Dylan Matthews has a rethink on teacher strikes
Last week, Dylan Matthews made some strong claims about how damaging teacher strikes were to student achievement—claims that I spent some time challenging (here and here).
He has softened his line now. Today, writing up Rahm Emanuel’s suit to have the strike declared illegal, Matthews says:
So the “clear and present danger” argument seems a more promising avenue for Rahm than the strikable issues claim. But still, the empirical burden of proof there is weighty. While there exist studies suggesting that strikes, insofar as they reduce instruction, reduce student achievement, CTU could try to poke holes in those or dispute that the standardized tests upon which they are based constitute valid evidence. It could also reasonably argue that if the strike endangers students, regular vacations must as well. Though summer learning loss is a real problem, it seems unlikely that courts would rule vacation a danger to students.
Also, days lost to the strike may be made up at the expense of vacation.
But, that aside, it’s very gratifying to see Matthews walking it back, as they say. And gratifying to know that I might have had something to do with providing ammo to the CTU. I wish all my workdays were so productive.
Thanks to Corey Robin for leaving a sickbed on Rosh Hashana to point Matthews’ post out to me.
Just to be clear, the days WILL be made up at the end of the year. They always are. Federal and state funding to school districts is dependent on a certain number of days of school happening. Neither the districts nor the union want to endanger the funding, so days are always made up in the United States (unlike Canada). Arguments about how the children will suffer because of the strike are always bullshit, because the kids are getting the same number of days no matter what. Schoolchildren are in much greater danger from dilapidated buildings and a workforce of unhappy, underpaid teachers than they are from an extra week or two out of school.
This leads to one of the few arguments against teacher’s strikes that I haven’t heard, which is surprising because it is one of the more compelling. That teacher strikes, unlike almost any other private or public labor strike, don’t put economic pressure on either side. The school district will make up the days and will end up with the same amount of income as if the strike had never happened. Compare this to a private sector strike where a plant shut down instantly impacts the employer’s bottom line. Similarly, teachers don’t have to worry about being replaced by scabs, and frequently have their withheld pay included as part of the settlement. The greatest pressure is put on parents who have to deal with their kids. So the strike isn’t resolved because of a duel of economic power, but instead political power: whoever is best at getting their story out there wins. That’s part of the reason the CTU was so savvy to strike now: there’s much more national interest in Rahm and the teachers than there would be in any non-election year. This is just to say that there ARE substantive differences between teacher strikes and other strikes, and these differences can actually create compelling arguments for limiting teachers’ right to strike. But because anti-union pundits are both rushing to comment on a system they don’t even partially understand and confirm their anti-union bias, they miss them.