NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Teachers' Unions Thwarting Education

June 16, 2003

Powerful teachers' unions are one big part of the public-school problem. Another is the educational bureaucracy. In "Breaking Free" (Encounter Books, 248 pages, $25.95), author Sol Stern describes the bloated school-board bureaucracy that was headquartered at 110 Livingston St. in Brooklyn.

  • First-year teachers, he reports, often delivered their required "reams of paperwork" in person, even though that could mean a multihour trip on the subway, because the clerks there might otherwise lose it.
  • Stern's two sons went on to elite middle schools and to Stuyvesant High School, the city's best; still, good teachers were always under threat of replacement by inept but senior teachers with the union and bureaucracy on their side.
  • At Stuyvesant, Stern's younger child had a superb math teacher, a Romanian refugee who had taught at the university level; "For two years," Stern reports, this teacher "came perilously close to being pushed out of Stuyvesant by an incompetent math teacher whose only claim was that he had toiled in the system for nearly forty years."

So much for the top schools. What about the legions of poor families locked into districts where the public schools are dysfunctional? They have turned in large numbers to Catholic schools. Decades ago, these schools served mainly white families, who later departed for the suburbs. Now they live on as a last resort for black and Hispanic children, who now make up 85 percent of their enrollment in Manhattan and the Bronx.

Source: Peter Hellman, "One Way to Teach Your Children Well," Wall Street Journal, June 10, 2003; based on Sol Stern, "Breaking Free," Encounter Books, May 2003.

For text (WSJ subscription required),,SB105520763135066000,00.html


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