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Act 10 in Wisconsin Is Harbinger for the Nation

When Act 10 became law in Wisconsin in 2011, the ability of teachers and other public-sector employees to bargain collectively over salary and benefits was abolished ("Who Moved My Teachers?" Mother Jones, Mar. 31). It's always risky to extrapolate what has happened in one state to another, but I see a disturbing trend.

There was a time when Wisconsin was known for its progressive legislation.  It was the first to recognize state government employee unions.  Long before that, Wisconsin was the home of Robert  LaFollette, a vocal fighter for the rights of workers who served as governor and then as U.S. senator.

But times have changed in Wisconsin.  Teachers have been particularly hard hit.  Before the passage of Act 10, the Wisconsin Education Association Council, the state's largest association of local teachers' unions, had about 98,000 members.  Today it has fewer than 40,000. The University of Wisconsin-Madison's school of education has seen applications plummet.

Veteran teachers have taken early retirement rather than try to teach in the new climate.  For example, facing teacher shortages due to budget problems, the La Crosse school district gave new high school teachers an additional class to teach.  Not surprisingly, teaching in Wisconsin has lost its appeal to even the most dedicated.

I see similar changes on the horizon in other states across the country.  The campaign to scapegoat teachers' unions for all the ills afflicting public education is wildly successful.  It sees nothing wrong in treating teachers as expendable.  I wouldn't be at all surprised if teachers' salaries one day will be tied directly to their students' standardized test scores, in the same way that people in sales are paid in direct proportion to their monthly sales.

I'll go a step further in predicting that public schools in this country will not be recognizable a decade or two from now.  There are already signs to that effect, but they will become even more dramatic. We are moving slowly but surely toward widespread parental choice in all its many forms.  That means traditional public schools will be the schools of last resort.

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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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