Union trying to bully Legislators into changing law

by Matthew Ladner, Ph.D.
Goldwater Institute
The movie Zombieland delivers a humorous take on the zombie movie genre. The protagonist has survived the outbreak of zombie-ism by following a set of self-developed rules. Rule number one: cardio. You must stay in shape so you can out run the zombies when necessary. Rule number two: double tap. When you shoot a zombie, don’t leave them lying around wounded so that you have to try to kill them again later; go ahead and shoot them twice.

Last session the Arizona Legislature passed some profoundly wise policy changes regarding public schools. They prohibited districts from paying people school district salaries to do union jobs. They required school district employees to use vacation days to do teachers association work. Finally, in the event of a reduction in force, the law prohibited the use of seniority as the sole criteria for deciding which teachers ought to be let go.

The first two items fall into the no-brainer category. No one should get paid to do classroom work unless they are actually working in the classroom.

But the final item is the most important of all. This figure from the Brookings Institution shows differences in academic gains by Los Angeles teachers based on how they were certified. In short, some teachers are great; they get large gains from their students. Some produce terrible results; not only do they fail to produce learning gains, they actually drag their students down.

The Arizona Education Association is actively seeking to have these policy changes overturned. Rumor has it that this will be a condition for Democratic support in the current budget special session.

Let me be clear: it would be IMMORAL to keep ineffective teachers in the classroom simply because they have already spent years mis-educating students. No one–conservative, liberal, libertarian or vegetarian–should support such a policy. The AEA brings disgrace upon itself for seeking it, and any member of the Legislature carrying this water should be ashamed of themselves.

Taking a cue from Zombieland, the Arizona legislature should go ahead and double tap the zombie by making it illegal for school districts to collect union dues from employee paychecks. School districts won’t collect dues for any other private association, and there is no case to be made for spending public money to do so for the AEA. If teachers and administrators find the services of the AEA useful, they can write them a check in the same fashion that a person would do for the Goldwater Institute or any other private organization they support.
Dr. Matthew Ladner is vice president for research at the Goldwater Institute.


  1. Capitol Observer says

    The suggestion that school districts not collect union dues from paychecks is a great idea.

    Not because they don’t collect for any other private agency – many districts withhold United Way contributions and even deposits to credit unions

    They should not support union activities because the unions only want more money – even if they have to increase class size or cut programs to give it to them. The unions are, by definition, against management on important budget issues. Worse, unions promote the continued employment of poor teachers by making it so difficult to terminate them.

    I support our teachers. I don’t support the AEA or its member unions. I support excellence in the classroom, not the status quo of time-on-the-job equals employment security.

    Districts should quit bowing down to the local union and stand for what is right. Quit spending tax money to collect union dues when the union is a big part of the problem in our schools.

  2. Well said, Matthew. My daughter is a first-year teacher and the union always hosts a breakfast at the beginning of the year and includes an application to join their membership. For a 21 year old person, it seems uncouth not to join after you’ve been feted by the union. The union counts on that. Fortunately, I raised her right and she has refused to join. She has also refused to sign union-circulated petitions that opposed the changes to state law; even though she was afraid she might get in trouble for it. I assured her if her refusal got her in trouble, that would be grounds for a nice lawsuit. The AEA had this coming. My only question is: where were they when this was signed into law/ Their lobbyists and supporters in the Democrat caucus were evidently asleep at the switch.

  3. Dr. Ladner: Thanks again for another great commentary. The union thugs (John Wright, et al) care less about educating our kids and more about building a power base (read that: more money and control for the AEA). Cut them off where it really matters–in the pocketbook. If someone wants to be part of a union, let them write a check. Do not allow state assets (my tax money) to be used for union activities. The AEA and the rest of the so-called education lobby continue to lie about public school funding. Arizona is not last, or anywhere near it. At $9500 per student per year we rank in the middle–about 26th. Or maybe we should take the AEA at their word and only fund public schools at $5900 per student. That would mean we could save hudnreds of millions of dollars by cutting the K12 budget by 37%. How about them apples?

