Debate: Are Teacher Unions to Blame for Failing Schools?

Below is an e-mail forwarded to us by the Jaquelin Hume Foundation in California, which is involved in education issues. It’s an e-mail from one of the participants in a recent debate in New York City last month over how much blame teacher unions deserve for failing schools.

A few words about last week’s debate in NY….

About 500 people showed up for the IQ Squared debate which had the rather confusing motion, “Do Not Blame the Teachers Unions for Our Failing Schools.” In other words, if you think the unions are to blame, you would vote against the motion. (Our team made it very clear that the teachers unions are not the only problem.) Each person votes electronically before the debate and then again after it’s over. The winner is the team that gets the most people to change their vote. Here are the results:

Before the debate After the debate

For the motion – 24%                         For the motion – 25%

Undecided – 33%                                 Undecided – 7%

Against the motion – 43%                Against the motion – 68%

Assuming both the pro-union folks and the anti-union folks stayed put, the numbers tell quite a story. Of the “undecideds” – a few stayed undecided, but just about everyone else went to the anti-union side.

To put it into simply, the pro-union side got clobbered. The teacher and the superintendent on the union team were nice enough folks who apparently have some good union folks they deal with. They told some nice stories. They seemed very earnest. They sounded silly a couple of times, but nothing too egregious. And then there was Randi.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, a former teacher herself, with a law degree from Cornell, filled out the pro-union team.  It boggles the mind that a woman with these credentials could give such a bad account of herself.  Shibboleths followed half-truths which followed rambling non sequitors.

All our team (Rod Paige, Terry Moe and I) had to do was remind the other team of what the facts are. We used logic, data, constantly looking at the big picture. I was waiting for some brilliant point or some arcane facts that our team wouldn’t be able to handle. Never came close to that scenario. In any event, if you’d like to see the debate, it can be found in its entirety here – http://intelligencesquaredus.org/index.php/past-debates/dont-blame-teachers-unions-for-our-failing-schools/ (click on the audio-video tab.) Thanks.

Larry Sand

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