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  • The Cartel: The True Nature of Teacher Unions

    The problem of continual academic mediocrity that plagues America’s public school system can be laid at the door of union monopolies. That’s the message of The Cartel, a new documentary that will show this Sunday at 12 pm at the Washington, D.C. Independent Film Festival. The film documents the abuses of power exercised by teacher unions, specifically in the state of New Jersey, and the adverse effects such control can have on student achievement and parents’ fight for school choice.

    The movie shows scenes of school buildings with new facades and million-dollar football fields juxtaposed with statistics of failing high schools and abysmal reading proficiency scores across the state. New Jersey is known for its extravagant education funding, currently spending over $350,000 per classroom in some of the state’s worst performing school districts. Why should a state with one of the highest public education budgets in the country boast meager academic achievement?

    The inability of school districts to fire poorly performing teachers because of union tenure rules, coupled with an expensive and excessive administrative bureaucracy demanded by the same union, leads to an inefficient use of state funds and an ineffective education system. Similarly, when families and communities move to implement voucher programs, teacher unions cry foul, claiming such programs would supposedly drain money from already struggling public schools. What is the motivation for keeping bad teachers in classrooms, wasting millions of taxpayer dollars on renovation projects, and denying families the power of school choice?

    As a principal who was fired for his request to take action against teachers watching pornography while in school, states in the movie:

    You keep quiet if you want this high-paying position; or you take a stance and you’re going to lose your job. And they’ll put your name in the newspaper, which means you’ll never be employed again. Because they play dirty, because there’s so much money involved.

    While the movie investigates the power of teachers unions in New Jersey and demonstrates the negative impact such tactics can have on students, the film’s producer, Bob Bowdon, is quick to show support for teachers who care about educating their students:

    Those good teachers deserve our respect. Wanting lousy teachers out of the classroom doesn’t mean you’re against all teachers. A point so obvious, I can hardly believe it needs to be made. This absurd idea that you have got to support every teacher, or else you hate all teachers, has been an effective myth put forward by the union for years.

    The effects of teachers’ unions on school district governance and student performance is necessary to understanding many of the problems public schools around the country continue to face. Be sure to visit The Cartel website for screenings in the D.C. area and around the country.

    Sarah Torre currently is a member of the Young Leaders Program at the Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please visit: http://www.heritage.org/about/departments/ylp.cfm

    Posted in Education [slideshow_deploy]

    17 Responses to The Cartel: The True Nature of Teacher Unions

    1. Justin, Philly, PA says:

      Taking a page out of Bowdon's book, hating all teachers' unions based on the outlandish actions of a few, anecdotal at best, is a leap of logic. I'm also confused, granted that I haven't seen the film as of yet, as to how any teachers' union has lobbied for glitzier schools, as that seems outside the boundaries of contract negotiations. It may be an even greater leap of logic to assume that the NEA or AFT are the reason that public education is failing, given that the majority of southern states outlaw collective bargaining by teachers, let alone any state employees, yet find themselves on the short list for failing education.

      Here Heritage is again, trying to make up for the recent findings from the Stanford research committee that revealed the short comings of charter schools, (that they perform at the level of or below, public schools). Just remember, though, they're in your pocket, too: they prescribed a solution of more charter schools!

    2. wiser says:

      Get rid of underperforming teachers! Also, look at what teachers have to work with: students who get no discipline at home, parents who don't care because they didn't pay attention in school, parents who blame teachers as a scapegoat for students who aren't motivated at home to do their best, distractions such as cell phones, pants down to the knees, excessive make-up, textbooks which don't teach about what made our country great (Progressives are to be blamed for that), drugs, sex, alcohol, and at times a "you owe me" society brought about by entitlements.

      Send your kids to school to learn, ask them what they learned in school each day when they come home, help them with their homework, and by all means if YOU can't read or write, learn to.

    3. Leslie Martinez, Alb says:

      Sadly, this documentary and even Glen Becks segments on indoctrination in the schools, will not be seen or widely distributed to the low and middle income parents and grandparents who need to see how education and teachers "cartels" have changed over the years, and since they were in school.

