“Teachers unions have a popularity problem,” according to a recent Harvard study.
Harvard professor Paul Peterson writes that while approval ratings for education unions remained stable between 2009 and 2011, 2012 saw a significant dip:
In our polls from 2009 to 2011, we saw little change in public opinion. Around 40% of respondents were neutral, saying that unions had neither a positive nor negative impact. The remainder divided almost evenly, with the negative share being barely greater than the positive.
But this year unions lost ground. While 41% of the public still takes the neutral position, those with a positive view of unions dropped to 22% in 2012 from 29% in 2011.
The most notable finding, however, is the opinion of education unions among teachers themselves. Peterson reports that while “58% of teachers took a positive view of unions in 2011, only 43% do in 2012.” On top of this, “the number of teachers holding negative views of unions nearly doubled to 32% from 17% last year.”
Governor Scott Walker’s victory in Wisconsin last week also suggests unions may be losing ground.
The Heritage Foundation’s James Sherk points out that while union leaders in Wisconsin portrayed Walker’s union reforms—including letting “union members vote on re-electing their unions,” making joining a union and paying dues voluntary, and ending collective bargaining over benefits—as “an attack on union members,” many members apparently disagreed.
Despite months of union lobbying to oust the governor, Walker’s win on Tuesday was supported by 38 percent of union households (slightly greater than the 37 percent who supported him in 2010). Sherk writes:
Why did Walker win the same share of the union vote after implementing his reforms? Because they didn’t consider these reforms to be an anti-union attack. Making unions run for re-election and making union dues voluntary cause unions to be more accountable to their members. No wonder union members overwhelmingly support these ideas. Of course, government employees were not thrilled about paying more for their pension and health care bills, but they did not dislike everything Walker had done.
By pushing back on union power, Walker’s reforms also support the best interests of children. For years, unions have stood in the way of much-needed reforms such as ending job security for underperforming teachers, school choice, and performance pay for teachers. Additionally, there are examples of unions putting their own interests over those of children, such as the recent actions by the Chicago teachers union to call for a possible strike for teachers this fall if schools don’t agree to the demands of the unions—namely, a 30 percent pay increase over the next two years.
Education in the United States should not be controlled by special interests but rather focused on the needs of students and families. That “unions in Wisconsin and elsewhere are standing on increasingly shaky ground,” as Peterson states, means students are gaining stronger footing for a brighter academic future.