Tomorrow’s Trend Today?

It’s no secret that there are some divisions within organized labor about the direction things should go. SEIU head Andrew Stern has been a vocal critic and voice for change but Eduwonk missed this provocative statement he made over the summer:

“I think we [Democrats] are a stale party of ideas. We can’t talk about education. We can’t discuss when it is failing our members’ (children) in public schools in urban areas. You know, we’re the experiment. Maybe vouchers aren’t the only answer, but then what is? I’m tired of hearing if we just pay teachers more, you know, life will be terrific. It’s a huge problem.”

It was dug up by the NY Daily News’ Joe Williams who is finishing a fantastic book about education politics. It will be out toward the end of the year and is an important book because Williams unpacks the curious politics of education and how the debates defy facile left-right or liberal-conservative labels and frameworks.

Stern’s comments may be merely the macro-version of some micro-politics that have played out in a few cities. A handful of savvy urban school superintendents have either tacitly or explicitly cut deals with various local labor leaders to essentially isolate recalcitrant local teachers’ unions and deny them a broad base of organized support for various issues.

In these cases the labor leaders realize that outrageous demands by the teachers’ unions give labor a black eye and they also realize that it’s their members’ children who are impacted by archaic pay schemes, the lack of high quality public options in some communities, and all the rest.

What’s unfortunate, however, is that some in the charter school “movement” have yet to realize that unions are not a monolith and employ similar political nimbleness. Instead of, rightly, criticizing teachers’ unions that fight tooth and nail against charter schools they paint the opposition with the broad brush of “unions”. Yet outside of teachers’ unions, there is no reason why union members should be any more naturally predisposed to support or oppose charter schools (or any other education reform) than the general public. So antagonizing them from the get-go isn’t very politically smart. In fact, on the contrary, a lot of union members make likely allies in various educational improvement efforts because it’s their kids bearing the brunt of some of these problems, too.

A trend and an issue worth watching? Eduwonk reports, you decide.

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