Intelligence Squared US: Are Teachers' Unions to Blame for Our Failing Schools? on AM 1370

Sun, 04/11/2010 - 10:00pm

Credit: Chad McDermott

Could the teachers unions be protecting so many poorly performing teachers that they are failing the whole educational system?

Teachers unions: They’re powerful, they’re defensive, and they’re stubborn. And if it seems their leadership places a premium on protecting its members – above all other interests – we should not be surprised, because protecting jobs and wages is what unions were created to do. There are some critics who argue the unions are shielding too many teachers who do their jobs poorly – teachers who should be replaced, for the good of the children. Indeed, so central is good teaching to good learning, some say it’s the unions as presently constructed – more than anything other factor – that are undermining America’s schools.

But can it really be that simple? In a ranking of whom to blame for what’s wrong in America’s classrooms, do teachers unions really come before slashed budgets? Or crumbling infrastructure, broken homes and the influence of narcotics? Do bad teachers so outnumber good ones that the union represents a collection of educational misfits?

Intelligence Squared US: Are Teachers' Unions to Blame for Our Failing Schools?, airing Sunday, April 11 at 10 p.m. on AM1370/HD-FM91.5-2 asks: do we need to reform the unions before we do anything else, and if we do, is that the fix that will once again make US public education the model system it once was?

For the motion: Kate McLaughlin, an elementary teacher in the Lowell, Massachusetts public schools; Gary Smuts, superintendent of the ABC Unified School District; and Randi Weingarten, president of the 1.4-million-member American Federation of Teachers, AFL-CIO.

Against the motion: Terry Moe, the William Bennett Munro Professor of Political Science at Stanford University; Rod Paiger, a life-long educator and former U.S. Secretary of Education; and Larry Sand, president of the California Teachers Empowerment Network, a non-profit organization dedicated to providing information to teachers that they will not get from their school districts or unions.