It is a tribute to the culture of America that almost from the very beginning there was a consensus that our youth deserved an education. Some of our early ocean crossers imported another of Western Civilizations’ unique achievements:
In 1806 the Public School Society of New York introduced the Lancaster system from England, in which ‘pupil teachers’ or monitors were used to give basic instruction to the thousands of new city children. From 1815 the society’s ‘model system’ of public schools got state aid, and when New York State finally took over the system in 1853 it was providing education for 600,000 children. (Paul Johnson-History of the American People, 1997)
And another great American would develop a model of education that would allow it to propagate itself around the land:
…the greatest of all American educationalists, Horace Mann (1976-1859), when he began to organise the public school system in Massachusetts. Mann graduated from Brown…and from 1837, was appointed the lawyer-secretary to the new Massachusetts Board of Education. At such he opened the first ‘normal’ school in the United States at Lexington in 1839…. (Paul Johnson-History of the American People, 1997)
In order to put into perspective the immense success of community provided education, we will refer to the common test of the literacy rate or its reciprocal, the illiteracy rate. Either of these are a common ruler. Progress in education is characterised by the illiteracy rate.
Census data show that by 1840 some 78 per cent of the total population was literate…and this was mainly due to a rise in national school enrollment rates: from 35 per cent in 1830 (ages five to nineteen), to 50.4 per cent in 1850 and 61.1 per cent in 1860. (Paul Johnson-History of the American People, 1997)
From the singing of the Constitution in 1789 through the census of 1840, America made enormous strides in public education. We started a system, got it up and running, expanded it to a general level of availability, and produced excellent results in a little over 50 years.
The availability of education as well as most everything else would flourish as early centres of trade, services and transportation began to grow into cities. The largest city between Montreal and New Orleans with a population of 800 in 1765 was Detroit. By 1840, just after Horace Mann had opened his first school, Detroit’s population had increased over 10 fold to 9,102. This evolving prosperity would continue. And in 1900, 285,704 people, a 31 fold increase since 1840, occupied the now impressively growing Detroit.
Strategically located along the Great Lakes waterway, Detroit emerged as a transportation hub. The city had grown steadily from the 1830s with the rise of shipping, shipbuilding, and manufacturing industries.
There really must have been a whole lot going on then because much later the progress of Detroit would be characterised in a very special way:
Many of the city’s architecturally significant buildings are on the National Register of Historic Places and the city has one of the U.S.A.’s largest surviving collections of late 19th and 20th century buildings. There are a number of architecturally significant churches and cathedrals, including St. Joseph’s, St. Mary’s and Ste. Anne de Detroit.
Suspend your imagination and try to visualise the intricate human network established here producing the trade, commerce, infrastructure, food, clothing, shelter and ability to earn a living. And, eventually, this intricate human network would allow them to build historically beautifully buildings. There must have been a lot of “good jobs” in Detroit. At the same time, we have learned that Horace Mann’s first public school had only begun in 1839. It would be reasonable to say that in early stages of urbanization of America, a limited education was not necessarily a prerequisite for getting a good job. In fact, the emerging urban communities were the best places you could go to get a job, especially if you wanted to transition out of the agricultural sector.
Yes, there had to be a successful well developed and defined economy to support a burgeoning population into increasingly urban communities. In fact, it was the good jobs and economic opportunities that attracted people to these urban communities.
As a measure of educational attainment, there is the illiteracy as a percentage of the population. In 1900, the illiteracy rate was also 11.3% of the population, and, by 1930, it had dropped to 4.8% of the population.
Using 2005 data, we observe the following:
…While nearly all employment fields feature a population where over 80% had graduated from high school with over a third having some college education or an Associates degree, the fields relating to agriculture, construction, manufacturing, and transportation did not. These, often described as blue collar, fields featured a labour force where less than a tenth of the population had a Bachelor’s degree or higher, less than half had some college or an Associates, and less than 80% had graduated from high school. Overall the least educated occupational field was agriculture, ranking dead last on all educational levels.
