What Lessons Are Being Taught By The Chicago Teachers’ Strike?

I have a lot of respect for teachers — what educated person doesn’t? — but I think the strike in Chicago is doing nothing except harming the public image of teachers and public employee unions.

Years ago, people used to compare what a professional baseball player was being paid to the average salary of teacher, and then ask, rhetorically, what the huge difference said about our society and its values.  Since those days, there has been a concerted effort to increase salaries, and teachers have been successful in bargaining for all kinds of benefits and rights, arguing that they are doing so “for the sake of the children.”  Eventually, people started to wonder whether teacher demands weren’t really more about benefiting teachers rather than benefiting students.

The Chicago Teachers Union strike will continue that trend.  In a time of high unemployment, the median salary for Chicago teachers is $67,974, and the union went on strike even after receiving an offer that would have produced average salary increases of 16 percent over four years.  The offer also would have frozen health benefit cost increases for two-thirds of union members.  The principal sticking points apparently are evaluations — the district wants a process that is based on student standardized test scores, the teachers call that approach unacceptable — and what happens to teachers who are laid off.  As the teachers walk picket lines, thousands of students are left without a school to attend, and parents are scrambling for alternative child-care arrangements.

Richard worked in the Chicago Public School system as a tutor; I’d be interested in his thoughts on this issue.  In the meantime, I would guess that the strike is unlikely to find a very receptive audience anywhere.  Chicago teachers already make more than most people do.  How many people are going to be sympathetic when the strike is primarily about how those teachers are evaluated and their job security — and the strikes leaves the kids teachers profess to speak for in the without schools to attend?

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Remembering 9/11

Today is the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.  There will be memorial services across the country, and in recognition of the anniversary the two presidential campaigns have promised not to run any negative ads against each other.  Good for them!  We all need to remember this day, and those who have fallen on that day and since in the battle against terrorism, in our own way, and without the noise of unseemly political attacks.

We visited the 9/11 Memorial last December, and it was a moving moment.  My report on our visit appears here.

Volt Jolt

During the recent Democratic National Convention, we heard a lot about how General Motors is back, thanks to its government bailout.  Now Reuters has a report that reveals, again, that things aren’t all that great at GM.

The report addresses the economics of the Chevy Volt.  Using information from industry analysts and manufacturing experts, Reuters estimates that GM could be losing as much as $49,000 on each Volt it sells.  The Reuters piece concludes that the Volt uses complex technology and expensive components and notes that analysts say it is “over-engineered and over-priced.”  GM says the Reuters report is “grossly wrong” because it doesn’t allocate product development costs over the lifetime of the Volt program — but even GM concedes that it is losing money on the car.

Volt sales are poor.  GM forecast that it would sell 40,000 Volts this year; through the first eight months of the year it had sold only 13,500 — and that’s even with an incentive program that allows a Volt buyer to get a two-year lease for as low as $199 a month.  GM has had to halt Volt production lines twice this year due to low sales, and some people question whether American consumers will ever want a plug-in car that takes hours to recharge its battery.

Politicians can argue about whether the bailout and government-sponsored bankruptcy were the best way to handle GM’s struggles and saved hundreds of thousands of jobs or instead simply locked in excessive labor costs and inept management.  Those debates shouldn’t affect a clear-eyed appraisal of GM now, four years later, with American taxpayers having invested billions of dollars in the company.  Let’s not kid ourselves:  successful companies don’t market products that are sold at less than cost.  The Reuters analysis of the bad economics of the Volt helps explain why GM’s stock price is in the doldrums, and why we should all be concerned about the company’s future rather than engaging in empty cheerleading.