George Will's column in today's NYPost is, as usual, a hard gem of a piece. He gins up some crocodile tears for the Chicago teachers union:
Blaming unions for improvident contracts ignores the fact that a union’s principal task is to enhance members’ well-being — wages, benefits, working conditions.
Unions can wound themselves by injuring their industries (e.g., steel and autos), but primary blame for improvident contracts with public employees belongs to the elected public officials who grant them.
And then he notes:
Teachers unions, however, have painted themselves into a corner by insisting that spending is the best predictor of educational performance — increase financial inputs and cognitive outputs will rise.
In the last 50 years, real per-pupil spending nationwide has tripled and the number of pupils per teacher has declined by a third, yet educational attainments have fallen.
Abundant data demonstrate that the vast majority of differences in schools’ performances can be explained by qualities of the families from which the children come to school: The amount of homework done at home, the quantity and quality of reading material in the home, the amount of TV watched in the home and, much the most important variable, the number of parents in the home. In Chicago, 84 percent of African-American children and 57 percent of Hispanic children are born to unmarried women.
None of this, of course, is news to me. Or us. But it's news to Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel, who like many of his ultra-orthodox Democratic colleagues, is finding that it's easy to mouth platitudes of support for America's corrupt and reactionary teachers unions when you're a legislator or lickspittle functionary. But when you find yourself in charge -- ie, responsible for the education system in your district -- as a chief executive, things get complicated:
The [Chicago Teachers Union] wants a pay raise — 30 percent — proportional to Emanuel’s 90-minute increase in the school day and 10-day increase in the school year. He has canceled a 4 percent raise and offers only 2 percent. He says benefits the CTU has won — e.g., many teachers pay nothing toward generous pensions they can collect at age 60 — could in just three years force property taxes up 150 percent and require classes with 55 students.
So at least someone in Chicago is learning about life and economics. Unfortunately for the schoolchildren, it's not them. It's the mayor.