We have already noted that the illiteracy rate in 1840 was 22%. So, if we impose this higher illiteracy rate on the employment fields recognised in the 2005 data, it is reasonable to suppose that the “blue collar fields” must have been a much greater portion of the 1840 workforce than today’s workforce. So, back then, if you wanted to leave the farm, the agricultural sector, the best place for employment would be a rapidly growing urban area, which needed all sorts of labour. And almost all of this labour was blue collar labour. Communities undergoing rapid urbanization created a huge demand for workers who need not have been highly educated, if at all, to succeed—by getting a “good job.” In growing from a population of 800 in 1795 to 285,704 people in 1900, Detroit created the demand for proportional number of “blue collar” like jobs. And at this time of history (1795-1900), almost all jobs that were created were “blue collar” jobs.
In the midst of this demographic reality something dramatic was just about to occur which would rapidly accelerate industrialisation of America:
In 1896, a thriving carriage trade prompted Henry Ford to build his first automobile in a rented workshop on Mack Avenue.
Henry Ford’s insight that the automobile could be built most efficiently on a massive assembly line was key to lowering their costs so that eventually almost every household would come to own at least one car. The affordable automobile/truck unleashed a hurricane of productivity throughout the entire American economy. And it provided more and more good industrial jobs to the lesser educated workers. This process would be best described by a former worker:
That paradigm [of the American automotive industry] promised – and delivered – good, middle-class jobs, with middle-class benefits, to generations of families.
Between the time of Henry Ford’s workshop in 1896 and 1982, car and truck production in America peaked at just over 15,000,000 units. Amazing!
By 1937, there were about 45,000 auto workers in Flint, Michigan. Only 122 of them belonged to the nascent United Auto Workers Union. Employing brilliant and non-bloody tactics, this nascent UAW effectively crippled GM’s Flint facilities, and, in about 30 days, reached agreement expressed on one page:
…that recognised the UAW as the exclusive bargaining representative for GM’s employees who were members of the union for the next six months….
In the next year the UAW saw its membership grow from 30,000 to 500,000 members….
And so, the free assembly of workers into the UAW triumphed and launched what would become one of the largest unions, the United Auto Workers.
Unfortunately, this phenomenon would also call into existence a completely new destructive economic force. It is called a “collective bargaining agreement.” And here is a pretty good description of a collective bargaining agreement:
The collective bargaining agreement with the UAW is a heavily negotiated document the size of a small telephone book. It is virtually identical for each of the Detroit Three, owing to “pattern” bargaining, but it doesn’t exist at all in their U.S. competition, the nonunionized transplants. Not only work rules, but fundamental business decisions to sell, close or spin-off plants are forbidden without permission. That permission may come, but only at a price, since everything that affects the workplace must be negotiated.
In the context of the post-World War II economic recovery, America was truly unique. Japan and Europe had experienced massive physical destruction. And, we faced a new enemy behind the Iron Curtain: Russia and the ceded nations of Eastern Europe. In a very real sense, during this period of our history, America was probably the best place in the world to get a good job.
None the less, the empowerment of unions by collective bargaining agreements permitted the unions to insert themselves into and co-manage much of the business processes of companies they unionized. And, this would prove to be disastrous for all parties.
So, just 10 years after the heroic Flint Sit-Down strike, in 1947 we have data for the phenomenon called “Work Stoppages.” This data is based on a strike or lockout of at least 1,000 people.
Source: Major Work Stoppages data calculated by the U.S. Department of labour, Bureau of labour Statistics.
Behind the scenes, all was not going well with unionized companies in all industries. In 1947, there were 270 major work stoppages where at least 1,000 people were involved. They peaked in 1952 at 470 with over 2.746 million workers who were involved in strikes or lockouts. This is a tremendous amount of economic damage for all parties. Well, except maybe for the Union executives who enhanced their power by promoting discord through collective bargaining disputes. And in 1950, the population of Detroit peaked at 1,623,452.
