Even more so than the recent defeats in states such as Wisconsin, a sure sign of the declining influence of teacher unions is the distance that school boards are putting between themselves and the union reps.
Now, for example, in New Jersey, dissatisfaction with teacher unions has spread beyond Republican Governor Chris Christie. “The unions will fall on the sword for tenure,” Frank Belluscio of the New Jersey School Boards Association said, in a prediction that was recorded in American School, the official journal of the American School Board Association.
Although a bit more reticent than Mr. Belluscio, LA school board member Steve Zimmer also took note of the changing dynamic that is occurring even in the Golden State. “It’s a different playing field,” Zimmer told Del Stover, a senior editor at American School. “It’s not like it’s the union versus the school board.”
“It’s the union versus the school board versus the mayor versus the charter community.”
For decades, both institutions worked closely together. Stover lists some of the outcomes of this partnership, which read like dubious achievement awards.
“Against this backdrop, it’s worth noting that unions have done good service to school boards over the years,” Stover asserts. “In California and across the nation, it often was the unions immense financial resources that helped defeat well-funded ballot initiatives to launch statewide voucher programs, implement arbitrary mandates that schools spend 65 percent of their budgets in the classroom, and adopt tax cuts or caps that would have eroded future funding.”
“We have a long history of working together [with the unions], primarily on funding and budget issues,” Rick Pratt, assistant executive director of the California School Boards Association (CSBA) told Stover. “We don’t always agree on policy issues…but we work together when it comes to fighting off proposed budget cuts or a voucher initiative.”
“The big money comes from the teachers and the classified teachers unions.” As we have noted, several recent documentaries, such as Waiting for Superman and The Lottery, paint unions in an unfavorable light.
These productions, moreover, were mounted by either apolitical or politically left-wing filmmakers. As well, the former chancellor of the Washington, D. C. school schools, Michelle Rhee, took on the teacher unions there and became a heroine to parents around the country.
Nevertheless, the tipping point, as author Malcolm Gladwell might put it, may have come two years before Rhee took office in 2005 in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. When the teachers’ union left the city, parents in New Orleans discovered that they could bloody well do without it.
Malcolm A. Kline is the Executive Director of Accuracy in Academia.
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