Friday, August 27, 2010

Unions' Tactics Diverge in Engaging Obama Agenda

An interesting article about how the different internal structures and governance of the two major teachers' unions affects how they deal with reform:


The two national unions' responses to the teacher-effectiveness issue are not recent phenomena. Rather, they reflect long-standing differences in how the unions are organized.


Under the NEA's structure, the largest state affiliates—California, New Jersey, Michigan, and Florida, among others—have the most representatives on the union's board of directors and its resolutions committee, which vets changes to formal NEA policy statements, as well as the most delegates to its convention.


As such, they exert a powerful influence over the national union's policy direction. The NEA's resolutions are binding, and the union's president must abide by them. State affiliates, in theory, must do so to tap their share of centrally allocated NEA funding.


…A downside of the system is that it tethers the national leadership to the traditional positions held by those states, said Julia Koppich, a San Francisco-based consultant who has written extensively on teachers' unions.


…That the largest 10 affiliates have significant control over policy has complicated Mr. Van Roekel's relationship with the Obama administration, acknowledged Mr. Sanchez, the president of the California union.


"He is in a very tough situation," Mr. Sanchez said. "But when he is directed by his board and state presidents, he's got to go [to the administration] and tell it like it is. It's challenging for him, just as it is for me to tell him that CTA is not on board with something."


Singular Opposition


If the NEA structure gives state affiliates the primary role in developing and overseeing policy among local unions, an inverse situation exists within the AFT, where the central leadership actively works to persuade locals to try out new ideas.


The national AFT "treats local leaders as incubators of promising education practices, and they are constantly scanning for things locals are doing that should be scaled up," said Ms. Ricker, who has worked within both unions' structures because Minnesota is a merged NEA-AFT affiliate.


That ethos has given Ms. Weingarten an advantage in setting an agenda that goes against some traditionally held views, according to Ms. Koppich. "I think AFT's philosophy is quite different from the NEA's, that it's the elected leadership's job to maybe take the members to some places they didn't know they wanted to go," she said.


What's more, Ms. Weingarten exerts considerable influence over the union's policy landscape partly because many of its vice presidents and resolution-vetting committee members belong to the same internal political coalition she supports, the Progressive Caucus. The group is particularly powerful in New York City, the home of the union's largest affiliate.



August 19, 2010

Unions' Tactics Diverge in Engaging Obama Agenda

By Stephen Sawchuk, EdWeek

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