Economic damage is exemplified by this chart of GM’s light vehicle production in the U.S.
Sources: GM Market Share data calculated by Ward’s Communications, Inc., “Wards Automotive Yearbook”, various issues and General Motors, “Annual Report”, various issues.
GM was clearly disinvesting in U.S. automobile production throughout this period. But, at all times, GM remained number one in automobile production in the United States. Therefore, other legacy producers were also in the same downward trajectory.
However, the real bloodbath was against the members of the UAW. Recall that within a year of the 1937 Flint Sit-Down Strike, UAW membership reached 500,000 members. It would continue increasing into an ultimate peak in 1979 of an incredible 1,527,858 members and then collapsed to just a pitiful 376,612 members by the end of 2010.
This is just billions and billions of dollars of lost wages, income and benefits for UAW members who lost their jobs while union leadership tried to justify their jobs by inciting major work stoppages. By abusing the collective bargaining powers, the UAW caused the legacy manufacturers continual costly disruptions and economic hardships. This would cause huge and continuing disinvestment of plants and facilities in America and ultimately result in the bastardized bankruptcy of both GM and Chrysler—and the near bankruptcy of Ford.
The leadership of the UAW sacrificed their own membership by seeking their own power by abusing their powers of collective bargaining under which the slightest grievance could become an extremely costly work stoppage. Unfortunately for automobile manufacturers, Henry Ford’s exquisite assembly line was extremely vulnerable to work stoppages. One little event could affect everything.
There is strong proof of this. Go back to the work stoppages graph and observe that in the period just before 1982, the number of work stoppages started to decline precipitously. This is a significant point in the history of automobile manufacturing in America. In 1982 Honda started to build cars in America in Marysville, Ohio. From that date forward, these workers have always been free to choose to belong to the United Auto Workers Union and as of this date, June 11, 2011, none have elected to do so:
Eyeing last year’s picketing of Toyota dealerships by UAW members, John Mendel, American Honda executive vice president, voiced his opposition to any UAW threats to Honda’s non-union status.’The union announced that they’re going to target the operations of international automakers this year,’ Mendel said in a speech to the American International Automobile Dealers Association.
‘The issue of union representation is one for our associates to decide, not us,’ Mendel said. ‘Having said that, we do not believe that an outside party will improve upon [our] outstanding track record of success … over the past 30-plus years.’
And the non-destructive relationship that Honda had with their workers, increasingly made the UAW’s intrusion into the work process look increasingly unjustified, if not capricious. Honda was and is getting along well without labour chaos. And their workers are getting along without a union.
Toyota and other foreign automobile manufacturers have also built facilities in the U.S. Most recently, Volkswagen re-established itself on America’s shores.
Volkswagen AG on Tuesday will celebrate the opening of a Tennessee auto plant that gives the German auto maker lower U.S. labour costs than not only its Detroit rivals but its Japanese competitors on American soil.
The new plant will present a stiff challenge for Detroit auto makers, which restructured with the goal of achieving cost parity with Japanese companies building cars in the U.S.
Located near Chattanooga, Tenn., the plant will pay workers about $27 an hour in wages and benefits, according to estimates by industry analysts.
That’s roughly half the $52 an hour cost of labour at the Detroit Three auto makers and some non-union U.S. plants owned by Toyota Motor Corp. and Honda Motor Co…..
‘Any current wage or benefit gap between the Detroit Three and transplants could grow as transplants add capacity in the lower-wage U.S. South,” said Brian Johnson, the lead auto analyst for Barclays Capital.
These transplants are all locating in “Right to Work” states because, in those states, all workers are free to join or not to join a union. This is true democracy. Honda’s 30-year experience shows that when given a free choice, workers are not choosing unions.
The innocent victim in all this is Detroit, or any other urban community whose economy has been over shadowed by union collective bargaining agreements. In the big world we live in today, industrial investment can be made almost anywhere. This includes Chattanooga, Detroit, Mexico, India, China, or wherever. GM is a top auto producer in China. Volkswagen wants to come to Tennessee and South Korean automakers want to come to Georgia. The defining factor about where they will not go is anywhere where they will be subject to unionized collective bargaining.
