- Paperback: 513 pages
- Publisher: Brookings Institution Press; Reprint edition (December 1, 2011)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0815722729
- ISBN-13: 978-0815722724
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.2 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 24 customer reviews
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- #637 in Books > Business & Money > Economics > Labor & Industrial Relations
- #761 in Books > Politics & Social Sciences > Politics & Government > Public Affairs & Policy > Social Policy
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Special Interest: Teachers Unions and America's Public Schools Paperback – December 1, 2011
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"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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While not bad enough to be sent to the Rubber Rooms, another 5-10 percent of our teachers are mediocre at best and clearly harming their students. If we could merely replace the bottom 10 percent “‘we could dramatically improve student achievement. The U.S.could move from below average international comparisons to near the top’” (#157). Educational reformers know this, but every effort to change the system has failed for one simple reason: unions oppose efforts to discipline ineffective teachers , to allow school choice or merit pay. Before 1960 unions had little power and exerted little influence. The National Education Association (now the largest union of any kind in the U.S.) was a professional organization largely controlled by school administrators. In the 60s, however, the unions began to win legislative and judicial victories that enabled them, by 1980, to establish “what was essentially a new system of public education” (#218). “The rise of the teachers unions, then, is a story of triumph for employee interests and employee power. But it is not a story of triumph for American education” (#1419).
The unions mastered the art of financing politicians (almost exclusively Democrat) who would in turn generously appropriate money to the schools and require union membership. Unions “were the nation’s top contributors to federal elections from 1989 through 2009” (#251). They also effectively marshal their members as “volunteers” to work in important campaigns (especially school board elections and bond proposals). And they have effectively aligned themselves with other powerful public sector unions to mutually enrich themselves at the public purse. When confronted with the dismal record of student achievement (near the bottom compared with other developed countries), the unions loudly insist the problem is simply financial—given enough money, all would be well in our schools! Yet the U.S. spends “more than twice as much on education—per student, adjusted for inflation—as it spent in 1970 (and more than three times as much in 1960” (#296). Unions insist that small classes insure better learning and demand we hire more teachers to man small classrooms. Yet whereas in 1955 there were 27 students per teacher and there are now 14, the students are demonstrably less well-educated. Smaller classes mainly mean more teachers—and more union dues—but less effective instruction.
Yet amidst the generally dismal story of America’s schools there are a few “small victories for sanity.” New Orleans has witnessed some “path-breaking” improvements launched in the wake of the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina in 2005! The city’s “teachers were dismissed and the local union and its formidable power” was crushed (#4414). Then state and local officials were free to establish “a full-blown choice system filled with autonomous charter schools” now enrolling 60 percent of the city’s children (#4420). Short of a hurricane, however, constructive change rarely comes in the nation’s largest cities! Consider Washington, D.C., dead last in test scores and “long known for having one of the worst, most incompetently run school systems in the country” despite its lavish funding (#4753). When Adrian Fenty was elected mayor in 2007 he resolved to reform the system and brought Michelle Rhee on board as Superintendent of Schools to do so. She sought to “build a new personnel system around performance: rewarding good teachers for their success, creating strong incentives to promote student achievement, and—just as important—attracting a new breed of teachers” who would improve things (#4811). But Rhee soon exited because the unions opposed her every move and help orchestrate the defeat of Mayor Fenty at the next election.
In Moe’s opinion, unless the teachers unions are radically curtailed there is no hope for the children in public schools. The symbiotic bond between the unions and the Democrat Party must be dissolved. School vouchers, school choice, charter schools, and new technological options offer positive alternatives to the established order that may in time improve things. But ultimately, for any meaningful reforms to take place the teachers unions must somehow be sidelined.
Some reviewers have been critical of Moe's "biased" work. Yes, it is biased. He was setting forth an ARGUMENT. That's what you do when you're trying to convince others of your point. At no point did I think I was reading an unbiased historical account on the rise of American teachers unions. Instead, Moe thoughtfully and forcefully argues that while teachers unions didn't cause all of the problems our country's schools face, they also historically have been major obstacles to educational reform. Given my own experience as a public school teacher and the additional information learned from this book, I am prone to agree.
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