Janus and the Future of Teachers Unions

What will the Supreme Court’s recent Janus ruling mean for teachers unions? Jon Shelton, author of the recent (and excellent) book Teacher Strike! Public Education and the Making of a New American Political Order joins me to discuss. If you’ve been trying to figure out how this spring’s teacher walkouts, the surge of grassroots energy among progressive Democrats, and a Supreme Court decision that takes aim at powerful unions in blue states have to do with each other – well, this is the episode for you!

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State of the Union: Charter School Organizing

In episode #31 of Have You Heard, we meet Mihir Garud, who left a job as a stockbroker to teach personal finance at a Chicago charter school. He’s also the treasurer of a union that now represents 25% of charter school teachers in the city. Garud, who sees unions as the “last brake” on a system of free market capitalism run amok, turns out to have a lot in common with the teachers in Chicago who organized the country’s first just-for-teachers union back in 1897.

Inequality is for Winners

I talk to Tom Frank, author of Listen, Liberal, about the Democrats’ break up with the working class and why education can’t save us…

listen liberalEduShyster: Your recent book, Listen, Liberal argues that Democrats are no longer the party of the working class, which now seems to have some, well, data behind it.

Tom Frank: The Democrats are now a party of the professional class: affluent, white-collar professionals. They themselves say this all the time; they talk about the professional class as being their constituency. But we don’t often try to put the pieces together and try to figure out, well what does it mean to be a party of the professional class vs. the working class? One thing it means is that inequality is seen as the natural order of things. In fact, professionals believe in inequality. They think of inequality as totally fair and the way things should be, and they think that because they themselves are the winners in the great inequality sweepstakes. Continue reading →

What If Everything You Thought You Knew About Teachers Unions Turned Out to be Wrong?

Iowa just became the latest state to limit collective bargaining rights for teachers. In other states, that’s meant big salary cuts for teachers…

Jennifer Berkshire: It’s a well-known true fact that teachers unions make it much harder to get rid of bad teachers. But you conducted a study that purports to find the opposite. In fact, you titled your study The Myth of Unions’ Overprotection of Bad Teachers. Tell us about what you found.

Eunice Han: What I found is that the facts are the opposite of what people think: that highly unionized districts actually fire more bad teachers.

Berkshire: That sound you just heard was of jaws collectively dropping. While we give readers a chance to re-combombulate themselves (and arm themselves anew with anecdotes), can you walk us through your argument? And feel free to use a formula. 

Han: It’s pretty simple, really. By demanding higher salaries for teachers, unions give school districts a strong incentive to dismiss ineffective teachers before they get tenure. Highly unionized districts dismiss more bad teachers because it costs more to keep them. Using three different kinds of survey data from the National Center for Education Statistics, I confirmed that unionized districts dismiss more low-quality teachers than those with weak unions formula2or no unions. Unionized districts also retain more high-quality teachers relative to district with weak unionism. No matter how and when I measured unionism I found that unions lowered teacher attrition. This is important because many studies have found that higher quality teachers have a greater chance of leaving the profession. Since unionized districts dismiss more bad teachers while keeping more good teachers, we should expect to observe higher teacher quality in highly unionized districts than less unionized districts – and this is exactly what I found. Highly unionized districts have more qualified teachers compared to districts with weak unionism. Continue reading →

On Charter Schools, Say This, Not That

A new guide to charter messaging urges advocates to steer clear of corporate speak

say this not that-1Once every four minutes, a passionate charter advocate accidentally lapses into the kind of clinical corporate speak that can leave listeners cold—not to mention kids out of the equation. Would that there were a way to remedy this problem once and for all… Great news, reader. Problem solved! A handy new guide to charter school messaging ensures that never again will you mistakenly blurt out *market share* when you mean *student share,* or *businesses* when what you really meant to mean all along was *schools.* Continue reading →