  4. If the changes in the law are kept in place what we will see are districts facing large budget cuts letting go of experienced teachers because they will be able to hire two inexperienced teachers for around the same pay. I don’t doubt this is already a consideration being made secretly in hiring decisions. Sounds like a great way to make the Arizona schools even worse.

  5. Sonoran Alliance.
    Can you make it easy to post good articles to Facebook? This information needs to get into the hands of more people.

  6. Matthew Ladner says


    What ought to be done is to make personnel decisions as objectively as possible and based upon student learning gains. If you were to remove an ineffective experienced teacher and replace them with two new but effective teachers, you will have done students a world of good.

    Experience in and of itself is simply one factor among many. If you don’t support removing experienced but ineffective teachers, then you wind up supporting giving some of the worst teachers in the system the highest level of pay. That is terrible for kids and a morale killer for effective teachers.

  7. Matthew,
    How do you know if the two new teachers are effective?

    Children should not be subjected to bad teachers, but I don’t see this legislation doing anything about this. What it does (getting into your absurdly inappropriate metaphoric territory) it put a big target on every experienced teacher when budgets get slashed.

  8. BTW, I think Ladner’s “double tap” metaphor shows exactly what is the primary purpose of what is being suggested here – destroying teachers unions, not providing high quality education.

  9. Matthew Ladner says


    Your ability to know in advance who would be an effective teacher is limited. What you can do however is to track teacher effectiveness over time on a value-added basis. In letting ineffective teachers go, you have nothing to lose- look at the bell curve chart. Nothing but good can happen by letting teachers from the left side of the bell curve go.

    As to your assertion about my motives what I want is an education system that does considerably better than 44% of Arizona 4th graders scoring illiterate. I would be thrilled if the AEA chose not to be an obstacle to improvement. I’ve heard their leaders talk a good game on that front, but I’m watching them defending an indefensible status-quo.

    Actions speak louder than words.

    As you can see from the National Council on Teacher Quality Arizona scores a pathetic “D” when it comes to policies designed to attract good teachers into the classroom, and to exit ineffective teachers into other careers:


  10. Matthew – Again, you claim this change will result in letting ineffective teachers go and I claim that it will lead to districts letting experienced teachers go to save money. I guess we will see what results.

    The status quo is indefensible but it does not follow that being an obstacle to your ‘reforms’ is due to a desire to maintain a poorly performing system.

    I looked at the National Council on Teacher Quality site which indicates that most states are getting D’s and F’s. I would first note that there seems to be no correlation between the states’ grades and educational achievement. The larger issue is that many of the recommendations that NCTQ makes would mean spending more money on education and not eliminating, but improving, tenure. The recommendations which the grades are based on have little to do with the policy changes you wish to see, so what exactly is your reason for pointing to this?

  11. Matthew Ladner says


    The state is managing a crisis. We have a huge deficit that won’t be going away any time soon. Reductions in force are inevitable. The only question is whether we want to tie the hands of school districts and disallow even the possibility of minimizing the damage.

    There are teachers in their first three years in this state on the positive side of the bell curve. There are experienced teachers on the negative side of the bell curve. Research demonstrates that teacher quality is several times more impactful than average class size.

    What happens next will be crucial. Class sizes are going to go up in Arizona. If we put more students in classrooms with ineffective instructors, it will be a disaster. An arbitrary seniority rule protecting teachers regardless of performance guarantees such a result.

    You seem to think that Arizona public school administrators are simply going to go around letting experienced teachers go without any thought as to their effectiveness. If so, it shows a stunning lack of confidence in them as professionals and as human beings.

    Personally I think that teachers and administrators are good people working in a bad system. No one wakes up in the morning saying “I want to be a part of a system that fails to teach 44% of our kids how to read.”

    Rather, the system has grown up with a set of idiotic rules and tendencies that over and over again favor special intestrests over the best interests of kids. Tenure is one of those rules. Look at the bell curve- the best interests of kids lies in removing teachers from the left hand side of the bell curve regardless of seniority.

