Preserving a Teacher’s Right to Suck

The Utah Education Association has already spent more than 1.5 million dollars to fight a ballot initiative authorizing school vouchers.

That’s reason enough to vote for it.

Despite the breathless TV and radio ads warning of public education’s impending collapse, the actual voucher proposal itself is pretty tame. Utah parents who decide to send their kids to private schools will get a voucher of between $500 and $3000 to help defray tuition costs. That amount will be determined by family income, which means that only the poorest families will get the full amount. Since $500 is barely enough money to pay for school uniforms at a swanky private school, the voucher initiative’s actual impact on public education will be negligible at best.

In other words, school vouchers on such a small scale won’t do a dang thing. Which, again, is a great reason to vote for it.

Why? Because the teacher’s unions fight any changes to the current system, no matter how small. Merit pay? Never! Charter schools? Perish the thought? Vouchers? The sky is falling! The sky is falling!

No, it isn’t. And once the public sees that, it will be harder for the UEA to cry wolf the next time and have anyone believe them. I’m somewhat disgusted that anyone believes them now.

The proposal actually improves the bottom line of public schools. Since Utah currently spends about $7500 per pupil, even the most generous voucher leaves $4500 in the current system, all the while lowering the class sizes. So what’s the problem?

The problem is control.

The thing that terrifies the teacher’s unions is the idea that their members might actually be held accountable for their teaching performance. Currently, teachers are completely insulated from the market pressures of the real world. Lousy teachers with tenure are impossible to fire. This has nothing to do with the quality of the education your children are getting. It has everything to do with preserving the right of teachers to remain mediocre.

This tepid voucher proposal isn’t going to change that. But it’s just one more chink in the union’s armor. If things continue down that road, crappy teachers may end up having to find another line of work.

The thing in their ads that I find most laughable is their breathless assertion that private schools will have “no accountability” because teachers “will be uncredentialed!” Heaven forbid! Except studies have demonstrated that a teaching credential has absolutely no bearing on the quality of the teacher. It’s little more than a bureaucratic barrier to entry set up to prevent quality professionals from entering the classroom. Bill Gates can never teach a computer course. Stephen Hawking can’t teach high school physics. Michael Jordan can’t teach high school P.E.

Credentials don’t correlate with excellence; they’re just one more hurdle the teachers unions have put in place to keep a lot of good people from teaching. I ran into this firsthand when I tried to find a job teaching high school theatre. I have a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree and years of real-world experience as a teacher, a director, and performer. What I didn’t have was two and a half years worth of vapid education classes, so I was out of luck.

If the idea of uncredentialed teachers actually frightens you, then call the union’s bluff. Create a credential system based on teacher testing, where teachers have to actually demonstrate their abilities in the classroon. That way, qualified professionals who want to make a difference in their local schools could get into the mix. Teachers unions will fight that kind of reform with everything they have. Just like merit pay. And charter schools. And school vouchers.

The union, which is always complaining about the lack of funding for its programs, is now spending money like water. 1.5 million dollars could pay for a lot of new teachers. It could improve a lot of classrooms. It could raise a lot of salaries. It could even help produce a better education for our kids.

Or it could be squandered on scare tactics designed to preserve a teacher’s right to suck.

So what does the Utah Education Association really want? Follow the money.

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