| January 19, 2011

Oklahomans Say Unions Prevent Schools from Getting Better

In July 2010, the National Education Association (NEA) “decided that $3 million was just the right amount of money to spend in Oklahoma to support SQ 744, a ballot initiative that would have raised per-pupil spending to the regional average,” education reporter Mike Antonucci writes. “However, the union’s best efforts were only able to persuade 18.6 percent of the state’s voters. That comes to about $15.36 per vote.

“So what? It’s only money, and there’s plenty more where that came from.”

Perhaps when NEA and OEA replenish their coffers, they might want to consider some sort of feel-good PR blitz in Oklahoma. Because a recent SoonerPoll suggests that the union’s image could use some help.

The SoonerPoll survey of 518 likely Oklahoma voters was conducted November 5-11, 2010, using live telephone interviewers. The margin of error is ± 4.3 percent. The question: “Which view comes closer to your own: ‘Teachers unions help make schools better’ or ‘Teachers unions are an obstacle that keeps schools from getting better’”? The results:

  • Teachers unions help make schools better ... 25 percent
  • Teachers unions are an obstacle that keeps schools from getting better ... 55 percent
  • Neutral / No opinion ... 20 percent

Among Oklahoma Republicans, only 14 percent say teachers unions help make schools better, while 69 percent say they keep schools from getting better.

Even among Democrats, only 33 percent say teachers unions help make schools better, while 45 percent say they keep schools from getting better.

The unions are even underwater among the somewhat liberal (31 percent to 50 percent), the very liberal (36 percent to 46 percent), and those who never attend religious services (24 percent to 58 percent). Good grief, people, when you’ve lost the liberal pagans ...

In sum, the teachers unions are more often viewed as part of the problem than part of the solution. But only among men and women, young and old, rich and poor, married and single, highly educated and barely educated, religious and irreligious.

And also among Republicans, Democrats, Independents, conservatives, liberals, and moderates.

Oh, and also among those living in Tulsa, those living in Oklahoma City, and those living in the rest of the state.

Now you might think these results are so dismal as to be unspinnable. But you would be wrong.

As M. Scott Carter reported November 30 in The Journal Record (“Poll: Unions viewed as obstacles”), “the president of the Oklahoma Education Association said the data underscores the belief that many people support the union’s work.”

Yes indeed, “‘what that SoonerPoll says to me is that one out of every four teachers are making schools a better place to be,’ said OEA President Becky Felts. ‘It sounds like 25 percent of those surveyed have some type of contact with the teachers’ union and know what we’re doing.’”

Great moments in union messaging: Three out of four Oklahoma teachers aren’t making schools better!

As a taxpayer, I’m relieved to know that 25 percent of teachers are making schools better. I sincerely hope your child is fortunate enough to have one of them, and isn’t saddled with the deadwood.

Tulsa World editorial writer Wayne Greene, no conservative, recently remarked on the problem of “deadwood teachers in public schools. Most public school teachers enjoy the public school equivalent of tenure: Firing them is so expensive and time-consuming that school administrators are only willing to do it in the most outrageous of cases. That keeps incompetent teachers in the classroom.”

In 2002, liberal state Rep. Debbie Blackburn (D-Oklahoma City), herself a former schoolteacher, acknowledged: “I taught with people that I thought should never have been in the profession.” It might make sense to “get rid of the deadwood,” she said.

Unfortunately, rather than evaluating Oklahoma’s 37,660 teachers as individual professionals, their labor unions tend to treat them more like unskilled laborers, as if they were interchangeable automatons. But of course it’s silly to speak of “teachers” as a monolithic mass. In reality, there are excellent teachers, good teachers, mediocre teachers, and those “incompetent teachers” Mr. Greene mentioned. Guy Strickland, an award-winning teacher, principal, and educational researcher, says the most informed estimates are that five to 15 percent of teachers are incompetent.

If he’s correct, that’s 1,883 to 5,649 incompetent teachers in Oklahoma. Quite apart from the damage being done to students, why should Oklahoma’s hardworking waitresses and nurses and small-businessmen be forced to spend their hard-earned money paying the salaries of a few thousand incompetents? It makes no sense.

Teachers unions are an obstacle that keeps schools from getting better. People know it. It’s time to do something about it.

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