Teachers’ Unions: Roadblock to Reform

carol-haynesBy Carole Hornsby Haynes, Ph.D.

The American Citizens Handbook of the National Education Association published in mid-20th century reflects a decidedly different NEA from that of today.  The Handbook included selections for children to memorize — Bible verses, the Ten Commandments, and the Lord’s Prayer. 

How different is the policy resolution adopted at the 2009 NEA convention —‘Freedom of Religion’ — that “opposes any federal legislation or mandate that would require school districts to schedule a moment of silence.”  

Today the once conservative teachers’ professional association that played such a vital role in education has veered toward militant trade unionism.

By the mid-1970s the NEA had unionized a majority of American teachers under collective bargaining agreements and today, along with its affiliates, has a membership of 3.2 million.

Rather than being professionals, teachers have become union laborers.

“After the post office, schools are the most unionized activity in America. [Teachers unions] collect a lot of money in dues, they are often the largest lobby in the state, they are very, very powerful,” said former U.S. Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander.

The NEA was nicknamed ‘The National Extortion Association’ by Forbes magazine.

An October 11, 1995, Wall Street Journal editorial, ‘The Unions’ Schools’, observed,  “The next time you’re visiting a state’s Capitol building, scan the neighborhood for a nearby building that’s as big or bigger. There, in the largest, grandest, best-situated office building you’re likely to find one of the most powerful political institutions in the state:  the teachers’ union.”

Government schools have been effectively taken over by unions in hundreds of localities and are run by the unions for their own benefit.  They are especially powerful in inner cities, where teacher pay is often the highest and teacher performance is usually the worst.

nea2The policy resolutions adopted at the 2009 NEA convention indicate just how radical the association has become.

The resolutions call for providing instruction in “sexual orientation,” gender identification,” and “diversity.”  References are made to same sex marriage, education for immigrants regardless of status (translated: ‘education for illegal aliens at taxpayers’ expense’), disregard of English as our official language (immigrant children once learned English so they could assimilate into the American culture), and multicultural and global studies.

Teachers’ unions are abusing our children, our parents, our education system, and our nation.

Union leaders openly deny parents a significant voice in their children’s education, which is viewed as ‘parental interference’.  “The schools cannot allow parents to influence the kind of values-education their children receive in school,” said Paul Haubner, former specialist for the NEA. 

These intellectual elitists have now achieved legal legitimacy for their abusive view through recent court rulings by supportive activist judges.

Millions are spent annually by teachers’ unions to convince the public that they have political clout and are improving education.  They especially target qualified young people about their work to negotiate higher salaries, improve working conditions, and reduce class size, all of which the union promises will lead to better schools and student performance. 

Along with the Great Society and the rise in the 1960s and 1970s of powerful teachers’ unions with exclusive bargaining rights, public school funding actually did experience a major nationwide increase in:

  1. The average spending per pupil
  2. The number of teachers with master’s degrees
  3. Teacher salaries, and
  4. Salaries for new public school teachers.

At the same time the average pupil-teacher ratio did decrease.

However, the promise that additional funding would improve student performance was not realized. Tragically for our students and nation, the average SAT score for public school students declined, dropout rates in urban school systems increased, and American students ranked near the bottom in math and science when compared with other industrialized nations. 

Eric Hanushek, a leading U.S. education economist who examined the data, concluded that, “There appears to be no strong or systematic relationship Book-Social-Studies-Textbookbetween school expenditures and student performance.”

What went awry?  

Economics 101 offers up the obvious, although the so-called experts have preferred to conceal the obvious with their rhetoric and statistics.
It’s a well-known fact that teachers’ union contracts offer no incentives for excellence in the classroom. Seniority and educational credits determine a teacher’s salary rather than classroom success in student academic achievement.

Additionally, since education is a publicly protected monopoly, union officials and school board representatives are not under any pressure during the collective bargaining process to consider worker productivity or the system’s overall competitiveness as they would be in the private sector. 

The customers–the schoolchildren–are not given a choice of schools and taxpayers are forced to pay taxes to the government system regardless of how poorly it performs. 

The result is that neither side has any real economic risk to serve as a constraint for its bargaining decisions. 

Rather than being a solution as they tout, these powerful teachers’ unions are a key reason for the failure of American public education.

In reality, they are nothing more than a special interests’ group protecting the status quo and a system that tends to reward mediocrity and incompetence.  Reform, whether merit pay, choice of schools, tenure or other, is not in the best interest of the unions because they will lose their control and power. 

The only reform that really benefits and, therefore, interests unions is increased funding to hire additional teachers, who represent more union members paying hundreds of millions of dollars in dues.

That unions are a roadblock rather than part of the solution was acknowledged by former top officers at the National Education Association’s Kansas and Nebraska state chapters in a 1994 issue of Educational Freedom, “The NEA has been the single biggest obstacle to education reform in this country. We know because we worked for the NEA.”

Unless the American people break the ironfisted stranglehold of these self serving teachers’ unions over the monopolistic, bureaucratic education system with contracts and political influence, it will be impossible to ever achieve any real reform for our public school system.

Dr. Carol Haynes earned her doctorate in Professional Education from The University of Memphis with a major in curriculum/instruction & a minor in administration/supervision with a collateral teaching area in social studies. She taught choral music, social studies and English in the Memphis City School system.   She later taught teacher education at The University of Memphis and history at the Community College where she also served as Chairman of the Social Sciences Department. She welcomes comments at chaynes777@yahoo.com


  1. This woman is a “Right Wing Nut Bag”…..Leave it to the Conserative Right Wing and we will eventually have Nothing.

  2. Just in case you are NOT aware, in Texas teachers sign a contract every year that promises they will teach IF the District has a job available for them.
    TEXAS teachers have NO JOB SECURITY what so ever.

  3. Ms. Haynes, most of us conservative Christian Texans would relish the thought of you holding a position on the Texas SBOE. I wish you would seriously consider such a postion. I lived next-door to a teacher who held a Masters degree in education. When we got on the subject of education, my conservative views always seemed to clash with hers. It was through her that I came to realize how much of a strangle-hold the teachers unions had on our education system. I also found it deplorable that they have their own savings system and don’t have to pay into social security. Teachers live in a slightly different world than the common taxpayer citizen.

    Tenure rewards teachers regardless of their teaching abilities and competence. It’s like having a government job at the post office in which you are vocationally secure for a lifetime unless you commit a felony and get fired.

  4. Vouchers to parents to spend wherever they can get the best education for the best price.
    IT SOLVES all the PROBLEMS and will save the TAXPAYERS money.
    The BIG BONUS it will get the politicians and unions out of education.
    Professionals should never NEED a union or a politician telling them what to do

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