Hutchison: Teachers Unions Share Blame for Detroit's Decline

Teachers unions share some of the blame for Detroit's decline, says Professor Harry Hutchison as a guest writer for the Detroit Free Press.

As labor union density in the workforce has fallen by two-thirds since 1945, national labor unions and their ideological allies have focused on strengthening public sector unions in recent years, according to Hutchison. He cites a series of teacher strikes in Detroit over a thirty-year period, culminating in 2003, when collaboration between the teachers union and politicians resulted in a teacher walkout that thwarted a $200 million philanthropic gift designed to create 15 new charter schools in the city.

Predictably, Detroit schools are in crisis, says Hutchison. "In Detroit, as elsewhere, public sector labor unions have formed a symbiotic relationship with politicians: Unions donate large amounts of money to politicians who in turn agree to expand government employment, provide large benefit and wage packages to union members, and block innovative and cost-effective changes in the delivery of public services -- such as meaningful school reform," he explains.

"The question for policymakers in Detroit, in Michigan, and across nation is whether they ought to put the interest of public sector workers ahead of the public interest -- and, in particular, the interest of children who would benefit from a cost-effective education," Hutchison says.

Online commentary: Unions must not take precedence, Detroit Free Press, April 22, 2011. By Harry G. Hutchison.


"The cumulative effect is clear: The public -- particularly marginalized members of the public -- suffer from poor services and the prospect of educational insolvency. Meanwhile, the population shrinks; as recent Census data confirm, flight from the city continues at a shocking pace.

"Throwing more money at the problem isn't the answer. Spending per pupil in the U.S. has risen in real terms by more than five-fold since World War II, while student achievement rates have plunged substantially in comparison with most Western countries. Detroit is no exception: Currently, per pupil expenditures in the city exceed both the state and national averages."