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Special Interest: Teachers Unions and America's Public Schools Hardcover – March 31, 2011

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 513 pages
  • Publisher: Brookings Institution Press; 1st edition, edition (March 31, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0815721293
  • ISBN-13: 978-0815721291
  • Product Dimensions: 1.4 x 6.3 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.9 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #285,685 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"An exquisitely researched, compellingly reasoned treatise on the role of teachers unions and their impact on America's schools. Terry Moe has read everything, collected mountains of data, and thought more deeply on this topic than anyone in America. Special Interest immediately becomes essential reading for policymakers, would-be reformers, and anyone concerned about the future of American education." —Frederick Hess, American Enterprise Institute

"America's public schools are broken, and Terry Moe sets out to explain why. In a bare-knuckled and brilliant account, he shows how the teachers unions use their unmatched political power to control virtually every aspect of educational policy and practice. The result, not surprisingly, is a system that protects the interests of employees at the expense of our kids." —Joel Klein, CEO, News Corp Education Division, and former chancellor of New York City Public Schools

"This is a superb and historic book. Terry Moe, the first scholar to brave unions' wrath by revealing how they operate, now also shows how their dominance of public education will wane, due to political change and productivity-enhancing technology. Reformers, foundation heads, elected officials who have up to now been afraid to cross the unions, and union leaders and their allies should read this book as soon as they can get their hands on it." —Paul Hill, University of Washington

"Anyone who wants to understand education reform and its challenges should read this extraordinary book. Over the past few decades, teachers unions have become some of the most powerful actors in American public education. Terry Moe fills a crucial gap by exploring how the unions work; how they veto important reforms in ways that are detrimental for children; and how their power might be waning. As with his prior work, this book will make a tremendous difference in how we run our schools." —Michelle Rhee, former Chancellor, District of Columbia Public Schools, reviewing a previous edition or volume

" Special Interest constitutes the most serious and sustained inquiry into teachers unions ever conducted. It has the signature markings of Moe's scholarship: impeccable writing, clear and persuasive argumentation, sound empirics, and an utter unwillingness to pull any punches. In the ongoing debate about teacher unions and school reform, this book is a game changer." —William Howell, University of Chicago

"Moe shines a bright light on perhaps the most under-researched topic in all of education policy. This is a theoretical and empirical tour de force, revealing what makes the teachers unions tick and why they are absolutely central to any discussions of education reform. Along the way, it makes a persuasive case that the unions are often misunderstood, even by seasoned observers —and that this is encouraged by a rational union strategy. Moe's perspective on union power is bleak, laying bare its iron grip on the schools, but he offers hope that we are entering a special time that allows for significant change." —Eric Hanushek, author of Schoolhouses, Courthouses, and Statehouses

About the Author

Terry M. Moe is the William Bennett Munro Professor of Political Science at Stanford University and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution. His previous books include the seminal Politics, Markets, and America's Schools (Brookings) and Liberating Learning: Technology, Politics, and the Future of American Education (Jossey-Bass), both cowritten with John Chubb. He is also the author of Schools, Vouchers, and the American Public (Brookings).

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

19 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Passenger on the Titanic on June 2, 2011
Format: Hardcover
While this book is a bit of a slog, it's only because it's so well-researched and scholarly. But you still want to just curl up in the bathtub and open up a vein. As the other reviewer said, this should be required reading for every taxpayer in this country who's footing the bill for an education system that is abysmal, despite the fact that we spend approx. half of our tax dollars on it. There is nothing more important to our country than educating the next generations -- not even the economy -- and what the unions have done to it in our urban areas, where the most vulnerable children live, is a crime. If these actions had been imposed upon us by another country, it would be considered an act of war (what genius said that?) Terry Moe has done a magnificent job educating at least his readers.
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19 of 22 people found the following review helpful By L. Sand on May 29, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Collecting a colossal amount of data, Terry Moe has authored an extraordinary book about our nations' teachers unions. While much has been written about these unions in the last ten years or so, nothing has been written with the rigorous attention to detail that we find in Dr. Moe's Special Interest: Teachers Unions and America's Public Schools.

The unions are examined in a myriad of ways - their relationships to teachers, effect on school boards, insistence on collective bargaining, rise as a unified powerful political entity, etc. Researched over a period of years, there are ninety pages of end notes.

This work should be required reading for education reformers, policy experts, taxpayers, parents and anyone else who is interested in how American public education works... or doesn't. At points during the book, you might experience feelings of despair about the future of public education, but toward the end of the book, Dr. Moe offers us some real reasons for hope.
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24 of 29 people found the following review helpful By A Rationalist on June 11, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
You know the teachers unions are losing in the court of public opinion, when the card-carrying, unionized director of the liberal documentary An Inconvenient Truth - Davis Guggenheim - almost wins another Oscar for his shred-job on the teachers unions in Waiting for Superman. While Davis does an admirable job of making the emotional case for public school reform, Terry Moe's timely empirical analysis goes a mile deeper into the "systemic pathologies" in public school organization, focusing on the enormously powerful and completely self-interested teachers unions. A quote from former AFT President, Albert Shanker, says it all: "When school children start paying union dues, that's when I'll start representing the interests of school children." Unequivocally, if every parent in America read this book from cover to cover, they would take up pitch-forks and torches and storm their state capitals demanding the end of archaic union rules like "last-hired, first-fired" that persist under the current tenure system. Terry does a wonderful job distinguishing, importantly, between the personal feelings of teachers - which are almost always intrinsically motivated to benevolence towards their pupils - and the outcome of their collective bargaining, which always results in protecting solely the interests of teachers first and foremost. Expecting a union to embrace reform is like asking a cat to bark - its just not going to happen. If you analyze the teachers union for what it is, there is virtually no chance of it changing on its own, without being subject to outside forces. Incentives matter, and unions have every incentive to myopically watch out for the interests of its own members - not school children.Read more ›
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Robin Friedman HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on August 7, 2011
Format: Hardcover
In 1983, the President's Commission on Excellence in Education published a report titled "A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform". The report warned of "a rising tide of mediocrity" in public schools in the United States, and it resulted in extensive efforts at reform. Despite these well-intentioned and expensive efforts, United States public schools are still putting children and the nation "at risk" in failing to teach basic skills in reading, mathematics, and science and in failing to prepare too many young people for lives in which they will be informed citizens, happy with themselves, and useful to others.

Terry Moe's book "Special Interest: Teacher Unions and America's Public Schools" (2011) is written against the backdrop of the continued difficulties in American public education. Moe argues that the teachers unions and the power they have amassed since the late 1960's bear substantial responsibility for the continued poor state of American education. Moe is the William Bennett Munro Professor of Political Science at Stanford University and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution. He has written extensively on the American political process and on American education.

In examining a problem as pervasive as educational failure, it is tempting to conclude that many and broad-based factors are involved. Thus, Moe observes, many people find to sources of students' failure to learn in social conditions which do not require restructuring schools as much as "ameliorat[ing] poverty, educat[ing] parents, and mak[ing] schools into community service centers that can meet an array of health, dental, nutritional, psycological, family, and other social needs." (p.
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