Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The parents: the force that can’t be beat

Here's Joel Klein, following up on Brill's comment about "not…abolishing the unions but…persuading or forcing them to engage in real reforms", highlighting the need to engage parents:

But relying on strong leaders alone is folly. Their survival, as Fenty's experience suggests, depends on building political constituencies that will support them, and push them to be even more aggressive. If that is to happen, we have to start with parents, who must stop tolerating a system that is failing their kids, and start insisting on great schools and teachers.

The unions know that parents are the only force they can't beat and, as a result, they've done an incredible job over the past couple of decades cultivating them as allies. But, increasingly, parents — especially those in high-poverty communities — are coming to understand that it's their kids who are bearing the brunt of the current union-driven, adults-first focus of public education.

Klein also gives a nice and well-deserved shout-out for an important new book by Terry Moe, Special Interest: Teachers Unions and America's Public Schools (www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0815721293/tilsoncapitalpar):

When it comes to persuading the unions, there's another recent book, "Special Interests", by Stanford professor Terry Moe, that's well worth reading. Moe spends considerable time discussing what he views as the misguided notion of "reform unionism," which is similar to Brill's idea of persuading the unions to get on board for real reform. The simple truth, according to Moe, is that "beneath all the talk, important fundamentals are at work — and the fundamentals drive most of the action. Teachers fully expect that their leaders will protect their jobs, promote their economic well being, and win work rules that give them valuable rights and prerogatives." Union leaders who fail to do those things, Moe adds, "do so at their own peril." In fact, more than once, union leaders have told me that, even though a proposed reform made sense, they couldn't support it and survive — and, they would always add, for good measure, that whoever replaced them would be worse for reform.

Let me be clear, reformers should always seek "to persuade" the unions to join them, and there are several encouraging examples to support this approach — some that I personally achieved together with NYC's union president Randi Weingarten, and others that Brill recounts in "Class Warfare". But so long as persuasion is the reformers' only weapon, Moe concludes, "the reform movement will never get where it aims to go. It will never be able to build a school system that is organized for effective performance. It will never be able to simply do what's best for children."

Brill's second theory of change — " forcing [the unions] to engage in real reform" — appears to be more realistic.


The parents: the force that can't be beat

Aug 22, 2011 11:59 EDT


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