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Unions as Partners, not Enemies

In today’s Daily News, Jerald Podair, professor of history and American studies at Lawrence University, attempts to restore some sanity to the ed reform debate. He makes the case, often repeated here, that real reform can only happen with teachers unions.

If the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association, the nation’s most powerful teachers unions, did not exist, would public education in the United States be any better? I doubt it. Instead of achieving the equality so badly desired in “[Waiting for] Superman,” we would simply go back to the days of autocrats — principals, school board members, even parents — bullying teachers, threatening their jobs, acting as if they owned them. Thanks in part to the UFT’s stand at Ocean Hill-Brownsville, those days are over. Teachers have dignity.

But now the challenge is to go beyond dignity for unionized teachers and enlist them in the movement for school reform that “Superman” advocates for. The AFT and NEA — villainous syndicates, in the movie’s estimation — are essential to this effort. Only they possess the numbers and organizational muscle to make true educational reform a reality. It is impossible to envision change occurring without them.