Joel Klein vs. New York City teachers : The New Yorker: it's long but it's very worthwhile reading.
As some of you know, I used to teach public school in a state where teachers unions are effectively outlawed/emasculated/whatever ---teachers have no legal right to strike in this state. I always hear teachers complaining about how horrible the system can be, how awful a lot of administrators are, how entirely disagreeable their lives are --and yet year after year there they go back into the classroom. I can sympathize to a point. But time and again we get reminded of the other side of the picture, where teacher unions run the show. Contra the assertions made by some of the Rubber Room Residents, I will testify that there are many mediocre teachers out there. Even in this state, it's such a hassle to get out a bad teacher that the path of least resistance is to send them elsewhere along the food chain.
And let's be totally totally honest here: teaching, when you're good at it, is a sweet sweet gig. And even if you're not that good at it, it's not so bad if you know how to get along and keep everyone happy (read: pass all the kids, don't be a pain in the ass to your bosses). Teacher unions upset the applecart by reminding people of what they should be ashamed of (teachers are underpaid considering how much you'd have to pay to babysit those youngsters all day) and using that to make exorbitant demands. The kids are generally forgotten. And the public turns against the teachers, which is ultimately a terrible thing.
I'm not saying administrators are all universally enlightened. As I've often argued before, something about getting a masters in education with emphasis on administration turns roughly 83% of good teachers into total morons. Sad, yes. I have seen some good admins but I have seen some gosh-awful ones. It's the Peter Principle at work. So yes, unions do occasionally have the point that someone needs to be out there standing up to the admins. But along the way they became as bad --if not worse-- than the very evil they were trying to remedy. And the kids are the ones who pay the price.