Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Will Young People Reform Teachers Unions? Dream On.

Terry Moe thinks Rotherham is being too optimistic:

Andy Rotherham is an astute observer of American education reform, but in his latest article in Time.com he engages in a flight of wishful thinking.  He waxes eloquent about "renegade groups" of younger teachers who are rising up to demand a new brand of unionism--one in which the unions disavow seniority provisions, insist on serious teachers evaluations, make it easy to get bad teachers out of the classroom, and otherwise do whatever is best for children and effective schools.  He strongly suggests that big changes are in the offing for America's teachers unions.  A revolution from within.

This kind of argument is quite common and has a long lineage--although in the past, the agents of change were "progressive" union leaders rather than young teachers.

…The problem with reform unionism is that, as a set of beliefs about unions, it is fanciful and misguided, and it prompts education reformers to look for solutions where they don't exist.  Reform unionism is not rooted in a genuine understanding of union leadership and organization.  Nor is it rooted in a genuine understanding of teachers and what they want and expect from their unions.  There is simply no compelling intellectual or empirical basis for it.

Its fatal flaw is that it assumes union leaders can be persuaded to ignore, or give short shrift to, the bedrock occupational interests on which their organizations are based--notably, teachers' most primal concerns for job security, wages, benefits, and rights and prerogatives in the workplace.  These are the basic reasons teachers join unions, and leaders are never going to forgo these interests.  If they did, they wouldn't be leaders very long.


Will Young People Reform Teachers Unions? Dream On.

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