  12. John Wright says

    The “double tap” reference is disgraceful and makes it impossible to take Ladner’s missive as anything other than the attack it is meant to be. To use combat slang and to refer killing in such a vulgar manner is a thuggish tactic, and until now I thought it would be beneath the Ladner and the Goldwater Institute. I guess that’s what he and his bosses really think of the teachers who join their union; how disappointing that we can’t have a civil conversation about policies.

  13. Matthew Ladner says


    I must confess to the grave sin of writing movie references into what would otherwise be dry policy wonk pieces. Here’s another one for that you will remember from Stripes: lighten up Francis.

    I made an analogy to killing zombies in a movie, and you are doing everything you can to make sure ineffective teachers continue to inflict themselves on students so long as they have already been doing it for years. There is indeed something disgraceful going on here, but it is not the zombie movie reference.

  14. John Wright says

    Matt –

    I began teaching elementary and middle school students in 1985; I have taught more children how to read than you have ever met. So, I know exactly how to recognize and manage bullying behavior – which is exactly what you are exhibiting. Adults deal with a bully based on the bully’s behavior – i.e. name-calling and trash-talking – and we do not sink to their level. As I said earlier, your “movie” references are beneath you. If you would like to talk about real issues please call me.

  15. Matthew Ladner says


    If you did indeed teach more children how to read than I ever met, can you explain why it was that you were not deserving of a much higher salary than teachers who failed to do so?

  16. Matthew,

    I would guess that Mr. Write WAS paid better than his less experienced colleagues that taught reading. I would hope so, at least.

    I’d appreciate it if you would read the following post that I found online, and comment on his concerns.

    Thank you,


    As a person who has been considering changing careers to teaching, I must say that this is a really BAD law. I now have absolutely no incentive to go through with it. I “was” willing to trade higher yearly earnings for a more equitable and fair employment situation. Essentially trading my higher-earning lifestyle for a more predictable (and thus, stable) future. No longer.

    I am not someone who is running away from the higher-risk / higher pay atmosphere of private industry, but rather as someone who actually just enjoys teaching (I teach at a community college now).

    I’ve already learned the lessons of private industry. That the more accomplished and expensive people get tossed-out first, that at-will employees (with no contracts) have no rights (or power), and that mediocrity is always preferred so long as the price is lower. We’re already struggling with the problems of mediocrity in education. I THOUGHT we were trying to get past it. Apparently not.

    Instead of figuring out how to raise revenue to meet the needs of our growing state (a state that has very low means to generate revenue in the first place), the legislature has instead “passed-the-buck” and simply empowered the local school districts to do all of the dirty hatchet work themselves. They have taken the quick-fix route to balancing the budget. They will simply slash the funds and allow the districts to simply decide how to deal with 40% cuts to their budgets. They created a death sentence, yet did not have the guts to take ownership for communicating this sentence upon the teachers who’ll ultimately lose their jobs. They will pass a budget with a massive cut, and, following the lead of the legislature, use the new law to make things easy on themselves as well. They will just get out the excel sheet and look for the top-earners. The education system will quickly dispose of veteran masters-degree-holding teachers.

    I’m not sure I even want to work alongside a teaching workforce of exclusively twenty-somethings (which is what will happen). In the private workforce, I’ve been watching the experienced people (with 20-30 year careers) vanish, as they have been slowly replaced with cheaper, young grads. This was a slow process of private industry, but it will NOT be slow in the educational field.

    Look at school lunches. As schools have fought to create more economical solutions to food, the nutritional quality has been tossed-out the window. The same will happen to teachers. Despite now being “empowered” to use the performance review as the determiner of who gets laid-off, ultimately, the salary and benefits paid to a particular employee will drive the lions share of decisions. Despite the option to go with better quality foods, schools almost universally choose the cheapest options available to them. My son’s menu today? That’s easy: A hot dog. Same as every Monday.

    Educational quality is the “spin” that we’ve been given, but essentially, our legislature has shown themselves to be lazy cowards.

    The funny thing, is that I’m a politically conservative person. I believe in fiscal responsibility. But I also believe in treating people like human beings. This law is not human. It’s an educational death sentence. And one that won’t be easily undone 2 years from now with a simple law change. The damage will take years to undo.

  17. Sorry…I meant to say “Mr. Wright”.

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