The Teachers’ Unions Versus the World

JP-TEACHERS-articleInline Both Republicans and Democrats are taking aim at the teachers' unions.

In most states, there are two teachers' unions. The AFT unions are located in urban areas; the NEA unions represent teachers in other parts of the state. Many Southern states, such as Georgia and Texas, aren't allowed to have teachers' unions, so they have multiple teachers associations, which are much less powerful. 

Patrick McGuinn writes about Governor Christie's battle with the NJEA.

This has been an entertaining—but ultimately depressing—month for those
interested in serious education reform in New Jersey. The state's
Republican governor, Chris Christie, has engaged in a rancorous war of words
with the state's largest teachers' union, the New Jersey Education
Association (NJEA). Christie has made no secret of his dislike for the
union and has publicly blamed them for most of what is wrong with the
state's schools and with state finances more generally. He has called them
the "bullies of State Street (Trenton)" and criticized their "19th
century" views on policy and spending. The NJEA has fired back by
spending millions running ads against Christie and organizing protests
at the state capitol. Richard Bozza, the head of the NJ Association of
School Administrators, has observed that "Governor Christie is the
irresistible force, and the union is the immovable object." Similarly,
NJEA spokesman Steve Wollmer said, "We are his great white whale, and
he is our Ahab."

But the teachers' unions haven't just been fighting with Republicans with eyes on the White House. They also haven't been that happy with Democrats. At the last NEA conference, Obama's aides were shunned. Union members aren't happy about his support for charter schools and for the dismissal of ineffective teachers.

McGuinn writes,

The Obama administration's focus on teacher accountability (through
evaluation and tenure reform, merit pay, and restructuring plans that
call for the firing of teachers in underperforming schools), in
particular, has caused great consternation among the teachers unions
who have long been one of the Democratic Party's staunchest allies.

If you look at education reform over time, there haven't been big changes when a new party takes over the White House and Congress. Whatever the trend, accountability or standards or testing, continues regardless of who's in the White House. Clinton carrying on much of the policies from Bush I. Partially, there is the continuity of policy, because the federal government doesn't have much control over education policy. But I am not really sure why there aren't bigger swings of policy. Anyway, this is why people are ticked off that Obama's education program isn't much different from Bush's.

4 thoughts on “The Teachers’ Unions Versus the World

  1. I actually think there are considerable, if subtle, differences between administrations. NCLB would not have happened under Clinton (or Gore) because it could not have gotten the Republican buy-in necessary. And Obama’s administration is considerably more focussed on the details of policy at the state level than Bush’s was. The choice agenda hasn’t changed much, but there is now a strong agenda around teachers, which the Bush administration lacked (and I think it is a largely hostile agenda, which is based on misapprehensions about how to solve problems). The unions are not fundamental to the problems — they are problems that have arisen and become strong in reaction against fundamental problems. NEA and AFT, btw, are very different, not just in their locations but in their strategic orientation, and any analysis needs to take that into account.


  2. But I think that many perceive that Obama’s teacher-centered agenda is actually anti-teacher. That’s certainly the sentiment at the latest NEA conference. I disagree, btw. I like what he’s done, although not much happens with schools when the economy is in the toilet.
    The biggest changes in education aren’t happened at the national level. It’s happening at the local levels as school budgets are being slashed.
    Yes, there are more differences between the NEA and AFT than location. I had written a sentence or two about their different politics and methods in my head, but it never made it to the blog post. The price of writing too quickly.


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