Looking at 5 countries with some of the best public education systems in the world, and—SURPRISE, SURPRISE—they all have teachers’ unions

12 Sep

This post will prove beyond a reasonable doubt—for open minds—that the teachers’ unions in the United States are not guilty of the alleged claims made by members of the manufactured, corporate-driven, fake-education, reform movement [MCDFERM].

There is an all-out war raging in the United States against public education, public school teachers and the teachers’ unions. This war started decades ago with the ultra-conservative Walton family supporting the school voucher movement, and the war escalated under neo-conservative President G. W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind [NCLB] mandating that 100 percent of children by age 17/18 must be college/career ready in 2014-15 [this school year].

Even though this goal has never been achieved throughout history in any country in the world including today, Congress approved NCLB—both Houses of Congress had a Republican majority, but 89-percent of the House and 91-percent of the Senate voted yes.

For instance, between 2005 and 2010, the Walton Family Foundation—an alleged member of the MCDFERM—gave nearly $700 million to education reform organizations. Specifically, the family provides lavish funding for voucher programs, charter schools, and policy and advocacy groups devoted to establishing and promoting alternatives to public schooling. The WALMART 1%

Then neo-liberal President Obama’s Race to the Top and his Common Core State Standards agenda—with help from more than $200 million in funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, another alleged member of MCDFERM—made the situation worse when the federal government threatened the states with the loss of billions of dollars in federal funding through the Department of Education if the states did not use the results of standardized student tests to rank and then fire teachers in addition to closing schools classified as failing—even though the American Statistical Association says: “Most VAM studies find that teachers account for about 1 to 14-percent of the variability in test scores, and that the majority of opportunities for quality improvement are found in the system-level conditions. Ranking teachers by their VAM scores can have unintended consequences that reduce quality.”

The main talking points of the MCDFERM are that there are too many incompetent teachers and that the teacher’s unions and tenure—due process job protection that does NOT guarantee a job for life—get in the way of firing bad teachers. It doesn’t matter that there is no valid evidence to support these often repeated claims by members of the MCDFERM.

To discover the membership of MCDFERM, I strongly suggest you read A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who in the Implosion of American Public Education by Mercedes K. Schneider.

Before moving on, remember that despite great wealth, the U.S. has the highest rate of child poverty among industrialized countries—about 23-percent.

Poverty impairs all aspects of a child’s development and can have lifelong detrimental consequences. Poor children are more likely to go hungry and are less likely to be read to during their early year. Child Poverty

South Korearanked second in the 2012 OECD international PISA Tests—with a population 46 million and a childhood poverty rate of 10.2-percent. [Rankings in this post do not count the Chinese cities of Shanghai, Hong Kong, Macao, the island of Taipei, and the Principality of Liechtenstein]

In 1989, teachers in South Korea established an independent union.  According to a report in The Wall Street Journal Asia, the union claimed support from 82-percent of all teachers. The Korean Teachers Union (KTU) has demanded that the government halt standardized testing, which is used in the country to determine school budgets—those with higher test results get more money from the government. In October 2013, the South Korean government threatened to ban the teachers union—sound familiar?

Finlandranked seventh—with a population of 5.4 million and a childhood poverty rate of 4.17-percent.

More than 95-percent of teachers in Finland are unionized, paying 1.2-percent of their gross salary to support the Trade Union of Education in Finland, OAJ.

The OAJ aims to influence policies that benefit educators. The OAJ negotiates on the national level with employer groups to create 14 universally binding agreements that spell out everything from minimum salaries to working hours for teachers and the length of the school year (currently 190 days).

In addition, Finland has only one standardized exam at the end of high school, says Pasi Sahlberg, a visiting professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and an expert on testing in Finland—something we don’t see in the United States.

Canadaranked eighth—with a population 34.3 million and a childhood poverty rate of 15.06-percent.

The Canadian Teacher’s Federation was founded in 1920 and has 200,000 members who work in the public education system, most of whom have four or five years of college.

“What makes Finland and Canada’s school systems more successful, Hargreaves argues, is that both countries value teachers and professional training for them. Most importantly, perhaps, there is discretion for teachers to make their own judgments. … Education reform has failed in countries where the teacher voice is absent – and also where teacher unions are absent.”

