Diane Ravitch, Union Shops and the Education Next Poll

An ancient Armenian King, Tigranes the Great, when told Roman General Lucius Lucullus and his army were en route to Armenia, had the messenger beheaded. Unfortunately, that made it difficult for Tigranes to gather any further intelligence, Plutarch tells us.

That poor but faithful messenger came to mind the other day when Diane Ravitch, a close ally of teacher unions, pulled a “Tigranes” in her blog post. The message I carried pertained to something akin to the “union shop,” the practice of collecting agency fees to cover collective bargaining costs from teachers who do not join the union. The constitutionality of the California law requiring such fees will be considered by the Supreme Court this coming term. The plaintiff alleges the fees violate her right of free speech by forcing her to contribute to the activities of a union with which she disagrees.

Drawing upon early results from the ninth annual Education Next poll scheduled to be released in August, Martin West and I reported both teacher and the general public’s thinking about this issue in an op ed published in the Wall Street Journal. Our message: Teachers themselves do not like agency fees. 50% of them are opposed. 38% favor agency fees; 13% do not have a position. Their opinions are similar to those of the general public; 43% oppose agency fees, 34% support them, and 23% do not take a position.

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For this Tigranian crime, Ravitch picked up her well-ground political ax to say:

Peterson is one of the leading voices (perhaps THE leading voice) in the academic world for free markets and unfettered choice….Peterson is a tenured professor who opposes teacher tenure. He also opposes teachers’ unions; he believes they are selfish and greedy and disrupt the working of the free market. Of course, professors at Harvard make double or triple what the average K-12 teacher earns in a year and work far fewer hours (nine hours a week of class time? three hours? none?).

After having eviscerated my credibility to her satisfaction, Ravitch reveals that:

Peterson’s latest piece . . . says that the public doesn’t believe that unions should be able to collect dues from people who don’t want to belong to the union but enjoy the benefits that the union negotiates for them.

Ravitch forgot to include one detail: These findings came from a survey of representative samples of 700 teachers and 3,300 other American adults polled in May and June, 2015.

The data speak for themselves. It makes no difference whether I am selfish or greedy, or think anyone else is. Whether I am tenured or not, or work three hours or a hundred hours a week, is not the point.

The only question is whether the facts are correct. On that, the Tigranes of the 21st Century education policy world has nothing to say. Ravitch would do better by her readers if she focuses on messages instead of attempting to destroy the reputations of messengers.

– Paul E. Peterson

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