Urban communities which were the sites of unions’ abuse of collective bargaining will suffer from it as if from an inevitable deadly radiation. You can’t see it; you can’t feel it. But, it just keeps killing good industrial and manufacturing jobs. No one will ever make long term investments that produce great industrial jobs for lesser educated workers if there is the slightest chance that a union will be able to insert itself into the management of an employer’s manufacturing or industrial processes. They will go all over the world to avoid this.
And so the very thing that provided all those great jobs for the lesser educated are unavailable to urban communities where collective bargaining was abused by the unions. Lack of jobs inevitably leads to a loss of personal income, decay and depopulation. And these mean a further reduction in jobs. It is a continuing downward spiral as income shrinks throughout the community.
And just how desperate is Detroit today?
Laying bare the country’s most startling example of modern urban collapse, census data on Tuesday showed that Detroit’s population had plunged by 25 per cent over the last decade. It was dramatic testimony to the crumbling industrial base of the Midwest, black flight to the suburbs and the tenuous future of what was once a thriving metropolis….
The number of people who vanished from Detroit — 237,500 — was bigger than the 140,000 who left New Orleans….
Detroit is the only city in the United States where the population has climbed above one million but also fallen below one million….
The reasons for Detroit’s losses over the last decade include the travails of the auto industry and the collapse of the industrial-based economy.
‘There’s been an erosion of the nation’s industrial base, and this is the most dramatic evidence of it,’ Mr. Beveridge said….
With more than 20 per cent of the lots in the 139-square-mile city vacant, the mayor is in the midst of a program to demolish 10,000 empty residential buildings. But for many, the city already seems hollowed out.
This tragedy is compounded by the fact that a major portion of industrial jobs for the lesser educated which have been destroyed were auto manufacturing jobs. And it all happened in the former world capital of automobile manufacturing—Detroit. And so, there must be a good educational system to prepare students as future workers for the new economy or the information economy. As industrial investment declines, workers need a “better education” to prepare for other jobs. And what can we find out about how Detroit’s public school system can accomplish this?
…A national reading test last May showed that Detroit was the worst-performing larger, inner-city district in the country.
Apparently, the destruction of the Detroit Public School System has paralleled the destruction of automobile manufacturing in Detroit. Are they any explanations?
Two years after his appointment as emergency financial manager for the Detroit Public Schools, Robert Bobb has outsourced many services, unearthed corruption and closed a number of schools.Yet the district’s mammoth deficit has continued to grow during amid the state’s downturn and growing pension and debt obligations, and the city’s schools are still grappling with longstanding problems, including political battles involving the state, school board and teachers’ unions and a long-term exodus by students.
Unfortunately, there are other similarities with the auto manufacturers. In one word—unions.
He [Robert Bobb] also said the district has made new strides, including a new teacher contract that allows 40% of a teacher’s evaluation based on student performance, an extended school day and a new requirement for 120 minutes in daily reading and maths instruction which double for high schools students.
So, here is another example of suffering under a collective bargaining agreement where the employer has to beg the Union to change evaluation criteria, extend the school day and add 120 minutes of daily reading and maths.
How did Unions even get this kind of managerial power? In the case of the automobile industry, the UAW demanded and enforced it. In the case of public education, the National Education Association (NEA) is the culprit.
The National Education Association (NEA) is the largest professional organisation and largest labour union in the United States, representing public school teachers and other support personnel, faculty and staffers at colleges and universities, retired educators, and college students preparing to become teachers. The NEA has 3.2 million members and is headquartered in Washington, D.C. With affiliate organisations in every state and in more than 14,000 communities across the nation, it employs over 550 staff and had a budget of more than $307 million for the 2006–2007 fiscal year….The stated mission of the National Education Association is ‘to advocate for education professionals and to unite our members and the nation to fulfil the promise of public education to prepare every student to succeed in a diverse and interdependent world,’ as well as concerning itself with the wage and working condition issues common to other labour unions.
