Friday, May 28, 2010

Should teachers be able to unionize?

The Wisconsin legislature thinks so, but without merit pay how do they align the incentives of teachers with the goals of schools?
The result for white-collar, professional unions has been the almost complete elimination of merit pay or promotion, in favor of a salary grid based on seniority and extra credentialing that has rarely been associated with productive and quality work. For teachers the record of merit pay, career ladders, or tying rewards to how well students learn, has been abysmal. The Obama administration has placed great importance on creating merit pay tied to student outcomes, but they to date have no record of success and many experts are betting on the teacher unions to outlast the administration.

The case gets much worse at the university level. The reason is that there are three realities about American universities that are not often admitted or discussed, but may well be among the reasons that our universities remain the envy of the world, certainly at the research level. Those realities are: 1) colleges and universities are built on inequalities between campuses, within campuses, and within departments; 2) teaching is considerably less demanding than K-12 teaching, even at non-research universities; and 3) at research universities we currently fire about half of faculty hires because they fail to get tenure.

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