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Latest Attack on Teachers Unions

In football, it's called piling on, and it draws a penalty. But when a similar tactic takes place in education, it rates an op-ed. I'm referring to an essay by Troy Senik, a senior fellow at the Center for Individual Freedom who attacked the California Teachers Association for all the ills afflicting public schools in the state ("The teachers union that's failing California," Los Angeles Times, May 18).

Senik asserts that the Rodda Act, which allows teachers to bargain collectively, is the culprit. Passed in 1975, the law touched off dramatic growth in the number of local chapters of CTA, and gave rise to more than 170 strikes. Sustained by income that is tax exempt, CTA has involved itself heavily in politicking. It has convinced voters to reject a series of propositions that it deemed harmful to its own interests.

If the Rodda Act is responsible, then why have voters not demanded its repeal? They possess that power through the initiative process. That's how democracy works. (I admit California makes it too easy for propositions to appear on the ballot, but that's not the fault of CTA.) The fact that time after time voters have turned down the propositions Senik supports does not make CTA a malevolent force.

Senik then trots out the old charge that teachers in California are overpaid, with an average annual salary of $68,000 for 180 days of work. I suggest he look more closely at teachers in New York. Thousands of teachers in the New York suburbs were already earning more than $100,000 in 2005, with the ranks growing fast ("The Rise of the Six-Figure Teacher," The New York Times, May 15, 2005).

The lavish pensions that Senik says California teachers earn are not nearly as great as he claims. A study by the California Foundation for Fiscal Responsibility found that public school teachers' retirement benefits are smaller than those of almost any other type of public employee ("In California, Study Says, Teachers' Pensions Fall Short of Other Public Workers' , " The New York Times, May 5, 2011). Senik forgets that teachers in California make large contributions to their pensions during their working years in the classroom. Moreover, California taxes pensions for teachers, while New York does not.

If CTA has abused its power to enrich its members at the expense of everyone else, then why do 22 percent of teachers in California leave after their first four years in the classroom? I've never heard a satisfactory explanation.

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The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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