Stanford Expert: Union Leaders They Must Reward the Best Teachers

CHICAGO – An education expert from Stanford University told the presidents of the nation’s two largest teachers unions Thursday that they could help increase compensation for educators throughout the nation if they would agree to reward the best teachers and cut compensation for low performers.

Eric Hanushek, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford, sat on a special panel with Dennis Van Roekel, president of the NEA, and Randi Weingarten, president of the AFT, at the National Conference of State Legislators in Chicago.

Hanushek compared the two teachers unions with the United Auto Workers of a few years ago. That union was completely concerned with working conditions and compensation, and lost sight of the quality of the product being offered, he said. That led to a huge market loss for American automakers and mass layoffs for auto workers.

When quality control again became a focus, the auto industry rebounded, Hanushek said. Similarly, when the teachers unions agree to identify the best teachers through new evaluation systems and reward them accordingly, instead of distributing pay and benefits in an equal manner to all teachers, quality will return to the classroom and pay will naturally increase, he said.

“The UAW for a long time said ‘We want better working conditions and pay for our workers, period,” Hanushek was quoted as saying by MLive’s Dave Murray. “And all of a sudden they realized that building a good car was something they had to do. And I think that if we can get the unions and the public and the legislators together to build a better car (in public education) everybody is going to come out ahead.”

The fact that superior teachers are typically underpaid probably has something to do with the 47 percent turnover rate in the profession, Hanushek said.

“I think the policies that have been pursued in terms of unions and their contracts have led to salaries for teachers being way too low, and I think the bad teachers are overpaid. And that’s been the problem … salaries in teaching are not market-based, they’re political decisions,” he said.

“I think (performance pay) is important, particularly at the top end, because we want to cut down the turnover of our very best teachers … I think we want to use pay and working conditions and other things as inducements to keep the best teachers in the jobs, once we’ve identified them.”


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