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Steve Jobs attacks Teacher’s Unions
Posted by: McQ on Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Jay Greene, writing in the NY Sun, brings us this story:
In a speech on Friday, the chief executive officer of Apple and Disney honcho declared: "I believe that what's wrong with our schools in this nation is that they have become unionized in the worst possible way."

The problem with unionization, Mr. Jobs argued, is that it has constrained schools from attracting and retaining the best teachers and from dismissing the less effective ones. This, in turn, deters quality people from seeking to become principals and superintendents. "What kind of person could you get to run a small business if you told them that when they came in they couldn't get rid of people that they thought weren't any good? Not really great ones because if you're really smart you go, ‘I can't win,'" Mr. Jobs said. He concluded by saying, "This unionization and lifetime employment of K-12 teachers is off-the-charts crazy."
Interestingly, schools buy a lot of computers from Apple, and given who followed Jobs, and essentially took the opposite position, this sort of an attack on teacher's unions could cost Apple sales:
Sharing the stage with Mr. Jobs was Michael Dell, the chief executive officer of Dell, a competing computer manufacturer. By comparison, according to the description of the event, Mr. Dell "sat quietly with his hands folded in his lap," during Mr. Jobs' speech while the audience at an education reform conference "applauded enthusiastically."

Mr. Dell followed Mr. Jobs by defending the rise of unions in education: "the employer was treating his employees unfairly and that was not good. … So now you have these enterprises where they take good care of their people. The employees won, they do really well and succeed."
Mr. Dell gets to the heart of why unions rose in any industry — to give employees a voice in negotiating a floor. And essentially that was their purpose. Floor building. Minimum acceptable wages, minimal acceptable work environment, minimum acceptable safety standards, channels for filing grievances and having them heard, etc.

The problem with unions today, such as the teacher's unions, is they've expanded from floor building into erecting walls and ceilings. And it is those walls and ceilings which inhibit or prevent employers (i.e. school administrations) from doing things which most reasonable people would consider their right, as an employer, to do. Like fire an incompetent. Or reward merit. Or any of dozens of things which would improve education. Additionally, these unions have politicized education by using member's union fees to lobby legislators and legislatures for help in building and strengthening those walls and ceilings.

Steve Jobs has the foresight to recognize a problem when he sees one and the courage to address it even at the risk of losing sales. And given the fact that educators listening to Jobs "applauded enthusiastically" you'd have to conclude that most educators understand the problems those union walls and ceilings bring to their chosen profession.

As Mr Green argues:
Of the 300 million people living in America, including children, there are more than 3 million teachers currently employed in public schools. Among households with college-educated adults, a very large proportion has a current or former public school teacher residing there. And almost every college-educated person has a relative or close friend who is a current or former public school teacher. Teachers are powerful.

But there is hope for reform and a reason for Mr. Jobs to think he was not foolish in challenging unions. Not all teachers share the agenda of the unions that claim to represent them. In particular, the most effective teachers have little to gain from union protection since their skills are likely to be more recognized and more richly rewarded without the unions.

The single salary schedule, which is the very heart of unionization in education, arguably harms those teachers with excellent skills by requiring that they be paid the same as less effective teachers.

Moreover, teachers are also taxpayers and parents who want to improve the quality of education. Like the rest of us, self-interest and union dogma may cloud teachers' perception of how to best reform education.

If they are presented with solid evidence and persuasive arguments, teachers can be a powerful force for education reform — not for the status quo.
And Mr. Jobs is probably as good a choice as any to carry that argument.

(HT: Betsy's Page)
 
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Most extremely impressive, Mr. Jobs. That really took guts.
 
Written By: Linda Morgan
URL: http://
the most effective teachers have little to gain from union protection since their skills are likely to be more recognized and more richly rewarded without the unions.
I agree wholeheartedly with this statement. (And standard disclaimer - my wife and I are both public school teachers who do not belong to our respective unions).

I have managed to establish myself as a teacher with skills that other teachers don’t have (particularly with computer technology).

However, I have never seen a good proposal describing how to judge some teachers to be better than others in terms of classroom effectiveness. How do you compare teachers with different classrooms of children, different parental support, different subject matter, different levels of student ability (based in some part on the teachers and schools the students had previously), etc.

Are you going to judge on how well behaved the classroom appears? Are you going to judge on grades? Are you going to judge on the student test scores? Student surveys?

Teachers who participate more in school activities tend to be paid stipends (where there are strong unions), so there are already rewards for teachers who spend extra time in afterschool activities.
 
Written By: JWG
URL: http://
Mr. Dell gets to the heart of why unions rose in any industry — to give employees a voice in negotiating a floor. And essentially that was their purpose. Floor building. Minimum acceptable wages, minimal acceptable work environment, minimum acceptable safety standards, channels for filing grievances and having them heard, etc.
This goes to the core reason that I object to public employee unions. Public employees usually work under civil service rules that offer ample protections for employees’ rights. Also, public employees often have their own pension plans that are far more generous than private sector plans, and their salaries are usually higher than workers are paid in comparable jobs in the private sector. Thus, for public employees, a union becomes redundant for acheiving the goals that unions were created to acheive.

What the public employee unions have managed to acheive is to capture one of the two major political parties in this country so completely that when they sit down at the bargaining table with a representative of a Democratic administration the union is essentially on both sides of the table and the taxpayer is not represented.
 
Written By: Aldo
URL: http://
The problem with unions today, such as the teacher’s unions, is they’ve expanded from floor building into erecting walls and ceilings.
That’s part of the problem, but not all. A more fundamental part of the problem is that the floor-building process never ends. Whatever the union can negotiate at any given time becomes the new floor, and a new one is built over that, ad infinitum. The result is a lousy work environment for good teachers, coupled with a guarantee of lifetime employment for overpaid and undermotivated ones.

Are Dell’s own employees unionized?
 
Written By: Xrlq
URL: http://xrlq.com/
My guess is that the unions are holding down wages for all teachers.

With the way merit pay and other ways of rewarding teachers with differential compensation packages is denied the emphasis is on creating new classes and layers of administration that serve as a career path. This incentive removes more and more money from the classroom teachers and more and more into the administration and support areas. Teacher pay and/or smaller classroom size suffers. This is borne out from my own experience as well.
 
Written By: Lance
URL: http://asecondhandconjecture.com
Did Mr. Dell ever mention the teachers’ reason for being? I refer, of course, to the children. Strangely enough I always thought that the education industry existed to educate the children, not to benefit teachers and administrators. I must add that it seems very strange to use "the children" seriously. Evidence of the damage done by certain political hacks.
 
Written By: timactual
URL: http://
Strangely enough I always thought that the education industry existed to educate the children
Of course, you could look at it as teachers are here to provide functioning workers to drive our economic growth. Otherwise, we would just be teaching concepts that enhance the human spirit.
 
Written By: JWG
URL: http://
Mr. Dell gets to the heart of why unions rose in any industry — to give employees a voice in negotiating a floor.
Uh, a union is simply a labor cartel. It attempts to control a form of labor, theryby driving up the value of the labor.

I think the "floor" anaolgy is flawed. Unions are not just about establishing a floor, and never have been. They also tend to work towards rewarding the union old timers, rather than rewarding the young hard-chargers.

Another problem with the teacher’s union is that it doesn’t act so much like a union, it is more of a PAC for the Democratic Party.
 
Written By: Don
URL: http://
"Of course, you could look at it as teachers are here to provide functioning workers to drive our economic growth."

Naw, that’s why God gave us Mexicans.
 
Written By: timactual
URL: http://

 
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