Ezra Klein on elites and teachers' unions:
Elites and Teacher's Unions, by Ezra Klein: For a complex tangle of reasons having to do with everything from residence in DC to New York politics in the 80s to sheer faddishness, it's utterly required for elite pundits to spend inordinate amounts of time bashing teacher's unions. They hate them. They "Sister Souljah" them at every chance, always thinking -- oh-so-admirably -- of the poor ghetto children, so terribly incapacitated by collective bargaining agreements. Over at The Quick and the Ed, Kevin Carey writes a blistering, and genuinely important, rejoinder to such types. ...
It isn't the unions. But it's very convenient for lefty types to blame the unions. This shows, among other things, that they are forward-looking, and free from organized labor's influence, and generally an independent thinker and analyst. Too bad it's all costume:
[This] creates space for people with an independent image to maintain--your Cohens and Mickey Kauses--to burnish their street cred by selectively adopting one or more of the conservative education principles. So Cohen denounces calls for school funding, Kaus is always looking for a chance to take shots at teachers unions, contrarian-by-design publications like The New Republic trumpet their support for vouchers, etc. As with the three principles themselves, little of this is about education policy per se. Rather, it's about using education policies as a proxy for other things. Maybe there was a time when this came across as gutsy truth-telling, but at this point it all feels like pro forma gesturing and nothing more.
It's not only nothing more, it's something less. By repeatedly ascribing blame to the teacher's unions, these pundits deflect attention from the endemic, root problems, and refocus on more discrete, and demonizable, culprits. This gives conservatives an easy way out of conversations on education reform, even as they lack an actual solution.
Public schools in higher ranked socio-economic areas do very well, even with unions present, so I don't think unions are the major issue. The education problems in places such as inner cities are real, and difficult, but believing that eliminating unions will somehow solve the problems is wishful thinking. There are broader inequities at work, inequities that school outcomes reflect and reinforce, and schools will continue to struggle so long as they persist. I don't think radical school reform - new teaching methods, big, costly testing programs vouchers, and the like - are the answer. When kids show up at the doors ready and eager to learn, our schools do very well, and that, rather than unions, ought to be our primary concern.