Japanranked third—with a population of 128-million and a childhood poverty rate of 13.69-percent.

Japan Teachers Union (JTU), established in 1947, was the largest teachers union until it split in the late 1980s. The JTU has been an active force in education and politics for almost 40 years.

The membership encompasses teachers and other education personnel at all levels, including college professors and clerical and support staff, in both public and private institutions. However, JTU’s members are predominantly teachers in the public elementary and secondary schools.

Some of the education issues about which JTU continues to feel strongly include decentralization of control, school autonomy, freedom of teachers to write and chose textbooks, student centered education, greater teacher participation in decision making, and comprehensive high schools for all youths.

There is a long history of conflict between JTU and the government, with many complex political ramifications not readily apparent or easily understood by those outside Japan.

Switzerlandranked fourth—with a population of 8+ million and a childhood poverty rate of 6.8-percent

As part of the freedom of association, teachers in Switzerland are represented by trade unions and professional organizations. The representatives of the teachers’ unions are systematically included in all reform initiatives. They are very active not only in the negotiations defining teachers’ incentive structure and working conditions but also in producing proposals for policy development in a wide range of educational areas—something we don’t see in the United States.

In conclusion—15-year olds in the United States ranked fourth in problem solving on the 2012 PISA Tests—way above the OECD average, but you will not hear that from the MCDFERM.

We also won’t hear this from the MCDFERM—in mathematics performance among PISA 2012 participants, the U.S. mean score was ranked fifth.

There are many different ways to compare the countries that participated in the 2012 PISA tests, and if the MCDFERM wants to make public education in the United States look bad, all they have to do is cherry-pick select facts to make that happen. Their goal is to fool as many people as possible. To armor yourself against these false claims, I suggest that you carefully read the detailed key findings of the 2012 PISA.

After reading this post, why do you think the MCDFERM is ignoring childhood poverty?

I know that many in the middle class and those who live in poverty think it’s great to live in a capitalist country with an opportunity to get rich—all we have to do is work hard or buy a winning lottery ticket, right?

Wrong! About 50-million Americans live in poverty. That means there’s a 15.8-percent chance of landing in poverty.

But what are the odds of getting rich?

For instance, there are 492 billionaires in the United States—we’ll find the members of MCDFERM in that group—that’s 0.00015-percent of the population, and then there are 9.63 million households with a net worth of $1 million or more—that’s about 3-percent of the population. In addition, the odds of winning a lottery with one ticket are about 1 in 175-million.


Lloyd Lofthouse is a former U.S. Marine and Vietnam Veteran,
who taught in the public schools for thirty years (1975 – 2005).

His third book is Crazy is Normal, a classroom exposé, a memoir. “Lofthouse presents us with grungy classrooms, kids who don’t want to be in school, and the consequences of growing up in a hardscrabble world. While some parents support his efforts, many sabotage them—and isolated administrators make the work of Lofthouse and his peers even more difficult.” – Bruce Reeves


Lofthouse’s first novel was the award winning historical fiction My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. His second novel was the award winning thriller Running with the Enemy. His short story A Night at the “Well of Purity” was named a finalist of the 2007 Chicago Literary Awards. His wife is Anchee Min, the international, best-selling, award winning author of Red Azalea, a New York Times Notable Book of the Year (1992).

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9 responses to “Looking at 5 countries with some of the best public education systems in the world, and—SURPRISE, SURPRISE—they all have teachers’ unions

  1. Gerri K. Songer

    September 12, 2014 at 20:54

    Reblogged this on We Are More.

  2. Lloyd Lofthouse

    September 13, 2014 at 17:26

    Reblogged this on Lloyd Lofthouse.

  3. Marilyn Armstrong

    September 13, 2014 at 17:55

    I’m in favor of unions. If it weren’t for unions, we would still be working 16 hours a day six or seven days a week.

    • Lloyd Lofthouse

      September 13, 2014 at 19:36

      Me too.

