Wednesday, November 29, 2006

American Federation of Teachers vs. Education

A couple of nights ago there was a report on ABC news about American high-school students being tutored over the internet. This is not necessarily a huge, new concept, but the tutors in question are in India. The story centered on a girl who was suddenly getting Ds in math. Her mother couldn’t afford local tutoring ($100+ per hour), so she went on-line for about $20 an hour instead (see the story here).

What’s most noteworthy is that objections are coming from those who are supposed to be among the most interested in academic improvement…teachers. Or at least their labor unions, like the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). Their objection, according to the story, is possible lack of familiarity with state standards and local curriculum by the foreign tutors.

It’s tough to know where to start on AFTs response; the group fights any sort of on-going competency standards for teachers as well as performance rewards. They’ll go to the mat to protect the job of any teacher no matter how poorly they educate their students.

AFTs objection is based in the fact that K-12 education is shielded from any real competitive pressure. Teachers unions (a special interest group if there ever was one) have an unhealthy stranglehold on many state legislatures, and the Democrat party in particular. It will be interesting to see if they will seek political action, and what kind. Right now tutoring can be tax deductible, or outright paid for under the No Child Left Behind Act if the child’s school is tagged a “failing school.” Will AFT move to have these tax benefits apply only to local-based tutoring?

Unlike the AFT, the first concern over education is about how well kids are learning. Internet tutoring is a no-lose proposition in the long run; if it doesn’t bring up math abilities, the parents will drop it rather than pay for it. That's the marketplace at work. If scores do get better, everyone wins, even the teacher in the classroom. Only the teachers unions might lose. But then, their primary concern has never been about kids learning.

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