Schools in America

Stephen Moore has a good case study in the July 7 Wall Street Journal detailing the intransigence of the Milwaukee Teachers’ union, which is refusing to give an inch in negotiations with the local school board as it tries to close a funding gap and avoid teacher layoffs. Rather than agree to a sensible and fair proposal to reduce the cost of teacher health benefits, the union is stonewalling and counting on the Obama Administration to bail it out one more time.

For a nightmarish vision of where this sort of public sector union heavy-handedness will lead the U.S., one need look no further than Mexico. Students in that country have been victimized for decades by the immense and politically powerful National Educational Workers’ Union (SNTE, according to its initials in Spanish), the largest labor union in Latin America.

As renowned expert on Mexico and long-time College of William & Mary Political Science Professor George Grayson puts it, “Mexico’s public schools are an abomination” and the primary explanation is “the colonization of the public-education system by the SNTE.” The “hugely corrupt 1.4 million-member” union consistently blocks reforms and answers every complaint about educational performance with demands for yet more taxpayer funding of its failed system.

Prof. Grayson describes elementary schools in Mexico that provide only four hours of daily instruction using “an outmoded curriculum that has been handed down from generation to generation and is zealously guarded by the change-averse SNTE.” Teachers stress rote learning, harsh discipline, and their mantra: “be quiet, pay attention, and work in your own seat!” Meanwhile, as Grayson notes, “U.S. taxpayers pick up the bill for poorly educated Mexicans who cross into this country unlawfully.”

Students in some large U.S. cities know all too well how politically muscular teachers unions can hinder their learning. For example, powerful teachers’ unions in Washington, D.C. have fought to end the highly-successful and very popular D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, which allows poor children to receive a scholarship to attend a private school of their choice.