      My mother and father didn’t leave poverty until my godfather managed to get my dad a operating engineers union job (a fancy name for heavy equipment operators) where he worked. My dad started as an oilier and worked his way up to operator.

      Without the teachers’ union, dictator administrators would have fired me before I’d finished teaching ten years because I dared to speak up publicly for the need of a planning period at the intermediate school where teachers were teaching six straight periods with only a thirty minute lunch break, and near the end of the thirty years, it was the union that stepped in to make sure I didn’t get fired when I was defending some of my journalism students who were accused of libeling another student in the newspaper.

      When that Hitler of a principal came to my room to tell me about the alleged libel and the deal he made with the parent of the student in question to stay out of court, I told Hitler I had a dozen signed statements from witnesses who saw the boyfriend of one of the ASB candidates—that parent’s daughter—stuffing the ballot box. He said the judge would laugh that evidence out of court and he ordered me to run a retraction. I told him I couldn’t do that. It wasn’t my paper. It was the student paper. To make a long story short, the school paper never ran the retraction Hitler ordered but it took several months without a school newspaper being published until we had a chance to slip copies of the evidence to an elected school board member and he ended the issue with a compromise that satisfied both sides.

      The administrates from the principal up the the superintendent were unwilling to compromise or consider the evidence. So, we could say that a union with elected school board members made the difference. Without them, I would have been out of a job a few years before I planned to retire.

      That Hitler had his contract cancelled two years early and he lost his job, because of all the negative press that was stirred up—with help from me reaching out and contacting the media.

  4. Left Coast Voices

    September 16, 2014 at 19:30

    Reblogged this on Left Coast Voices.

  5. Greg Mischio

    October 13, 2014 at 06:35

    Hey Lloyd – as always, you have great command of the data and the facts, instead of the idealistic vision of education some seem to cling to. I agree with you in regards to poverty. It’s the root cause of the problem with education, but we don’t deal with it. It’s like our medical system. We try and fight obesity by pills and surgeries, instead of doing the hard work of improving diets and increasing exercise.

    The only thing that matters in education is if you can inspire a love of learning – like you mentioned the love of learning. If the right-wingers truly want a market-driven education system, then let the “market,” i.e. the kids, drive their education. Differentiate to meet their needs. Let them determine the barometer of success.

    Of course, many of the reformist are those with new curriculums to sell, or new consulting to do – part of our industrial style of education.

    Keeping banging the drum, Lloyd. People need to hear your voice.

    • Lloyd Lofthouse

      October 14, 2014 at 08:56

      Thank you for your comment. A love of learning is important, but not all children arrive prepped by their parents/guardians to love learning. Many of the children who live in poverty come from homes where they were not exposed to books, magazines or newspapers or even e-books. Many of these children start out behind and stay behind. In fact, most of these students have never stepped foot in a library when they start kindergarten and have never held or read a book. They grew up without a parent who held them and read to them from as early as age 2.

      In addition, with the corporate driven, market based, public education reform movement, children are now expected to hop on the robot assembly line and be ready at each grade level to move on to the next rigorous challenge so they grow up with grit. to be college ready by the age of 17/18 in a country where there are already almost 3 college graduates for every job that required a college degree. Imagine that, according to the mandate of NCLB, 100% of children must be college ready by 17/18, but no country on the planet has ever achieved such an impossible goal—only in the United States is there such insanity being driven and pushed by billionaires like Bill Gates.

      Rigor and grit are two of the market based reform movements brand words for their so-called Common Core State Standards and the rank and yank method of using student test scores to evaluate teachers and fire them if they are in the bottom of the bell curve of students they only taught for an hour a day for one year—students who have 40 to 50 teachers by the time they reach 12th grade, if they haven’t dropped out but usually only one or two parents and/or guardians.

  6. Sarah Bocher

    April 11, 2015 at 09:09

    Thanks, Lloyd! I genuinely enjoyed that. And knowing that you come to the playing field with a background in education makes your findings and comments so much more credible to me. I’ve been in public education for ten years, in the trenches, in a school with 100% free lunch for the majority of that time. I persevered for so long because the KIDS deserve quality educators who care and know how to offer what they need (also, I have worked with the most amazing team of kindergarten teachers who uplift, support, and strengthen one another). But it is difficult to keep going when the odds are stacked against educators, isn’t it? It’s why my dad, an amazing educator, left the teaching field and never returned forty years ago. Though it’s not the reason I’m choosing to move to a charter school, it’s certainly a factor. Thank you!