Maybe their mission statement should be amended to say “whenever there is a conflict of interest between a child getting a better education and the union relinquishing their collective bargaining power, the NEA always wins.”
And this of course would go a long way in explaining the failure of the Detroit Public Schools. It’s the same story as the automobile industry. In Detroit, the entrenched collective bargaining power of two unions helped ruin three great institutions: the automobile industry, free assembly unions and the public school system.
Here we have objective proof that the school system cannot save itself within the context of union-controlled schools. Detroit has some interesting ideas about to fix their schools as it looks to another land of urban destruction for ideas:
A third is modelled on post-Katrina New Orleans, where a shrunken district was remade with mostly charter schools.
This transition to charter schools is a bold plan that needs sympathetic and willing sponsors. You just have to reflect on what a gigantic step this if for what is otherwise a completely despondent urban community:
In an effort to convert up to 45 schools to charter schools, the Detroit Public Schools on Thursday issued a request for proposals to find organisations to run the schools.DPS plans to convert schools in two phases – some in the fall and some a year later.
The district is seeking charter school operators that have run schools with 90 per cent graduation rates and passing rates of 75 per cent on maths and reading standardized tests, according to a DPS statement released Thursday….
‘All facets of this proposal — from the rigorous academic requirements for operators to the menu of services that we will offer to the qualifications for board candidates — are designed to ensure a quality educational program that raises student achievement for every child in the selected schools,’ DPS emergency manager Robert Bobb said in a statement today.
Quite simply, the conclusion is that if you want good school performance, you have to look outside the “Union Box” and get charter schools. And, if you don’t already know about New Orleans’ experience with charter schools, here is a glimpse:
Many education reformers are looking to lessons from New Orleans, where the city’s educational landscape has been transformed since Hurricane Katrina.The city has evolved from an ineffective and corrupt centralized school district before the storm to a kind of educational shopping mall, where parents can choose from a variety of schools.
From her historic home on St. Charles Avenue, Leslie Jacobs has seen her share of New Orleans history…. That school system, she says, was evenhanded: It was unfair to everyone.
‘Equity never existed in New Orleans pre-Katrina,’ Jacobs says. ‘If there was equity, there was equity of no opportunity.’
Before Hurricane Katrina, the state created the Recovery School District, which began taking over many low-performing schools in New Orleans and elsewhere in Louisiana. Now, the RSD runs 33 schools in the city and oversees 26 charters…. The high number of charters and the absence of any strong, central authority make the city unique in American education.
… Jacobs notes that today, parents can shop from among 80 schools with different approaches to teaching — and different success rates.
‘There are more choices for parents today. There are better choices. You don’t have to live in a certain neighbourhood, have a certain grade point average or take a test to get into a good school,’ she says….
So where is New Orleans headed? Toward more change. Matt Candler, CEO of New Schools for New Orleans, a nonprofit that’s helping with school reform, says if everyone can’t get into a good school, the answer is to replace bad schools with good ones.
‘Let’s build quality, and find where it works and replace poor schools with high-quality ones,’ he says.
For New Orleans school officials, that search for quality has meant turning more traditional schools into charter schools.
And the New Orleans experience with Charter Schools has already reaped rewards.
More than half of New Orleans schoolchildren attend charter schools, and more are on the way. That’s making teachers at some traditional public schools nervous.Paul Pastorek, the superintendent of education for the state of Louisiana, says that he can imagine the possibility that someday, all New Orleans schoolchildren could be attending charter schools….
Sharon Clarke is principal at Wright [Charter School], which offers grades four through eight. Clark runs the school and reports to a chartering organisation. As she strolls the hallways and greets students and parents, she comes across as a tough and loving mother hen.
Hard numbers show she has been successful. When Clark took over in 2001, Wright was still a traditional public school. School performance scores back then were lousy: around 25 out of a total score of 200 on state assessments. This year, schools are supposed to score at least 60 to be considered to be performing at an acceptable level.
