My initial take on what happened in Wisconsin with the debate over collective bargaining there was that it had, counter-intuitively, given teachers unions an argument that most people on the center-left and left agreed with them on and distracted from the important – and fixable – problems in state law and teachers contracts. In the new Education Insider a majority of policy and political elites disagree with that view and think Wisconsin hurt the unions. And while it’s still too soon to tell for sure, events over the last few days point the other way as well.
Tennessee passed a teacher tenure reform bill and the governor signed it. And in Illinois a coalition of reform groups and teachers unions agreed on a set of reforms there including LIFO reform. And in both places this happened without the theatrics of Wisconsin. A couple of relevant takeaways from the Illinois experience.
First, again state education advocacy groups were instrumental in driving change – In particular Advance Illinois** and Stand For Children*. And changed happened because of a multi-pronged approach that was about policy, advocacy, and politics. Second, while the narrative is all about collaboration, it’s important to note the context in which that collaboration happened – the teachers unions were boxed in because legislation was going to move and there was a lot of pressure on key elected players, the issue was the details. That said, they could have fought this to the bitter end and didn’t and deserve credit for that. So it’s about collaboration and cover in practice. Finally, the urban/suburban split was again in evidence here – for instance different rules on strikes for Chicago and downstate – worth watching that issue as it is not a great one for reformers because the suburbs are often more about masking problems than fixing them.
*Bellwether provides policy analysis, strategy, and research for Stand for Children.
**Update: It turns out that one of my colleagues at Bellwether did search and placement work for Advance Illinois when they were launching in 2008 (I obviously wasn’t involved in that project because I didn’t remember it and was not yet at BW anyway) but it’s on our website so I should have and it should have been mentioned above along with the note on SFC).