New Haven Dan wants to know: “Teacher unions, good or bad. Discuss.”
I think the answer is clearly good. In a specific context of a jurisdiction where you have high levels of funding and relatively strong unions, the main valence of union power is going to be to shift education policies at the margin in the interests of the teachers rather than in the public interest. You can see this in good school systems (Massachusetts) and you can see it in bad school systems (DC). But that’s not to say that if you ditched the unions you’d be in a paradise. Instead, you’d wind up with poorly funded school systems that make entering the teaching profession unattractive with bad results following. We actually have plenty of states in the U.S. without powerful teacher unions, generally in the South, and it doesn’t lead to good schools.
It’s just important to think of these things on two levels. If you’re a well-meaning person put in charge of some public agency then of course your efforts to improve agency performance will in some respects clash with what representatives of your workforce want to do. That’s a first-order perspective that makes them look bad. Then there’s a more meta level where you need to ask whether or not systematically things would work better were the workforce disempowered. And I think here the answer is no—it would be harder for your agency to recruit staff, it would be harder to secure funding for it, it would be harder to raise the salience of the issues your agency works on, etc.