Blame Stingy Spending, Not Unions, For Schools’ Short Hours

On the one hand, I think lots of people who are fans of labor unions are far too quick to dismiss education reform ideas as mere union busting. On the other hand, I think lots of people with education reform ideas are far too quick to attribute problems to the presence of labor unions rather than the basic realities of human life. For example, Steve Jobs thought schools should maintain longer hours, which makes sense to me. But his take on it is odd:

Jobs also criticized America’s education system, saying it was “crippled by union work rules,” noted Isaacson. “Until the teachers’ unions were broken, there was almost no hope for education reform.” Jobs proposed allowing principals to hire and fire teachers based on merit, that schools stay open until 6 p.m. and that they be open 11 months a year.

Any firm whose managers decided they wanted to add eight work weeks to the year plus increase the length of working days would be faced with an obvious problem. Either morale’s going to plummet and many workers will quit, or else you’re going to have to pony up a large pay increase. It’s true that if your workers have a union, the union will be the mechanism through which the objection to this “giant uncompensated increase in working hours” plan will be registered. The problem a mayor or school chancellor seeking to implement this idea would have is a budget problem—you’d need higher taxes. If your plan was at all reasonable, I bet the local teacher’s union would even help you lobby for it.