      The discrimination now in funding is now worse than before the Brown vs Board of Education case was tried before the Supremes. Its one of the studpid aspects of this question about money and quality of education. My guess is that one of the most highly educated segments of the population, is the Boomers, who were taught in public schools, with little or no Union influence. If I am right, teacherswere lower paid, with few benefits, no overtime or job security, not only worked longer hours, but got better results from their students.

      I went to a two room school in 1959 with two teachers teaching 6 grades, before being bused to a large city high school. We had no bi lingual but several refugees from Lituania. Some boys had trouble reading and I had trouble with math. But non of us started or finished high school later, without being able to read, do cursive writing, and Algebra and basic math. Yet we had music, gym and health instruction throughout public schools.

      The argument about money was the same, but the big difference, from my memory, was discipline and the hard work ethic of the teachers, who I suppose now have to worry about their Social Security and Medicare, if they are still alive, because they didnt have tenure, retirement benefits and paid summer vacations. Then the arugment was the higher income neighborhood schools had more money than the low income neighborhoods. Now with grants, anti discrimination fears, and manipulation of census figures where neighborhoods with inner city minorities grouped with non much tax income, might actually be getting more money than the neighborhood schools where the taxpayers live. Seems statistically, the money doesnt have a awful lot to do with the outcome of education, but has alot to do with the income of the teachers.

      How many teachers give up benefits and more money, to teach at private and religious schools with no unions, but more job satisfaction? Now that would be a enlightening aspect to pursue.

    4. Leslie Martinez, Alb says:

      P.S. I forgot to say Thank You to Heritage for your continued work in informing and researching the important issues of the last 40 plus years. It is more important now than at any other time in our lives.

      My original point was to say that these documentaries and many of the cable or expensive Television News Shows, are not available to the general public, due to decisions to stop satilitte TV or because the Documentaries are not available on the local or PBS stations. How many of those DTV conversion coupons were distributed anyway??? In my area, keeping up with the cost of cell phones, internet, computer repair and cable TV has become cost prohibitive for many educated but budget conscious seniors and younger generation families. So it seems the more we communicate, the more we cut out those who prioritize and work to support themselves without Government help.

      We give and pay for free laptop computers to rural and low income students, when a local taxpayer may not be able to afford to sustain the cost of internet for their own children. A senior doing charity work for the homeless, struggles to pay their own electric bill, within a earned Social Security "entitlement". The homeless guy gets his cost of living increase of SSI, but has no expenses but beer, and the senior volunteer gets their cost of living increase frozen for two years. The Government abuse and fraud within the education and Welfare/SSI system is ridiculous compared to the so called abuse in Medicare. But the one size fits all mentality of Unions and Government, just keeps enlarging the stereotyping and discrimination, rather than the equal opportunity argument that started this whole mess.

    5. Spiritof76, NH says:

      Teachers Union must go. They are the rot in our public education.

    6. Billie says:

      Get rid of the unions, they are a conflict of all parents (taxpayers) interests. They serve no purpose but their own. If we can't have ethical educators paid by obligated tax dollars without unions (and everything from corruption that follows) then government educators are of no worth.

      My God! Over the greed of money, robbing the people and destroying the minds of our children! Look what they're doing!

    7. Billie says:

      And the purpose of government unions is to protect, defend and employ the unethical educators for the dummying down of the youth of America.

    8. Rick Katy, TX says:

      Good Billie, How right you are.

      Get the government out of education and return the matter of education to the state legislatures.

      As to the teachers' union, investigate them thoroughly. It is rumored that some "educators", if not many, are teaching socialism in the classroom or proliferating their own personal agenda rather than education.

    9. Larry Warren, OH says:

      This is a multi piece documentary, I didn't get to see the specific on teachers unions but this shows the totality of the system is to blame, not just the unions.

      Some examples include: there are 31 districts that received 1 billion dollars between them for an avg of $350,000 per classroom. Only 55000 of that would be for teachers salaries. This means only 10 cents per dollar goes to teacher salaries.

      Some of the waste is in custodial staff where one district spent 1.6 million dollars on overtime pay alone.

      Other issues revolve around waste and fraud including ghost salaries and doctored paperwork for additional programs.

      In one district alone 5 of the 13 superintendents the school district has had have been indicted by the FBI for fraud.

