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Evaluating Court Decisions About Unions

Teachers' unions in California were finally exhaling in the wake of two recent court decisions ("Court ruling in California tenure challenge is unlikely to derail the reform movement," Los Angeles Times, Apr. 16). I'm referring now to the rulings in Vergara v. State of California and Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association. Yet the movement against teachers' unions will not abate. 

At first glance, it's tempting for teachers' unions to declare final victory.  But it's important to keep in mind that both Vergara and Friedrichs involved challenges only in California.  Yes, California often is a bellwether because of its size, but it does not reflect the views held in other states.  For example, North Carolina has virtually abolished teacher tenure, and Wisconsin has limited collection of membership dues.  (A Wisconsin judge recently struck down the state's right-to-work law.)  Meanwhile, lawsuits targeting tenure in New York and Minnesota are moving ahead.

It will be particularly interesting to see what transpires in Minnesota because plaintiffs there argue essentially what plaintiffs in California argued in the Vergara suit: to wit, that the state's tenure and layoff rules disproportionately shortchange poor, minority students who are most likely to be assigned the least effective teachers ("Teacher Tenure Is Challenged Again in a Minnesota Lawsuit," The New York Times, Apr. 13). 

If I read the national mood correctly, it is definitely anti-union.  I realize that a recent poll conducted by TeachStrong found nearly three-fourths of Americans believe teachers are undervalued and ill supported ("How the Teacher Shortage Could Turn Into a Crisis," Huffington Post, Apr. 16). Yet I question if their feelings apply to teachers' unions as well. There is simply too much pressure to scapegoat teachers' unions.  I hope I'm wrong, but the signs are too ominous to ignore.

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The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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