Do teacher unions really benefit children?


During the recent primary election the Oregon Education Association (OEA) got what it wanted by defeating Ballot Measure 13 and electing Susan Castillo to Superintendent of Public Instruction. Although the OEA’s effectiveness is admirable, it is questionable whether the union’s actions actually improve education.

The OEA is a union and like all unions is responsible for representing the interests of its members, not advocating for children or quality education. As the October 19, 1981, Oregon Education Association Bulletin stated, “The major purpose of our association is not the education of children, rather it is or ought to be the extension and/or preservation of our members’ rights.”

Growing evidence suggests that teacher unions negatively impact education. In Contract for failure: The impact of teacher union contracts on the quality of California schools the Pacific Research Institute concluded that teacher union contracts significantly affect the majority of California classrooms, restrict the ability of elected school boards and principals to manage schools, and harm student achievement. Myron Lieberman, a life member of the NEA, also questions the impact of unions on school quality in his book The Teacher Unions. It would be naïve to think Oregon is not similarly affected by union activity. While the vast majority of teachers are thoughtful, concerned advocates for education, the union is like any other special interest — primarily interested in protecting its members and increasing its power. When the OEA endorses a candidate or ballot measure it is important to remember that their true interest is not with educating children.

Nick Weller is an education policy analyst at Cascade Policy Institute, a Portland, Oregon based think tank.

© 2006, Cascade Policy Institute. All rights reserved. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided the author and Cascade Policy Institute are cited. Contact Cascade at (503) 242-0900 to arrange print or broadcast interviews on this topic. For more topics visit the QuickPoint! archive.

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