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No Armistice in War on Teacher Unions

The recent news from Washington D.C. and New York City serves as a strong rebuttal to the charge that teacher unions are obstacles to school reform. In both districts, the respective unions agreed to change the rules on how teachers are evaluated. The implications for other districts, large and small, should not be underestimated.

Under the new system, standardized test scores will constitute a significant portion of the basis for determining teacher effectiveness. The weight given to progress made on these tests varies from district to district, but the fact that teacher unions took a more flexible stance after adamantly opposing the proposal calls into question the unrelenting criticism aimed at them.

Don't think for a second, however, that the campaign to scapegoat teacher unions will cease or diminish. That's because the ultimate objective of diehards is to privatize all schools in the nation. As Richard D. Kahlenberg, author of Tough Liberal (Columbia University Press, 2007), wrote: "No single organization is as responsible for the defense of public education in the United States as teacher unions" ("A World Without Teacher Unions" The American Prospect, Sept. 3, 2007).

My bleak outlook is on display on the editorial page of The Wall Street Journal, which has a long history of demonizing teacher unions. On Feb. 22, its editorial, "No (Tenured) Teacher Left Behind," proclaimed that teachers unions do everything in their power to preserve the status quo. In a previous editorial, the WSJ charged that "Organized labor has already wreaked havoc on the nation's K-12 public-school system ... " ("Professors of the World, Unite?" Oct. 17, 2009). And in still an earlier editorial, the WSJ described "One woman's crusade against the school union mob" ("Witness Protection for Teachers," Nov. 24, 2003). It will be interesting to follow what the editorial writers will say about the concessions made not only in Washington D.C. and New York City, but also in New Haven, Houston and elsewhere.

It will also be interesting to see how much more teacher unions are willing to yield. To date, there has been more give on their side than on the other side of the bargaining table. Despite the differences of opinion between the 1.4 million members of the American Federation of Teachers and the 3.2 million members of the National Education Association, they cannot expect to remain relevant if they don't eventually draw a line in the sand at this crucial point in educational history.

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