      There is no doubt that teacher unions have a large role to play in the issue as some teachers stated they are afraid to speak out for fear of retribution.

      As far as I'm concerned no one who receives a salary via tax dollars should be unionized.

      The bottom line is that the lack of any type of oversight when it has come to the amount of money that is being discussed has led to the majority of the issues.

      Most of the residents that were spoken to thought spending was necessary but they had no idea that what was being spent was already at the levels until the interviewer informed them.

    10. Bill MN says:

      Lets see everyone gets the same pay to start, if you suck or you rock it do'es not matter you only can advance by time in the chair. If you are a "team player" with the union (party) you advanve. Sounds like communism to me. There was a time in America before OSHA that we needed unions to protect the workers. When my father started working for the DOT 40 years ago a union was needed because the folks at the Capital never got around to addressing state employee pay. Now we need protection from the "Party" oops I mean Unions. They have become a tool for commies, outlaw them or neuter them before they destroy America.

    11. John Roane Sarasota, says:

      We need kids with low educations to fill the only jobs our country has left, flipping burgers and handing out fries. All the real manufacturing jobs have left the country. Why manufacturing jobs, they are the only jobs which create wealth. Without wealth we eventually don't even need service jobs as there will be no one left to pay for the service.

      Wake up get rid of teacher unions, they aren't needed and are detrimental to your children's future.

    12. Teacher, independent says:

      Many of you have made really good points, and I even agree somewhat with Leslie Martinez; however, I am always stunned when people say things about how much money teachers make. I have two degrees, have been teaching for six years in low income schools, and I make around $37,000 and live in a city where the cost of living is through the roof. I am also a single mother. I'm not sure where you come from, but that is not a lot of money. In addition, I don't know what teachers you know, but the hours are certainly not shorter these days. In fact, they are much, much longer. Back in "your day", summer breaks for students were twelve weeks long. Now, across the nation, summer breaks are about eight weeks or less. I, and many of my colleagues, work a minimum of 60-70 hours a week. That equates to about $14 per hour. My son works at a local grocery store and makes almost as much as I do per hour. In addition, we are required to continue our education in order to maintain our teaching certificates (many teachers are mired in student loans for their advanced degrees which they are required to have). As a result, many teachers take classes or engage in professional development over their summer "breaks" – on their own dime. Not only that, but teachers also develop curriculum over the summer. It is time to plan and collaborate. And many teachers serve on committees and as advisors/coaches which meet outside of contract time (after school, weekends, and over the summer). The compensation for that is laughable, if one receives any monetary compensation at all. We're talking maybe an additional $50 a month for many clubs/activities.

      Does anyone ever really consider the work load of a teacher? I teach English; therefore, much of my curriculum includes essay writing, which means at any given time I am in the middle of grading 150 essays, which average around three pages each. That's 450 pages. Every word needs to be read, and I must provide thorough feedback in order to ensure student achievement. And I can assure you that those papers NEVER get graded during my contract time because I am teaching, researching, collaborating, planning, meeting with struggling students, doing committee work, and engaging in professional development opportunities. In fact, I routinely meet fellow colleagues on Saturdays and Sundays to have "grading sessions". I could name you many, many teachers that I work with who are at school from 6:50 (our contract time) to 5:00 at night who then go home and grade papers. Most of us "in the biz" are very aware that teaching is quickly becoming a profession that is not conducive to having a family in order do this job to the best of one's ability, especially considering many of the recent unfunded mandates being handed down from from our authoritarian government. Many of us, myself included, because of these mandates get thrown into teaching classes or implementing new strategies with absolutely NO training and told "to figure it out" because there is no money to fund the latest "craze" in education. Great teachers keep getting remediated and have no time to perfect anything because we are forced to change things every year or even mid-year. And all of these mandates are coming from people/legislators who have NEVER been in a classroom.

      I don't complain about the workload; I knew what I was getting in to, but I challenge anyone who thinks this job is a breeze and that we make enough money to come to work with me for a week. Until you are in someone else's shoes, don't judge. Honestly, if you have never been a classroom teacher, I don't understand how you can make informed comments.