    • Lloyd Lofthouse

      April 11, 2015 at 09:36

      Sarah, if you move to a charter school to teach, be wise in your choice—-the best charter schools tend to NOT be corporate but are part of a public school districts with teachers who belong to a teachers’ union. If it is a corporate charter school, the odds are you will be leaping from a simmering frying pan into a blazing fire. The reason the public schools are the way they are is because of the corporate education reformers who are building an industry of for profit (no matter how you look at it someone gets rich at the expense of teachers and children) corporate charter schools. The Charter school movement was started by teachers back in the 1970s and it was never meant to become a profit industry linked to the private sector and an undemocratic corporate culture ruled by powerful oligarchs. To succeed and grow their wealth, they must first destroy the public schools. A case in point is what happened in New Orleans and it is happening in other cities too.

      A Perfect Storm: The Takeover of New Orleans Public Schools is the first in series of short videos, that reveals the real story behind the creation of the nation’s first all charter school district. These videos are made possible with the support of the The Schott Foundation and The New Orleans Education Equity Roundtable. They are produced in partnership with Bayou and Me Productions.

      For instance, the public school district where I taught for 30 years had one of those original concept Charters, but it isn’t called a charter. It’s called an alternative high school with a whole lot of flexibility that the traditional high schools in that school district didn’t have.

      How did students get selected for this alternative (charter) high school in a public school district?

      Alternative Instructional Programs in Rowland Unified are available through Santana High School.
      How to Enroll:
      Student must be between 16-18 years old.
      Student must be referred by the school of residence.
      Student and parent MUST attend an orientation.
      Submit: transcript(s) from previous high school, updated immunizations, and proof of residence.
      Please contact the school office for more information regarding enrolling at Santana

      These corporate Charter schools, on average, have higher suspension rates and expulsion rates that are twelve times higher than the public schools.

      And the turnover rate among teachers in corporate Charters is also higher than the public schools (but the turnover rate was smaller at alternative schools like Santana High School because the schedule was flexible and the teachers were given a voice in curriculum).

      Controlling for all other measurable factors in their model, the authors find that the odds of charter teachers exiting are still 33 percent higher than those of regular public school teachers. There is an even larger difference in secondary schools, where charter teachers are almost four times more likely to leave.

      Then there is the pay. Who earns more, on average, public school teachers or teachers in corporate Charter schools.

      Finally, while the average public school teacher earned $34,690, the typical charter school teacher was slightly behind at $32,070, or by about 8 percent.

      The openness to teacher input may translate into a voracious demand for teacher hours. In an article written for, Caralee Adams cites the example of Boston’s MATCH Charter Public School in which teachers commonly put in 60 to 80 hours of work each week. Charter schools in their first year of operation can prove particularly demanding in this respect. Young, ambitious teachers may respond to this grueling schedule with everything from exhilaration to burnout or resentment, and many may opt to leave the profession altogether.

      Unfortunately, the same relative autonomy that gives charter schools such flexibility, and that provides teachers with so many opportunities for direct student involvement, also means that quality of management can vary wildly from school to school. A mismanaged school under an incompetent board of directors can lead to a substandard curriculum, inadequate teaching materials and a high level of both parent and teacher dissatisfaction. This lack of quality control, coupled with the aforementioned compensation issues, can lead to a high turnover rate among the teaching staff.

      You may also want to see the results from the Stanford Credo study (There have been several of these studies over the last decade) and comparison of corporate Charters with the public schools.

      Search for Figure 26: Academic Growth of Charter Schools Compared to Their Local Markets

      In Reading:

      56% had no significant difference
      19% were significantly worse
      Only 25% were significantly better.

      In Math:

      40% had no significant difference
      31% were significantly Worse
      Only 29% were significantly better.

      Click to access NCSS%202013%20Final%20Draft.pdf


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