Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Last Stand

For the most part, I'm not a huge fan of the way any newspaper covers education. The best I usually hope for is a clear statement of facts with a minimum of what it all means, which often tends to be wrong. That's why I was pleasantly surprised to be thoughtfully stimulated by an article set to appear in the New York Times Magazine this weekend called The Teachers' Unions' Last Stand. Now, I don't know that the article necessarily lives up to the hype of that headline, but it is pretty good.

Everyone else probably knows this already, but the point that didn't really fully register with me until I read the article is how radically the Race to the Top guidelines are threatening to change the standards by which unions operate and the concessions they can expect to get from cities and states. I read the New York Post each day, so I've seen the constant barrage of stories about how the unions hate kids and are opposed to any sort of reform. I wrote off a lot of that as just being, well, the New York Post, which tries to make everything about how bad unions are. But it turns out they may be on to something.

The thing that gets lost in New York where it seems like the unions have a lot of power to call shots in the legislature is how much pressure the unions must be under at this point. The "reform" banner has been unfurled across the country and there's a lot of money and attention out there for educational issues. More than that, the money and attention are focused on educational issues that the union and the Obama administration seem to be looking at from different perspectives. There's a definite ideological clash going on without a clear winner in sight. At least, not yet.

Let me issue my disclaimer now that I'm agnostic about a lot of the ideas in RttT and I don't blame the union for everything that's wrong in schools. Not even close. Still, the drama here is compelling. From a political perspective and from the perspective of what's going to be happening in our schools, we're seeing pressure placed on teachers' unions in ways that we haven't seen in a long time if ever. Ultimately, something is going to have to give on one side or the other. It will be interesting to see which side relents first.

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