      Also, I ask every one of you: name one teacher in your own child's educational background that literally took away from his or her education. Did any of your children end up dumber after a year with a teacher in his or past? Odds are, you can't think of any. Or it might be one or two. Do the averages. Those of you who think the education system is crumbling are on a witch hunt and blaming all of us for the actions of a very few. Fair? Don't think so. And to RICH KATY, no one I know teaches Socialism, and I live on the ultra progressive, West Coast. In fact, I teach a unit in which we read utopian/dystopian literature and one thing my kids learn after their culminating project in which they try to create a utopian society is that it CAN'T work unless everyone is absolutely the same. And it's not something I tell or teach them; they figure it out through their own research. (Dystopian literature is a genre written in response to and speaking out against Socialism and Communism).

      Also, just a side note: I am on a professional development committee in which I have been exposed to a lot of research and data on student achievement. The statistics on student achievement haven't changed since reform began in 1980. The literacy numbers have never changed. Drop-out rates have never changed. They have remained constant. Yet the government (both liberals and conservatives) have maintained that we are at a critical junction, our teachers are failing, blah, blah, blah. Our government is failing. Back "in the day", kids dropped out. Today, kids drop out. And the number has NEVER changed. NCLB has not made a positive impact. The Federal government has no right to tie our hands by making each state starve for their funding, which NCLB has made necessary. Wake up, people. The problem is NOT the teachers, it's the government and the media propaganda, in addition to all of the things that WISER said. Honestly, do you hear the things you are saying? Teachers need to be making decisions about education; they ARE the experts/professionals trained to do the job. They are the ones in the classrooms with the students. And yes, there are some really bad teachers out there. Just like there are bad doctors, lawyers, real estate agents, contractors, SENATORS, etc. They are dealt with one person at a time. You can't make sweeping policies for the small percentage of violators.

      Also, one thing to remember: when salary averages are released, they include the people who have been teaching for thirty years and are at the top of the pay scale in addition to the ADMINISTRATORS' salaries, which brings the average up. Both sides manipulate statistics for their own agendas.

      How does all this relate to the matter at hand (union)? The only thing saving our (teachers') butts right now from the Arne Duncan/Obama witch hunt is my union. Yes, you heard right. Times are changing. Confuses which side you are on doesn't it?

    13. Elijah, Michigan says:

      I'd like to hear more about how the union is "the only thing saving our teachers butts" and the "ARne Duncan/Obama witch hunt".

      I agree that even the subject of Unions if frought with problems because size, state, and all union activities are often not supported by the members who have no say in the matter. Many traditional public employee unions don't believe in strike. But, once a strike is called are begins, each member is put in the position of walking to support friends and co workers who may lose jobs if the majority don't walk, or standing on principle which makes working in that atmosphere forever more diasterous. As everyone knows, even voting in public forums of the unions can be difficult for new members or those who disagree. Congress and the SEIU and union influence in Washington know this and want legislation and influence that is right out of labor training. Gather the sheep and then manipulate them like a herd and with group think.

      But, unions aside I am interested in what ole Arne is doing or what pressure is being put on the teachers, besides the ARne obvious porno education angle, of course. If its the accountability and evaluation factor, its a difficult issue but an old one. I often wonder if part of the problem with educating the illegals and low income, isnt that the stress should be put back on the parents of these kids. The problem as a generality, is that the unions and teachers are the worse when it comes to blaming everything on the parents, regardless of whether the parents are working long hours and supporting the kids at home or not. We have gotten into such a blame game mentality. Theres a element of truth in every generalization, but kids get excused of so much instead of the early childhood education theme of raising them and teaching them as you mean them to go. As a point of fact, in answer to your question about anyone going backward? Yes, I have a grandson who went backward from 3rd grade after a particulary bad teacher started telling him he would fail the state tests because of he was stupid in reading. Of course the new State Tests had all the math questions which he previously enjoyed and did well in, as all story problems, and one difficulty lead to another disfunction and loss of confidence and skill etc. But thats another story. Tell me about whats going on in your schools now with this administration in Washington.

    14. William Person says:

      The teachers belong to an institution who's first instinct is self preservation, not student achievement. The administrators belong to an institution who's first instinct is self preservation, and getting to reitirement. The parents turn over their kids to a system that is supposed to "educate" them, and most parents have no idea of what is goling on in the schools. The children, who are the "product" of this system, who most administrators will admit that only about 10%, the top 10%, get an "education" and who learn abstractly.

