The situation already looked explosive. A Rhode Island high school had a 50% failure rate in a depressed town with high unemployment and a median wage of $22,000 per family. The union representing the teachers, who averaged over $70,000 per year in income, refused the superintendent’s plans to improve the school by extending the work day by 25 minutes and requiring teachers to provide tutoring on a rotating basis. The superintendent summoned her inner Reagan and fired them all, from the administrators to the last instructor (via Instapundit):
Her plan calls for teachers at a local high school to work 25 minutes longer per day, each lunch with students once in a while, and help with tutoring. The teachers’ union has refused to accept these apparently onerous demands.
The teachers at the high school make $70,000-$78,000, as compared to a median income in the town of $22,000. This exemplifies a nationwide trend in which public sector workers make far more than their private-sector counterparts (with better benefits).
The school superintendent has responded to the union’s stubbornness by firing every teacher and administrator at the school.
Let’s agree on a few things first. The 50% failure rate is certainly abysmal, but considering the poverty in the town, perhaps not completely related to academics. That kind of poverty creates pressure on employment-age teens to find work, although in this economy, the work would be hard to find. There may also be families escaping from the area to find work elsewhere; that may or may not have an impact on graduation rates. As for the salaries of the teachers, one has to view that in terms of competitive labor, as getting good teachers will necessarily cost more than getting cheap teachers, and probably would have an impact on those graduation rates, with all other things being equal.
However, it’s hard not to draw the conclusion that the teachers and administration at this school are a big part of the problem. Asking teachers making three times the average of the town’s median income to contribute an extra 25 minutes a day to rescue students in obvious failure does not seem like an outrageous request. The two-week summer training period may have infringed on their vacation plans, but their school faced an existential crisis, and their students were being doomed to a lifetime of competitive handicaps. One may have thought that teachers and administrators would have a sense of mission, rather than a sense of entitlement, especially considering the failure to which they had all contributed at least in part.
This is a good argument for getting unions out of the public-employee business altogether. Not only does the marriage of unions and the public sector create too much of an impulse to expand bureaucracies, it twists the priorities away from public service and towards entitlement thinking. To their credit, most educators, law enforcement, and emergency response personnel successfully resist that impulse, but this jaw-dropping standoff in Rhode Island shows that it does exist.
Update: Rhode Island is abbreviated RI, not RH, of course. I’ve corrected the title.