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Don't Blame Teachers Unions For Our Failing Schools

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  • Randi Weingarten on Teachers Unions

    Clip: Randi Weingarten argues for the motion "Don't Blame Teachers' Unions for our Failing Schools.".

  • Lary Sand on Teachers Unions

    Clip: Larry Sand argues against the motion "Don't Blame Teachers' Unions for our Failing Schools."

  • Charter School Face-Off

    Clip: The debate grows heated on the topics of charter schools and effect of unions as debaters argue the motion "Don't Blame Teachers Unions for Our Failing Schools."

Debate Details

Teachers unions: They’re powerful, they’re defensive, and they’re stubborn. And if it seems their leadership places a premium on protecting its members – above all other interests – we should not be surprised, because protecting jobs and wages is what unions were created to do. And there’s the rub, say critics who argue the unions are shielding too many teachers who do their jobs poorly – teachers who should be replaced, for the good of the children. Indeed, so central is good teaching to good learning, some say it’s the unions as presently constructed – more than anything other factor – that are undermining America’s schools. But can it really be that simple? In a ranking of whom to blame for what’s wrong in America’s classrooms, do teachers unions really come before slashed budgets? Or crumbling infrastructure, broken homes and the influence of narcotics? Do bad teachers so outnumber good ones that the union represents a collection of educational misfits? The question comes down to a decision: do we need to reform the unions before we do anything else, and if we do, is that the fix that will once again make US public education the model system it once was?

The Debaters

For the motion

Kate McLaughlin

Elementary Teacher, Lowell Public Schools, Massachusetts

Has been an elementary teacher in the Lowell, Massachusetts public schools since 1999. She is currently a mathematics coach working with both teachers... Read More

Gary Smuts

Superintendent, ABC Unified School District

Is superintendent of the ABC Unified School District, known throughout the state of California as a leader in educational planning and innovation... Read More

Randi Weingarten

President, American Federation of Teachers

is president of the 1.4-million-member American Federation of Teachers, AFL-CIO. She was elected in July 2008, following 11 years of service as an... Read More

Against the motion

Terry Moe

William Bennett Munro Professor of Political Science, Stanford University

Is the William Bennett Munro Professor of Political Science at Stanford University, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, and a member of Hoover's... Read More

Rod Paige

Former U.S. Secretary of Education

is a life-long educator and former U.S. Secretary of Education (2001-2005). As secretary, Paige was an unstinting advocate of student achievement... Read More

Larry Sand

Elementary Teacher, Webster Middle School

Began his teaching career in New York in 1971. Since 1984, he has taught elementary school in the Los Angeles Unified School District, including English... Read More

Where Do You Stand?

For The Motion
  • Teachers unions should not be the scapegoat for the root causes of failing schools, such as inadequate school funding, unengaged school communities, and ineffective leadership.
  • Collective bargaining rights ensure quality teachers are incentivized to work in public schools by securing financial incentives, good working conditions, and necessary education resources are readily available.
  • Teachers unions advocate for education reform, including introducing professional development programs that increase teacher quality and growth.
  • The states with the highest student achievement are the most unionized, including most prominently Massachusetts, one of the most unionized states in the country which sees higher achievement than any other state.
Against The Motion
  • Teachers unions were created to advocate for teachers, and consequently prioritize teachers’ interests — such as compensation and job stability — over the educational interests of students.
  • Teachers’ unions take measures to ensure membership remains high, including prioritizing seniority over performance, blocking teacher accountability measures, and advocating for teachers charged with misconduct, even at the risk of impeding students’ ability to learn.
  • Teachers unions control both sides of schoolboard bargaining tables, using their political capital to elect schoolboard and other officials who will institute and block reforms as the union sees fit.
  • In the interest of self-preservation, teachers unions have coerced states into capping the number of charter schools able to open in certain districts, effectively blocking school choice for many parents.


  • Live Audience
  • Online Audience
  • Results
  • Breakdown

The Research

The Research

Teacher Firings on the Table in Rhode Island

The Associated Press
March 3, 2010

Union Officials are Disturbingly Inflexible toward Charter Schools

February 1, 2010

Union Hopes to Show and Tell

James Vaznis
September 10, 2009
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