What if teacher unions played by NFL rules?

Hall of Fame quarterback Fran Tarkenton got a lot of mileage out of his Wall Street Journal column exploring how the performance of NFL athletes “would steadily decline” if they organized under the same tenure and salary protections pushed by teachers unions. “The only difference between Tom Brady and the worst player in the league is a few years of step increases,” Tarkenton writes. “And if a player makes it through his third season, he can never be cut from the roster until he chooses to retire, except in the most extreme cases of misconduct.”

But Tarkenton missed an opportunity to advance the discussion further. Instead of asking, “What if the NFL played by teachers’ rules,” why not reverse that question, as only a writer in Tarkenton’s position could do effectively? Why not export free agency into teacher contracts? RedefinED host Doug Tuthill asked that question last winter:

As public education moves away from the one-size-fits-all assembly line and towards customization, teacher unions will lose market share to schools that aren’t easily covered by a master collective bargaining agreement. So they might be forced to consider other models, and pro sports unions are one. Whereas teacher unions use their collective power to disempower individuals, pro sports unions use their collective power to empower individuals.

This might presume that either Tarkenton or the WSJ are looking for new business models for unionism. That would be a bad presumption. Op-eds such as Tarkenton’s are becoming a classic staple on the Journal‘s opinion page (Remember economist Donald J. Boudreaux’s analogy between supermarkets and public schools — “Each family would be assigned to a particular supermarket according to its home address”). This may provide more entertainment than information. The nation’s financial paper of record is in a more authoritative position to redirect our arguments.

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BY Adam Emerson

Editor of redefinED, policy and communications guru for Florida education nonprofit