The biggest obstacle to education reform is the existence of teachers unions. Unions act to protect the interests of teachers at any cost, even at the expense of students. Unions often work to minimize teacher accountability, protect low-quality teachers, and support the unsustainable expansion of retirement and health benefits.
Labor unions once played a crucial role in ensuring fairness in the workplace. Unions were initially formed to protect workers against brutal employers who abused laborers, refused adequate breaks and time off, and did not ensure safe working conditions. Labor unions were never really intended for government workers or employees. For the most part, private labor union membership continues to fall as right-to-work reforms grow in strength in many states. When it comes to public sector unions, and specifically teachers unions, conservatives favor putting students needs first once again and ending the union-dominated culture that has prevented educational reforms in public education. As American students continue to lag in key areas and drop-out rates in major cities remain at unacceptable levels, it's clear that the policies of the past have failed.
Teachers have long enjoyed being portrayed as overworked and underpaid public servants who only go into the teaching field “for the children.” While that may have once been very true, union dominance has changed the this and, perhaps, the chief motivation for entering the profession. Unions have little to do with helping children. When teacher's strike, it usually hurts the children they claim to have entered the profession for. Teachers aren't in education for the money, they will tell us. In reality, unionized teachers typically strike for pay, preventing accountability, and enhancing already generous (and publicly paid) benefits.
Support Merit Pay and Promote Standards
Conservatives support ending the union-dominated contracts that oppose merit pay and advancement and places longevity of teaching over the quality of teaching. Conservatives support a merit-based system for public school teachers, and holding teachers accountable has been one of the most difficult things to do. Unions oppose most measures to determine whether teachers are effective and work to make it impossible to get rid of those who are not. Education is one of the few fields where a lack of results has no consequences, and length of teaching is of greater importance than the quality of teaching.
In general, conservatives would support a bottom-up approach, and these standards would be local and statewide based. Applying the concepts of federalism should apply to education, just as it should for most government-related agencies. Local school districts should have the greatest power to determine effective and acceptable standards without interference from the heavy hand of either a large bureaucratic federal government or unions. Common Core is designed to be a national standards program but is disguised as a "voluntary" program.
Support School Choice
Not surprisingly, the biggest obstacle in enacting favorable school-choice legislation has been the opposition of well-funded labor unions. Polls have consistently shown that parents and communities overwhelmingly support school choice. Parents should have the ability to select the school that is the best fit for their child. Unfortunately, protecting the jobs and salaries of government teachers - no matter how ineffective they may be - is the main goal of unions. Unions rightly fear that an open and competitive atmosphere would deplete the ranks of people who would voluntarily send their children to public schools, thus reducing the need for public teachers, and the need for unions themselves.
Recent History: The 2012 Chicago Teachers Union Strike
In 2012, the Chicago Teachers Union went on strike over pay and accountability. As they forced the cancellation of classes for hundreds of thousands of students - leaving families in a bind - they took to the streets carrying signs about how the strike was for the sake of the kids. While this was untrue, continuing the myth of the abused, underpaid public school teacher is of utmost importance. Hiding behind children is an unique advantage teachers have over other “public servants” like DMV processors or meter maids. (Imagine the amount of sympathy the driver's license clerk would get over a strike about increasing pay and benefits).
With an average salary of $76,000, the typical Chicago teacher makes more money than roughly 3/4 of the country. Citing such teacher benefits as weekends off, nights off, long summers, and extended holidays are usually met with cries of “burnout.” Most jobs have a pretty big degree of burnout and teachers aren't the only ones who get tired of their jobs and leave for something else. But teachers are special. They work with children. This supposedly makes teachers free from criticism. The major problem with the unions is that it becomes hard to find out who teaches for the children and who is there for the high-end government benefits. Unions have ensured teachers are among the most well-compensated, vacationed, and job-protected workforces in the country, all without true concern for what best helps students.