Lesson from Wisconsin – Pacific Research Institute

Lesson from Wisconsin

As Wisconsin government-employee unions protested against Gov. Scott Walker’s budget-balancing proposals, teachers union members walked out of class, depriving thousands of children of their right to an education.The teachers’ callous, selfish actions demonstrate the need to give parents the ability to bypass the unionized government-monopoly school system.

Mr. Walker wants teachers and other public employees to increase their contributions to their benefit and pension plans and seeks to limit teachers union contracts to salary levels.His plan also would cap pay increases and exclude non-salary issues, such as teacher evaluation, from collective bargaining.In response, droves of teachers faked sickness, causing the closure of scores of schools.

Despite the negative effect of the closures on students, the media have focused on the showdown over collective bargaining rather than a more important reality. Parents and their children had little recourse when union teachers closed their schools. If parents had greater school-choice alternatives, students could have quickly left the regular government school system when their government-union teachers abandoned them.One promising choice alternative is online and virtual learning.

Online education provides instruction to students through interactive programs using the Internet. Virtual charter schools are deregulated public schools independent of school districts, not subject to local teachers union contracts. They enable students to learn at home or any remote location using online learning.Because no expensive brick-and-mortar facility is needed and students can learn from star teachers located anywhere, even out of state, parents and students need not be tied down to their expensive unionized neighborhood public school.

At virtual charters, students read, write essays, take tests and conduct experiments, all through online programs.Virtual charter school teachers are available continuously to students through email, instant messaging, phone or Web conferences, and face-to-face meetings.

Terri Adams, director of the Golden Valley Virtual Charter School in California, says that as opposed to the old-line, unionized industrial model, at a virtual school like hers, “it’s on-demand help from credentialed teachers all day, every day.”In terms of teacher time, students “are getting a lot more, and they don’t have to be afraid to raise their hand; they don’t run out of time; and the class isn’t going to be over in 40 minutes and everyone is going to run off to their next class.”Forced, closed-shop unionism does not exist at her school, so badly performing teachers can be weeded out fast.

“If we have a teacher who is underperforming,” Ms. Adams says, “we can do something about it.”“When you are in a regular school and you have a teacher down the hall in Room 12 and nobody wants to have their kid in that class, the school has its hands tied.”

Ms. Adams says, “You should let the students and the parents make the decision about what they want to do for education.I think when people feel that they’ve had a choice, everyone involved is just going to be a lot happier.”Everyone, that is, except the teachers unions.

In Wisconsin and elsewhere, reactionary teachers unions have fought the expansion of online learning and virtual charters.Back in the early 2000s, the Wisconsin teachers unions sued to eliminate virtual charter schools.Eventually, the unions succeeded in getting a law passed limiting virtual charter enrollment. Other states also have enacted Luddite laws, backed by unions, against online learning.

If reformers like Mr. Walker want to overhaul their unionized school systems, they should attach funding to each individual student so he or she can take that funding to the school of his or her choice, whether a regular public school, brick-and-mortar charter school, virtual charter or private school.

Once parents and their children are empowered to bypass the union status quo, the public schools will be forced to reform themselves.When that day comes, children won’t be victimized by sickouts that put union power above student achievement.


Nothing contained in this blog is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Pacific Research Institute or as an attempt to thwart or aid the passage of any legislation.

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