      The reality is if teachers wanted to teach klids what they need to learn, every kid would be on an individual education plan from day one in kindergaten through High School. That reqires a sigfnificant amouint of preparation by the treachers to follow the child with "his or her" plan through the years. This would allow parents to see how their kids are progressing through the years. The children's interests and proclivities would be exposed, supported, and emphasized going through school. Bad teachers who are ineffective would be clearly identified by the results of the kids under their tutlelage, and probably would quit because of the effort needed to implement such plans, or maybe they would rediscover why they went into teaching in the first place.

      The result of such a system would be the end result of why so many kids go through school and come out on the other end with no idea of what they want to do with them selves—-releveancy and meaningfulness. As "human" as our schools purport to be they are skeltons of block walls with little resemblance to what life beyond school really is. Most of what is taught has little relevance to individual needs or proclivities of teh nindividual student, There is little meaning or self "engagement" rby sitting in cold block houses.

      The idea that 80% of the kids who go through public education are "learning" anything applicable is inane. The tesitment to this fact can only be explained by why millions of kids start college with little or no understanding of who they are, what they like, what they are interested in, what their skill are, and where they should apply themselves!!

      These 80% do not learn abstractly, they learn expierentially, How many of us learned practically? Were we not forced to sit at our desks and listen to the teacher? What teaching college taught that theory?? WHy deos any one seriously think teaching has chnaged sicen we were in school.

      Institutions remember are for the status quot and fear change. They do not look kindly on revolutionary thought and massive change.Besides it is not their kids who are not getting an education, it is yours!!!

    15. Walter, Iowa says:

      Correct me if I'm wrong, but i've heard that some places, maybe through state legislatures have decertified teacher's unions. That would be a start if the unions are the major cause of the problem. I do agree that some parents do not emphasize the importance of education to their children and do not back the teachers who are really trying to educate the kids. I think this could be rectified by having a mandatory meeting with all parents at the beginning of each school year and laying out the requirements for children to succeed in today's workplace and in higher education. Parents who do not attend should be sent a requirement form to be signed and returned to the school before their children would be accepted. You must have some backup for legal reasons.

    16. Nick, CT says:

      There are so many areas of concern when it comes to American Education System. From Unions to Administrators, from Test Scores to Budgets.

      This too me all leads to one problem with Education. It is the beaurocracy, plain and simple. From the very, very few successful schools, it appears that the success has to do with the efficiancy of the approach to educating our children.

      Everything is too big. From monster districts to BOE's. I just don't think that beaurocrats can be the ones to dispence how the teacher's should teach. We force out teacher's to spend 8 to 10 years in college to get master's degree's and we expect them to certify and re-certify on an outragesfrequency. Then we have some beaurocrat telling them how to teach. Am I missing something?

      I agree that the Unions are a thorn in the side of education, but the unions are successful and rampant, due to the fact that the institution of education is a mess.

      I believe we should think small. Give parents the choice to where they send their kids. Let the parents decide how teacher's and administrator's are paid, by how successful the school is performing on it's own merits. Get rid of all the BOE, get rid of all the Unions. Our schools should be run like a business. A business, where the currency is the education of each child and not national or regional statistics.

      A teacher knows that each student learns differently and need an efficient educator to identify strengths and weaknesses. Our schools should be looked at the same. One school and it's teachers may have a different approach then another school. I think we should promote that and not handcuff it.

    17. Kathy, Columbus, OH says:

      It appears that we have right and wrong on both sides of the fence. My sister is a public school educator, and she is both glad for her union and also not always in agreement with its policies. I respect the hours she spends outside the classroom grading papers (she is also an English teacher) and the interest she takes in her students. I am sure there are many teachers like her – - – but are the unions made up of people just like her? I don't believe their leaders are. . . I am left with the impression that they are union just for the sake of being union.

      Like some of our other public officials, they forget that they are supposed to be public servants, not tyrants.

      People like job security and benefits, but what happens when that is bestowed on people who will not earn the "job title". I don't care what profession it is, I don't feel like a union membership should give you lifetime job security if there is not a better way of determining your continued qualifications.

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