laws and local union contracts -- have gained little traction.

However, Moe does see a natural solution to the teachers union's blockade on reform efforts. Technology, he argues, will break teachers' authoritative control over public education, and will simultaneously correct much of the system's performance problem as well.

  • Online courses will allow for hyperspecialized education that gives students the exact curriculum they need and want, such as AP courses, remedial options and nonessential electives.
  • Moe claims that the proliferation of online learning will act as a social equalizer, giving equal access to educational materials to all students, regardless of location, class or ethnicity.
  • Following this line of events to its natural conclusion, he suggests that teacher-to-student ratios will increase dramatically, reducing demand for teachers.
  • Further, because of the lessened demand for brick-and-mortar schools, teachers will not have as many opportunities to organize and control education.

Source: Terry M. Moe, "The End of Teachers' Unions," Hoover Institution, July 18, 2012.

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