Identity Crisis

Education Next Issue Cover

Can teacher unions really promote reform?

By Education Next

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Fall 2001 / Vol. 1, No. 3

A new strain of thinking within the teacher unions holds that collective bargaining can advance reform goals. Critics warn that this is simply a back door to tighter control over the educational enterprise.

Teacher unions, long both the whipping boys and the power brokers of the education wars, now promote themselves as key partners in reform. The idea is to use collective bargaining to force changes that will ultimately raise student achievement. In fact, several urban union locals, in Cincinnati, Denver, and Rochester, to name a few, have already agreed to reforms such as merit pay, peer review, and public school choice. Yet the unions are still widely regarded as anti-reform—as the chief opponents of any change that upsets the flow of resources to public schools and public employees. Critics warn that unions will agree to only those reforms that tighten their control over the teaching profession and the educational enterprise. Is it possible for unions to shed their adversarial, industrial-era approach in favor of collaboration and professionalism?

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