There is a lot to recommend in this commentary by Pedro Noguera, but right at the end he tosses out one of today’s most popular and misleading lines:
“…we must also acknowledge that if unions were the problem, the South would have the best schools.”
It must be fashionable to say this because you hear it all the time from a variety of people. Problem is, it doesn’t make much sense. For starters, you’d think people who are quick to point out that out-of-school factors and school finance matter to student outcomes would be quicker to appreciate some aspects of schooling in the South. But even more to the point, public schools in the South operate a lot like public schools elsewhere and there is more homogeny across geographies than one might think. That’s in part because many of the rules and regulations that are commonly assumed to exist in teachers’ contracts actually exist in state policy (pdf). Politically, state teachers’ associations in the South operate much like their Northern counterparts and there are elections in the South, too. And it’s also because culture is powerful in education and there are pretty strong cultural norms around how schools and school districts are organized, regardless of geography. In other words, whether or not there is collective bargaining in a state is not an especially strong variable in terms of student achievement. Someone should do a book…oh wait…
To be sure, while they have some culpability for today’s educational problems, teachers’ unions do get blamed for a variety of ills that are not their fault and pretty much everything gets dumped at their feet in the public back and forth about schools. But, this business about how education in the South proves something about unionism is not their strongest talking point in that debate.