California’s now-defeated Republican gubernatorial candidate John Cox said he wanted the Golden State’s teachers “paid like rock stars and baseball players.” But despite his claims and promise to adjust teachers’ pay if he were elected, unions backed his opponent.
Cox’s plan involved using a merit-based approach, meaning that under his leadership, school administrators would give effective teachers better pay, while mediocre educators would get lower salaries.
But this model, the teachers’ unions told reporters, comes from a person who doesn’t “get” education because “education should not be a competitive endeavor.”
What these unions are betting on is the idea that education is not a good, but a right. By downplaying the role of competition in driving quality of services up, even in education, public school teachers and union leaders bank on the idea that a right is sacred and must be provided by the government, therefore their work should be protected from the evils profit-driven bosses could bring upon them in the private sector.
But education is not a guaranteed right, at least not if you understand the difference between positive and negative rights.
Competition Makes Perfect
Education is considered a positive right, as it requires others to provide you with a service. Negative rights, such as liberty, property, and life, require nothing but others to abstain from interfering. Positive rights cannot be provided by a government entity as the act should be seen as morally unsound. A public “service,” after all, requires the state to forcefully confiscate resources from taxpayers to provide the service “for free.” But this whole talk about education being a guaranteed right is used as a justification by unions, whose goal is to simply give public school teachers the privilege of being shielded from the consequences of incompetence.
When treated as what it is, a good, education can be a great thing — for both students and teachers because of competition.
In a competitive setting such as private school system, school officials know that if their teachers are not delivering, meaning children are not learning, teachers must be either disciplined, demoted, or even fired so that a competent educator steps in. After all, parents will take their children to another school if they are unhappy with the institutions’ methods.
In a public school setting, however, bad teachers who achieve tenure are allowed to stay. Because their positions are protected for life, these teachers have no incentives to work harder or more effectively if their students are failing. And what’s worse, pay in a public school setting is based on seniority, meaning that a young and energetic teacher willing to give his or her best gets worse pay than the teacher who has occupied a chair for decades – yet another perverse incentive to those trying to actually get their students above and beyond.
Unions in California have a monopoly on the public education system, forcing school administrations to get whomever they can instead of being able to offer better pay to the best and brightest. After all, the best will be offered better positions and pay in the private sector.
When nine California public-school students sued the state and the California Teachers Association, claiming that the Golden State’s teachers’ protection rules kept them from having an “effective” education, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu ruled in favor of the distressed pupils. At the time, Treu said that “1-3 percent of teachers in California are grossly ineffective.”
“Given that the evidence showed roughly 275,000 active teachers in this state,” the judge continued, “the extrapolated number of grossly ineffective teachers ranges from 2,750 to 8,250.”
His ruling was eventually overturned.
As you can see, it’s obvious that teachers’ unions would have such a hard time going along with Cox’s plan. After all, switching to a merit-based system would go against the very core of their existence.