Category Archives: Unions

A Sentence that Captures So Much About Education Reform

naacp randi

Over at WonkBlog, Max Ehrenfreund wrote this sentence:

… public education is an issue that sets two important Democratic constituencies against each other: school teachers and advocates for civil rights.

At first I read the sentence and thought nothing of it: it is common knowledge that many civil rights groups disagree with unions about issues such as standardized testing and choice.

Then I re-read the sentence and realized what was novel about the sentence: it was the fact that “school teachers” was used instead of “unions.”

For some reason, I don’t always think of a union as a collection of school teachers.

But this is of course what a union is.

I’m really not sure what to make of this, but it’s an interesting world where two groups of people generally considered to be fighting the good progressive fight – teachers and civil rights groups – find themselves on opposite sides of key educational issues.

On very important issues, the representatives of teachers and the representatives of civil rights organizations fundamentally disagree about how to best educate African-American and Hispanic students.

Again, none of this novel: but sometimes the turn of a phrase can drive home a reality.

For me, it was striking to see school teachers, rather than unions, being set against civil rights groups.

Lastly, I do think it’s worth emphasizing that the disagreements between teachers and civil rights groups are about strategy rather than desired outcomes.

I’m confident that teachers and civil rights advocates want the same thing for minority children.

Are There Deals to be Made?


A little while ago I was talking to a friend of mine from the labor movement.

He said: if high-performing charter schools were willing to make deals with labor, these charter schools would gain much more political support.

He argued that many unions, most especially service and construction union, might go against the teachers union if it was in their members’  interest.

Given that: (1) service union members work at schools (2) construction union members build schools and (3) both of their members often send their children to public schools – he thought there were deals to be had.

Specifically, if charters agreed to hire union service laborers in their buildings, and hire union construction laborers to build their buildings, these unions could become significant political supporters.

Some thoughts:

1. My initial emotional reaction was negative. The thought of using public tax dollars to pay for (perhaps) lesser quality services at a (likely) higher price did not sit well me.

2. I imagine many high-performing charter leaders, many of whom are more operationally hardcore than I am, would react the same way.

3. This emotional reaction might be causing shortsighted decision making. I’m very open to the idea that accepting some inefficiency for increased political support could be a net benefit for children.

4. I also think there could be a secondary educational value of raising the wages of the parents of the children that we serve.

5. I’m also terrified of slippery slopes. In public education, there are a million of seemingly minor reasons to not be absolutely focused on delving an excellent education. Saying yes to one is always dangerous. It’s very easy to become the thing you were attempting to replace.

There is much to consider on this issue.