"If [teachers unions] are really really really so bad, then why wouldn't the schools in states that are union-free do so much better than the states that have unions?"
To be fair, this is hardly a rant, it's a throw-away line. (As one friend just BlackBerried me, "Andy [Rotherham, the session's moderator] is letting Randi get away with murder." Without tough questions, her rants are on reserve.)
This statement is a real conversation-stopper. But it just doesn't hold up. The states that have made the greatest gains in student achievement since the 1990s--particularly for disadvantaged students--are, by and large, Southern, union-free (or union-lite) states, such as Texas, Florida, and North Carolina. But even more important, as is clear from the updated NCTQ database on teacher union contracts, in states without collective bargaining, teachers associations simply get contract-like provisions into state laws and regulations. Like rushing water finding lower ground, teachers will organize and find a way to protect their weakest members, whether they're allowed to bargain collectively or not.
* Previous rants here and here.