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Unions and Education

Now here’s an interesting little factoid.

Among the arguments teabaggers like Wisconsin governor Scott Walker put forward for busting teachers’ unions is that teachers’ unions perpetuate bad teaching, as measured in depressed scores on standardized tests like the SAT.

Now, far be it from me to put forward standardized test scores as the measure of effective education. Liberals generally and teachers specifically who urge more comprehensive testing of a more comprehensive education. But let us meet conservatives on their own ground: let us consider mastery of the three R’s the best education, drilling in the three R’s to be the best way to achieve it, and standardized tests the best way to measure it. How do teachers’ unions affect standardized test scores?

Five states deny teachers the right to collective bargaining. These rank 44th, 47th, 48th, 49th, and 50th in the nation for standardized test scores. Wisconsin, where the teabagger governor, conservative legislature, and all the influence the Koch brothers’ money can buy seeks to outlaw the teachers’ union? Number two. Look those over again. No unions: dead last; Wisconsin, top of the list.

Correlation is not causation; these figures do not prove that outlawing unions lowers test scores, or that the presence of unions improves test scores. We may speculate that there is a causal link, that teachers’ unions are the de facto advocates for improving education (among their many concerns) and that teachers, with their education degrees are the best qualified to judge what may improve education, and that unions work against advocates for policies that will (knowingly or otherwise) harm education in the pursuit of other interests. But these figures do not prove such a link. They do, however, conclusively demonstrate that unions do not depress scores, that unions do not harm education, as measured by the preferred conservative metric. Any assertion to the contrary is at best an expression of ignorance, at worst a deliberate lie in the service of sabotaging public education.

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