Several people questioned my argument the other day that bad ideas tend to flow from higher education to our K-12 education system (e.g., here and here). I would encourage ambitious readers find a way to access this longer piece by Checker and see if they still doubt the trickle-down theory.

I also argued that now a bad idea is flowing in the opposite direction--the hyper-unionization of the workforce. But the good folks at the American Federation of Teachers' "FACE Talk" blog raised a red flag about my insinuation that a unionized workforce is a new development in higher education:

Higher education, including graduate employees, have been forming unions for the purpose of collective bargaining for nearly 40 years. There was a notable acceleration of that effort in the '80s and '90s as more and more TAs and RAs were being employed to teach undergraduate courses. As a result (and I don't mean to scare you Mike), there are now over 40,000 graduate employees represented by unions, which actually represents a significant portion of that workforce.

Actually, this does scare me... and goes a long way to explaining why college tuition is soaring. But point taken; I'll try to stick closer to my K-12 beat from now on. Still, this line of theirs caught my eye:

Oh, and by the way, that level of unionization is true for faculty and staff in higher education as well.

Are they saying that college professors are just as unionized as K-12 teachers? I found this even harder to believe, so I had our research intern, Julia Heneghan, track down some numbers. The latest data she could find (from 2001) show that about 25 percent of professors belong to a union. Almost all of these are in the public sector. That compares to the more than half of K-12 teachers that belong to a union. So the bottom line is that higher ed has a way to go until it is as unionized as the K-12 system, though the AFT seems intent on reaching that goal. For the sake of our excellent colleges and universities and for the pocketbooks of students and their families, here's hoping that they fail.

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