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After the Chicago Teacher Strike and the Future of Teacher Unions
posted by: Ruthie | October 19, 2012, 02:05 PM   

This week, AAE had the pleasure of attending a Thomas B. Fordham Institute event entitled, "After Chicago – the Future of Teacher Unions." The event consisted of a debate over how the education reform community should address the role of teacher unions in order to prevent another high-profile teacher strike.

On one side of the issue Joe Williams, executive director of Democrats for Education Reform argued that teacher unions can be effective in achieving education reform. However, Terry Moe, a professor of political science at Stanford University and senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, argued that as long as teacher unions are powerful, true education reform will not take place.

Moe began by asking "Why, for the past thirty years, have we not been able to get under performing teachers out of the classroom? Why are teacher evaluations a charade?"

He continued to question why salaries are not being used as incentives and why seniority prevails when firing becomes necessary. He concluded the answer to these questions is simple and stated, "While teacher unions are extraordinarily powerful, their fundamental interest is in jobs and promoting the occupational interests of members." He further argued that competition is good for schools, but unions stop school choice because their primary interest is focused on money and political power.

Moe estimated that events like the Chicago teacher strike are just the tip of the iceberg and that union power will decline with time. He concluded, "The technology revolution is coming and it will transform the educational system – this will weaken the unions, over time, and could take decades."

Williams' stance was more optimistic and sympathetic to union influences. "Unions can be effective when properly exercising their rights," he stated. He continued to explain that Chicago was an extremely negative example. He argued that it was a "strike that didn't need to happen. Rational human beings who respect collective bargaining could have avoided the situation."

He asserted that collective bargaining is not necessarily detrimental and can result in good conversations about reform. "Even a union would tell you, collective bargaining works best when there is a spirited debate," William said.

When questioned about the finances of unions, he was accepting of the fact that unions support politics. He argued that transparency is the most important aspect of political campaigns, stating that the right of unions to exist is not the same issue as how their money should be spent.

Despite varying opinions on the value and role of teacher unions, it is impossible to ignore the changing legislation regarding their power. The teacher protests in Chicago were ultimately about the "pressing and daunting recalibration of education" and the controversy surrounding change. Although opinions differed on the future role of unions, both men agreed that education is quickly changing, and reform is necessary for its improvement.

Click here to view the telecast of the event.

Do you believe that teacher union influence is declining?
Comment below.

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