Teachers' Unions to Rahm Emanuel: Hey, How About a 30% Pay Raise

Only in education could you demand a higher pay for churning out an inferior product, but that’s just what the Chicago teachers unions want for doing the jobs they were paid to do, according to the Chicago Tribune.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel might be doing some good yet in pushing for some school reforms that improve educational quality and by training his attention on the unions that imperil those reforms. Emanuel appeared in a film by Big Government’s own, Kyle Olson, and narrated by Juan Williams, and has this to say, according to The New York Times:

“Do I think the union leadership has been a problem in resisting? Absolutely,” Mr. Emanuel told Mr. Williams in the video interview, which was conducted in October. He also said: “I think the system was never designed to benefit the kids.” And he lauds teachers at the Noble Street charter network’s schools as being “on a mission” and “not just doing a job.”

The implication of Emanuel’s comments are that Chicago’s public school teachers have been doing a poor job, an observation borne out by the data: Nearly 40% of Chicago public school students drop out. Perhaps the reason so many students drop out, Emanuel reasons, is that so little is demanded of them and they have ample time to get into trouble. After all, as these graphs make clear, they are so rarely in class.

pChicago, bottom of the pack
Chicago, bottom of the pack

Chicago schools, bringing up the rear
Chicago schools, bringing up the rear

That short time in the class room might be justified if there were evidence that Chicago students were better prepared compared to similar schools. After all, wouldn’t we want kids who don’t have to spend that much time in school and yet were super geniuses? Alas, the evidence isn’t there. Kids need to spend time in school and that means teachers need to be there longer.

You’d think that the Chicago public school teachers, who make on average $69,000 annually (without taking into account lavish benefits) would realize what a good thing they have, but you would think wrong. Perhaps it is because they are so used to getting their way. To get a historical sense of just how much Chicago teachers have made since 1966, look here at a Chicago Magazine chronology. At more than one point, they were among the highest paid teachers in the country.

Of course one of the central myths of our time is that teachers are poorly paid. This myth was thoroughly debunked in Jay P. Green and Marcus Winters’ masterly book, Education Myths (2005). When you factor in the minute-by-minute pay, they are paid more than firefighters, cops and other working professionals. Teachers are paid on a comparable rate to biologists, dentists, and even nuclear engineers as Marcus and Greene explain in a New York Post op-ed. Test scores in Chicago and around the country have fared no better, despite the lavish pay.

No matter. The Chicago Teachers Union wants more money spent–$170 million additionally–to reduce class sizes, even though there is no empirical evidence supporting it. Again, according to Greene and Marcus:

The average student-to-teacher ratio dropped from 22.3 in 1970 to 16.1 in 2002, yet student achievement on the national level did not improve during this time. Not only has class-size reduction failed to produce improvements when attempted on a large scale, but reducing class size is a very expensive reform strategy. A one-third reduction in class size requires roughly a one-third increase in spending, because schools have to hire more teachers and build more classrooms.

More teachers means, of course, more contributions to groups like the Chicago Teachers Union. Not surprisingly, the union is also calling for more administrators — “support staff”– that have no effect whatsoever on educational outcomes.

It is, as one education policy wonk puts it, an “exorbitant offer.”

Public schools serve, well, the public, but Karen Lewis of the Chicago Teachers’ Union has declined comment on the details of the proposal, because as Lewis says, “We’re not negotiating this in the public.”

And why not? Because they don’t want the public to see what some of their highest paid public servants are up to. And with pay that high, public servants are something of a misnomer. It’s more like public masters. Unsurprisingly, the masters get plenty of time off, but still want more. The Chicago union contract is 6 hours and 45 minutes, with an obligatory 45-minute, non-working lunch. It has long been a staple of big city union contracts to restrict the number of hours that teachers are required to be in school.

If Rahm Emanuel can get the teachers’ unions to take their charge–teaching–more seriously, it might be enough to forgive him for his role in passing Obamacare.

Well, almost.