Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Assault on Teachers' Unions

The Assault on Teachers’ Unions
By Richard D. Kahlenberg
Teachers’ unions are under unprecedented bipartisan attack. The drumbeat is relentless, from governors in Wisconsin and Ohio to the film directors of Waiting for “Superman” and The Lottery; from new lobbying groups
like Michelle Rhee’s StudentsFirst and Wall Street’s Democrats for Education Reform to political columnists such as Jonathan Alter and George Will; from new books like political scientist Terry Moe’s Special Interest and entrepreneurial writer Steven Brill’s Class Warfare to even, at times, members of the Obama administration. The consistent message is that teachers’ unions are the  central impediment to educational progress in the United States. Part of the assault is unsurprising given its partisan origins. Republicans have long been critical, going back to at least 1996, when presidential candidate Bob Dole scolded teachers’ unions: “If education were a war, you would be losing it. If it were a business, you would be driving it into bankruptcy. If it were a patient, it would be dying.” If you’re a Republican who wants to win elections, going after teachers’ unions makes parochial sense.
According to Terry Moe, the National Education Association (NEA) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) gave 95 percent of their contributions to Democrats in federal elections between 1989 and 2010.1 The nakedly partisan nature of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s attack on public sector collective bargaining was exposed when he exempted from his legislation two unions that supported him politically: one representing police officers and the other representing firefighters. What’s new and particularly disturbing is that partisan Republicans are now joined by many liberals and Democrats in attacking teachers’ unions.
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