Sunday, November 27, 2011

Dealing with disingenuous teachers unions: There are no shortcuts

Fordham's Mike Petrilli started a wonderful debate with his article "Dealing with disingenuous teachers unions: There are no shortcuts," which highlights how flawed school boards are and calls for reformers to go after them, either by eliminating/going around them, or winning political control of them.  It has drawn responses from Randi, Ravitch, RiShawn Biddle, Bob Bowden, Caprice Young, Stuart Buck, and Anthony Krinsky.  Here's Petrilli:

And that's where we get to the logic of collective bargaining reform. Yes, school boards should drive a hard bargain with unions, but they don't, because their members are so often elected with the support of those very same unions. As a result, the teachers end up negotiating with themselves. What Ohio legislators (and Wisconsin's Scott Walker) were trying to do was to rein in the ability of school boards to give away the store. These efforts were about curbing local control run amuck. If school boards aren't willing (or able) to play hardball, we'll do it for them.

Clearly, this argument either wasn't made well in Ohio or didn't get through to the electorate. And to be sure, it's hard in a sound bite to explain how collective bargaining rights lead to irresponsible priorities, bad policy, and unaffordable spending.

So where do reformers go from here? One option is to be even more radical: To go after not just collective bargaining but school boards too. Make all of the key decisions at the state level. Negotiate with the teachers around a statewide approach to pay and benefits, the whole kit and caboodle. (Marc Tucker's "New Commission" made such a proposal several years ago.) That's an attractive long-term strategy, but voters—averse to big, sudden changes—will need some time to get used to the idea.

The other approach—call it the "no shortcuts" plan—is to roll up our sleeves and engage in the fight for political control of local school boards. Reformers are already doing this in places like Denver. It's not easy, and previous efforts in cities such as Los Angeles were short-lived. The unions have innumerable ways to topple leaders who don't hew to their demands. And to make an impact, we'd probably have to engage in hundreds of school districts around the country. That would require an operation that would make Michelle Rhee's shop look puny.

Curbing collective bargain rights, promoting mayoral control, creating an alternative charter school system—all of these are efforts to deal with the fact of union-dominated school boards. They are still worth pursuing, in my view. But they are only part of the solution. If we want to win the fight for the more immediate future, we're going to need to take on the unions directly, and take over the school boards. Shall we get started? 


Dealing with disingenuous teachers unions: There are no shortcuts

Posted by Mike Petrilli on November 14, 2011 at 9:00 am

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