School bus

Teachers Unions Oppose Education Reform

Regardless of one’s view of any particular method of improving America’s struggling public schools (whether school choice, charter schools, or rewarding better teachers with better pay), the tactics and rhetoric that teachers unions employ to block any meaningful reform is remarkable. Their motivation is simple: maintain the status quo — and the flow of hundreds of millions of dollars in dues. Meanwhile, union leaders’ suggestions for reform are best summarized as “more money to hire more teachers,” who are then likely to become dues-paying union members.

Former top officers at the National Education Association’s Kansas and Nebraska state chapters summarized their union’s stance on reform in a 1994 issue of Educational Freedom: “The NEA has been the single biggest obstacle to education reform in this country. We know because we worked for the NEA.”

Keeping a Tight Grip on Policy

The control that union officials can maintain over local school boards borders on the ridiculous. Veteran education reporter Joe Williams wrote: “The United Teachers Los Angeles had such a tight grip on its school board in 2004 that union leaders actually instructed them on important policies and made no attempt to hide their hand signals to school board members during meetings.”

America has two national education unions that control smaller local unions and set the precedent for teacher union behavior nationwide. The smaller of the two education unions is the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) which is also an AFL-CIO affiliate. The largest union in the United States, and in education, is the National Education Association (NEA). As a result of its size — and the vast number of dues-paying members — it is one of the most powerful political forces in the nation.

The NEA employs a corps of directors called UniServ. These directors assist local teachers unions with collective bargaining (supplying negotiation experience that often vastly outstrips the resources of a local school district) and serve as conduits for the union’s political messages. Thanks to its UniServ network and “member-to-member” communications, the NEA commands a get-out-the-vote network that’s a powerful complement to its considerable political donations (and one that’s nearly invisible to government oversight, too). With their UniServ corps, the NEA employs a larger number of political organizers than the Republican and Democratic National Committees combined. Frederick Hess and Andrew Kelly even point out that UniServ “has consistently been the NEA’s most expensive budget item.”