How did Wright fare after it became a charter in 2005? Clark hauls her recent scores out of a file cabinet: ‘In 2006-07,’ she says, ‘I think our actual scores were 61.6. This is when we were chartered.’
That score is even higher today: 74.6.
Well, this does speak for itself. New Orleans, which suffered massive population and tax base losses after Katrina, is rebuilding schools in a new and very successful way—charter schools. And they are providing all kinds of choices. The key feature of charter schools is that they are staffed by highly motivated and well-paid teachers who are not imprisoned by seniority, lack of merit pay and other burdensome features of collective bargaining agreements. Employees of charter schools are free to be the best at what they do with the students and community both benefitting.
Perhaps the epitaph of union-controlled education is best stated by one of the charter school movements most well known leaders:
Mayoral control has also been a boon for reformers looking to expand school choice for low-income families. In 2002, New York City had fewer than 20 charter schools; next year it will have more than 100….Eva Moskowitz, whose Harlem Success Charter Network operates four schools, says the change has been ‘fundamental’ to her efforts to offer disadvantaged kids an alternative to failing schools. ‘The only way to fix the problem of the education monopoly is competition,’ said Ms. Moskowitz, a former member of the City Council. ‘And you can’t have competition unless you have mayoral control. The local forces — the teachers unions — are fundamentally opposed to competition, whereas the mayor is responsive to the voters and the parents….’
The way to truly empower parents is to let them decide where their children attend school. Mayoral control is no education panacea, but to the extent that it is aiding competition and raising standards in New York it is saving thousands of kids from the tyranny of union-dominated failure.
The failure of origination of “good jobs” in Detroit produced a reduction in community income, because an economic entity, which would offer good jobs, will not subject itself to the “collective bargaining prison.” You can only inflict collective bargaining on enterprises that cannot move from Detroit or any other urban area. Public schools are definitely one of those institutions that cannot move. And there are certainly many other cultural, civic and governmental failures that have contributed to Detroit’s malaise. But the failure in education was unprecedented.
The ultimate extent of Detroit’s deterioration is best captured by this data:
According to a new report, 47 per cent of Detroiters are ‘functionally illiterate.’ The alarming new statistics were released by the Detroit Regional Workforce Fund on Wednesday.WWJ Newsradio 950 spoke with the Fund’s Director, Karen Tyler-Ruiz, who explained exactly what this means.
‘Not able to fill out basic forms, for getting a job — those types of basic everyday (things). Reading a prescription; what’s on the bottle, how many you should take… just your basic everyday tasks,’ she said.
‘I don’t really know how they get by, but they do. Are they getting by well? Well, that’s another question,’ Tyler-Ruiz said.
Some of the Detroit suburbs also have high numbers of functionally illiterate: 34 per cent in Pontiac and 24 per cent in Southfield….
Tyler-Ruiz said only 10 per cent of those who can’t read have gotten any help to resolve it.
This is in contrast to our prior discovery that by 1840, 170 years ago, only 22% of the entire population was illiterate. How could a so-called modern city collapse to such levels? Well, we maintain that the aggressive attack on the auto industry and the public school system by an abusive use of collective bargaining are the originating and thus primary causes of Detroit’s demise. Detroit was, from its earliest founding, a mecca for hundreds of thousands of people without much, if any, formal education to come to and get a good job. By 1950, just 13 years after the UAW’s birth in Flint, Michigan, Detroit’s population had peaked in the midst of chaotic major work stoppages. Apparently, it wasn’t a job mecca any more.
Could this have been because the auto industry had stopped growing in Detroit and was actually disinvesting in the city? The brutal 1970 strike against GM came just before the peaking of the UAW membership in 1979. From then on, it was downhill in automobile production and UAW jobs—right through today.
Perhaps this history is the most persuasive argument for the right to work laws, so that workers can have a free choice to join or not join a union.
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