That’s what it amounts to in the end. Well, unless you want to make the argument that manipulating the political system to protect union boodling and power-buying at the expense of educating children isn’t evil, but is merely run-of-the-mill piggish self-interest instead:
On the final day of the National Education Association’s convention last summer, its outgoing general counsel, Bob Chanin, gave a speech for the ages. After sharing fond recollections of his 41 years as the NEA’s top lawyer, he switched gears and started lobbing grenades at “conservative and right-wing bastards,” including Fox News, the Wall Street Journal, and Forbes. The NEA and its affiliates, by contrast, were “the nation’s leading advocates for public education and the type of liberal social and economic agenda that these groups find objectionable.” Chanin’s glowing portrait of the NEA was wildly wrong, of course, but so was his characterization of the union’s opponents. People of all political stripes—not just right-wing “bastards”—are starting to realize that the single biggest impediment to education reform is the NEA itself.
Take the nation’s 4,000 charter schools—public schools that operate with less red tape, fewer suffocating union rules, and a higher percentage of minorities and poor students than regular public schools do. In California, 12 of the top 15 public schools are charters, including three in Oakland that cater to exceptionally poor children. Los Angeles charters’ median score on California’s Academic Performance Index was 728 in 2008, compared with 663 for regular public schools.
Who are the “right-wing bastards” who support charter schools? Well, there’s Los Angeles’s liberal-leaning school board, which looked at its large number of failing schools and voted 6–1 to turn 200 of the lowest performers into charters. There’s Steve Barr, a card-carrying Democrat who served in the presidential campaigns of Bill Clinton and Michael Dukakis and who now operates 17 successful Green Dot charter schools in L.A. And don’t forget Democrats for Education Reform, a political action committee that supports charters and that says, in its statement of principles, that American public schools, “once viewed romantically as avenues of opportunity for all, have become captive to powerful, entrenched interests that too often put the demands of adults before the educational needs of children.”
“Entrenched interests” is a thinly veiled reference, of course, to teachers’ unions like the NEA, whose position on charter schools is very clear. According to a resolution adopted at last year’s convention, “NEA shall oppose any initiative to greatly expand the growth of charter schools”—though “by no means should this effort conflict with the ongoing and necessary work of organizing charter school teachers.” Unfortunately, this “necessary” work hasn’t helped students. A study of charter schools in Boston by Harvard economist Tom Kane found that “students accepted by lottery at independently operated charter schools significantly outperformed students who lost the lottery and returned to district schools. But students accepted by lottery at charters run by the school district with unionized teachers experienced no benefit.”
Believe it or not, it actually gets worse from there. Meanwhile, another ingot of unalloyed common-sense brilliance from Doc Zero along those same lines:
The National Education Association is the largest union in America, and one of its most powerful political forces, donating millions to Democrat candidates and spending millions more in lobbying…including over a million dollars in donations to the criminal organization ACORN over the last two years. The NEA also provides invaluable political indoctrination, inserting propaganda for statist causes like global warming into education curricula. In exchange, the Democrats are universally sworn to oppose vouchers and school privatization, no matter how much it hurts other constituencies they profess to care about. There are many fine teachers among the ranks of the NEA, but their individual merits vanish beneath the vast corruption of the union establishment.
…These events are entirely predictable, because where the supply of votes and political cash from unions meets the demand from Big Government, a transaction is bound to occur. In a centralized state, the power of a political collective is vastly greater than individuals, or most corporations. Plenty of big companies spend cash buying political influence, producing all manner of mischief…but they can’t deliver the kind of packaged voting power that a labor union or racial grievance organization can provide, because they cannot compel – or even encourage – their employees to vote a certain way. The NEA and AFSCME have a lot more than dollars to spend in the political marketplace.
This kind of thing is inevitable, as long as we allow political control over industry, and place huge amounts of tax money in the hands of our government. The depth of corruption can be measured with the value of a congressional vote…or the presidential seal. Despite its overwhelming presence in every aspect of our daily lives, Big Government acquires many characteristics of anarchy, in which the diminishing resources of a moribund economy become the spoils for feuding warlords.
And voila, here we all are: stuck with an incompetent, dysfunctional, hideously expensive, and bureaucratically bloated national “education” establishment that can be neither reformed nor removed. When it comes to corruption, economic enfeeblement, and raw liberal-fascist tyranny, the old crime-novel admonishment to cherchez la femme should be updated to a more modern refrain: look for the union label.