Published September 20, 2012
The Chicago teachers strike has just ended after entering a second week. Isn't that nice of them? The Chicago teachers union is getting a raise in the middle of a depression and they have decided to "allow" the kids to go back to school. These are such selfless people! It's obvious they’re always thinking about the kids.
But even though the strike is now over -- this is a perfect time to talk about it, to analyze what just happened. This is what President Obama would call a “teachable moment.” This is Exhibit A for what ails America...for why America is broke...why America is dysfunctional...and for why our public school system is in shambles.
The Chicago teachers are among the highest paid in the nation. And their results are among the worst in the nation. And in the middle of this Obama Great Depression- the second worst economic crisis in our nation’s history- they went on strike because they were unhappy with a big fat raise, and they did not want to face evaluations of their performance from time to time.
The saddest part of all is how foolish government is. This is like a Chicago version of "Dumb & Dumber." The negotiation from the start involved government offering a raise, while the greedy teachers union asked for a bigger raise. They were fighting over how much of a raise to give grossly overpaid employees in the middle of a Great Depression. There was never even a thought of cutting their compensation or basing it on performance- like so many of us in the private sector.
The financial crisis we are in, as a country, is because government is full of fools who only know how to negotiate upward -- WITH YOUR TAX MONEY!
How broke is America, while we're giving out raises to teachers? Well in Cook County (Chicago) the Treasurer recently reported that the debt is $108 billion dollars. Most of that is for pensions for overpaid government employees. $108 billion dollars in one county, in one city. In particular, the Chicago school district faces a $700 million deficit.
Yet the debate was over how much of a raise to give Chicago teachers? This teacher strike is Exhibit A for everything wrong with government. Especially Chicago government- the place where Obama learned everything he knows about how to bankrupt a country.
Remember this strike was about failing employees who are paid an average of $71,000 per year. Plus gold-plated health care packages. Plus $2.4 million per teacher in taxpayer-funded retirement packages.
Yes, I said each teacher gets $2.4 million in retirement. Each.
Now my wife and I home-schooled our daughter to Harvard, and she was just accepted at Oxford.
There is something wrong here folks.
Keep in mind my retirement (as a business owner) is funded only by me. Yet each Chicago teacher’s $2.4 million golden parachute is paid by you- the taxpayers. Even though most taxpayers don’t have a pension!
And the teachers were on strike?
Keep in mind the disgraceful results produced by these striking teachers. For $71,000 per year plus obscene pensions of $77,000 per year, these union teachers have produced a graduation rate of 54%. Yet the graduation rate for charter schools in Chicago, with non-union teachers, is 76%. What do teachers at charter schools get paid? The average is $48,910 per year. Why do charter schools work so much better? Hmmm, could it be because they are non-union?
Chicago schools have the shortest school day of any major school system in the nation. Only 33% of Chicago students who enter high school will attend college. But worst of all are the figures for African American students in Chicago. Only 1 in 40 will graduate college from black inner city neighborhoods.
These are the results that teachers think demand big raises, fewer teacher evaluations, and more job security? In the private sector these kind of results would be met with “YOU’RE FIRED!”
So how should the strike have been handled? When faced with the strike of government employees, former President Ronald Reagan provided the model. In Reagan’s case it was Air Traffic Controllers. These were (theoretically) irreplaceable employees who direct airplane traffic across the U.S. skies, and are responsible for the safety of millions of lives every day. And they were good at their job. Unlike teachers, there were no failures, or drop-outs in the sky under this group of government employees.
Yet Reagan simply told the whole striking union to report for work in 3 days, or you’re fired. Forever. Don’t report and you’re banned for life. When they refused, Reagan fired them all. Forever. Reagan replaced them with military air traffic controllers and supervisors, until new controllers could be hired and trained. Result: a seamless transition and not one accident.
Why didn’t we handle the Chicago teachers strike the same way? Report to work, or be fired. Forever. Then bring in substitutes and supervisors from across the state. Offer them full time jobs at one-third lower salaries, one-half the pensions, and demand bigger contributions for their health care costs. And tell them the school day just got 2 hours longer.
I predict you’d have had lines stretching for miles, with new teachers driving in from across the nation begging to be hired. You’ll have had 10 applicants for every job opening.
If we had fired these greedy, selfish union teachers, and brought in younger non-union replacements with fresh ideas, stronger work ethic, and a positive can-do attitude, I guarantee you that the kids would have benefited.
Most importantly, the key to my plan would be to incentivize these new teachers with giant bonuses based on performance- so that if they produced great results their salaries would actually wind up higher than the union teachers.
And combine performance-based compensation with school choice. Give vouchers to Chicago's parents, so they can choose the best school for their children. I guarantee you that competition would improve public schools. This is how you bring the best of capitalism to education. This is how you empower teachers and change the lives of our children. Competition works for Coke and Pepsi, and Microsoft and Apple. Why wouldn't it benefit our education system?
Heck, the results could not get any worse. What do we have to lose? I say end the unions, fire them all, and start over. Let's do it right. Because our children's entire future is at stake.