Special Interest

Special Interest: Teachers Unions and America's Public Schools

TERRY M. MOE
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 513
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7864/j.ctt12616v
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  • Book Info
    Special Interest
    Book Description:

    Why are America's public schools falling so short of the mark in educating the nation's children? Why are they organized in ineffective ways that fly in the face of common sense, to the point that it is virtually impossible to get even the worst teachers out of the classroom? And why, after more than a quarter century of costly education reform, have the schools proven so resistant to change and so difficult to improve?

    In this path-breaking book, Terry M. Moe demonstrates that the answers to these questions have a great deal to do with teachers unions -which are by far the most powerful forces in American education and use their power to promote their own special interests at the expense of what is best for kids.

    Despite their importance, the teachers unions have barely been studied.Special Interestfills that gap with an extraordinary analysis that is at once brilliant and kaleidoscopic -shedding new light on their historical rise to power, the organizational foundations of that power, the ways it is exercised in collective bargaining and politics, and its vast consequences for American education. The bottom line is simple but devastating: as long as the teachers unions remain powerful, the nation's schools will never be organized to provide kids with the most effective education possible.

    Moe sees light at the end of the tunnel, however, due to two major transformations. One is political, the other technological, and the combination is destined to weaken the unions considerably in the coming years -loosening their special-interest grip and opening up a new era in which America's schools can finally be organized in the best interests of children.

    eISBN: 978-0-8157-2130-7
    Subjects: Education, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. 1 The Problem of Union Power
    (pp. 1-25)

    Janet Archer painted watercolors. Gordon Russell planned trips to Alaska and Cape Cod. Others did crossword puzzles, read books, played chess, practiced ballet moves, argued with one another, and otherwise tried to fill up the time. The place was New York City. The year was 2009. And these were public school teachers passing a typical day in one of the city’s Rubber Rooms—Temporary Reassignment Centers—where teachers were housed when they were considered so unsuited to teaching that they needed to be kept out of the classroom, away from the city’s children.¹

    There were more than 700 teachers in...

  5. 2 The Rise of the Teachers Unions
    (pp. 26-65)

    Teachers are powerful because they are organized. Through organization, they can bargain with local school districts for better wages and benefits, job protections, and favorable work rules. Through organization, they can also take action in the political process to get favored candidates elected to office, lobby for desirable public policies, and block unwanted reforms.

    The advantages of organization are hardly a mystery. The interesting point is that teachers went for so longwithoutgetting organized. Yes, many belonged to the National Education Association (NEA) during the first half of the 1900s. But the NEA was controlled by administrators, and thus...

  6. 3 Teachers and Their Unions
    (pp. 66-111)

    It might seem obvious that, if we want to understand the teachers unions—what they do, why they do it—we should focus on their leaders. After all, the leaders are in charge. They are the ones who make the official decisions in politics and collective bargaining, control all the money, and wield power. A focus on leaders also comes naturally. Most people tend to personify politics and organizations, and believe that leaders—whom we can see, watch, listen to, and psychoanalyze—are the keys to what is happening.

    This fixation is only reinforced by common stereotypes. One, advanced mainly...

  7. 4 Unions and School Boards
    (pp. 112-154)

    Collective bargaining is the bedrock of union well-being. And for that reason, success in collective bargaining—doing what it takes to satisfy members locally—is a burning requirement of union leadership. How, then, can local leaders succeed in bringing home the bacon?

    Part of the answer is that, like union leaders in the private sector, they need to be able to threaten strikes, work stoppages, and other unpleasantries that might force management into concessions. This is standard fare for all unions. But precisely because the teachers unions operate in the public sector, they are fortunate to have another avenue of...

  8. 5 Are Teachers Underpaid?
    (pp. 155-173)

    At the local level, teachers unions amass power for a reason: they want to win favorable contracts for their members. So what is the result? What do these collective bargaining contracts look like, and what do they mean for the organization and performance of the public schools?¹

    It would be natural to explore these questions right now. But before I turn to them, I want to give separate attention to a familiar claim that is always front and center in these negotiations, and that the unions have used to great advantage in the larger arena of public opinion to gain...

  9. 6 Collective Bargaining
    (pp. 174-214)

    Every few years, the teachers unions in most of the nation’s school districts engage in collective bargaining on behalf of their members. To judge from news accounts, these events are mainly struggles over wages and benefits. Yet the real story is usually more complicated than that, and a good bit more consequential for schools and kids.

    The unionsdowant higher salaries and benefits, of course. But they also want to protect jobs, expand the rights and prerogatives of teachers in the workplace, and restrict the discretion of management. To accomplish these aims, they demand specificrulesthat, in one...

  10. 7 Small Victories for Sanity
    (pp. 215-240)

    Since the 1970s, restrictive labor contracts have been common in American education, especially in large urban districts. Until recently, very little has been done or even said about them. The unions, after all, have been tremendously powerful throughout the modern era, and the districts—led by elected school boards often beholden to the unions themselves—have been weak bargainers not fully able to resist.

    The past decade has seen signs of change. The most radical departure from the norm has occurred in New Orleans, which, in terms of reforms to the basic structure of public education, is surely the nation’s...

  11. 8 Reform Unionism
    (pp. 241-274)

    It is fair to say that many who are directly involved in school reform—elected and appointed policymakers, think tank experts, leaders of foundations, advocates for the disadvantaged, opinion leaders, and commentators from major news outlets—recognize that the teachers unions are standing in the way of effective schools. But recognizing the problem is one thing. Doing something about it is quite another. What do they think can be done?

    That’s the rub. Many of these same movers and shakers also see the unions as legitimate “stakeholders” in the system. They believe that teachers need representation, that unions in general...

  12. 9 The Politics of Blocking
    (pp. 275-341)

    The teachers unions exercise power over America’s schools in two ways. They do it through collective bargaining. And they do it through politics. So far, we’ve devoted a good deal of attention to collective bargaining and very little to politics. It’s time to change that.

    In the grander scheme of things, the power they wield in politics may be evenmoreconsequential than the power they wield in collective bargaining. That may be hard to imagine, but it’s probably true. Politics is simply more fundamental. The public schools, after all, are government agencies. Virtually everything about them is subject to...

  13. 10 A Critical Juncture
    (pp. 342-388)

    The chapters in this book cover a lot of ground. If we step back from it all and take in the broad panorama of American education reform over the last three decades, what do we see? We see a nation whose leaders fully agree that improving the public schools is absolutely critical to the economic and social well being of the country, and who are willing to invest heavily to bring that improvement about. But we also see an education system that is protected from change—protected by a special interest group that has a deep stake in the status...

  14. Appendix A: Union Membership and State Labor Laws
    (pp. 389-399)
  15. Appendix B: The Survey Sample: Comparisons to SASS
    (pp. 400-402)
  16. Appendix C: Young Teachers
    (pp. 403-406)
  17. Notes
    (pp. 407-496)
  18. Index
    (pp. 497-513)
  19. Back Matter
    (pp. 514-515)