“Insurgents” Take on Teachers’ Union

Last week, Time’s Andrew Rotherham addressed a growing movement led by young teachers:  taking action against traditional teachers’ unions.  “These renegade groups…are trying to accomplish what a generation of education reformers, activists and think tanks have not: forcing the unions to genuinely mend their ways.”

Rotherham nicknames the three most-talked about “insurgent groups” as “The Takeover Artists,” “The Outsiders,” and “The Hybrid.”  The Takeover Artists are represented by the NewTLA, a dissident faction of the United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA).   NewTLA was established last year by Jordan Henry, a veteran teacher of 12 years.  In the short time NewTLA has been organized, Henry has managed to raise enough dissention among teachers that 90 NewTLA adherents were elected to UTLA’s house of representatives.  This is impressive, given how difficult it is for nonmainstream candidates to get much traction within teachers’ unions.  Henry is trying to change UTLA from within, but has not shied away from public criticism of the union either and has been taking on tough issues like seniority and changing the focus of the union from teachers’ contracts to school improvement.

“The Outsiders” are Educators for Excellence (E4E), a group of 3,500-plus New York City teachers who are trying to change laws and policies by going straight to policymakers.  When the NYC teachers’ union balked at Mayor Bloomberg’s proposal of doing away with the current practice of laying off the most recent hires first (thus allowing principals to have free reign over who stays and who goes), E4E “forced its way into the conversation and sought a middle ground.”  Though a deal was later reached on layoffs between the government and the union, it gave E4E some name recognition.  The goal of the group is not to create an antithesis to unions, but rather “to generate an elevated profession of teachers who want to be accountable,” says Sydney Morris, one of the two NYC teachers who founded the group last year.  Though E4E is now established as a voice in education policymaking, it is likely they will remain “outsiders” for a while.

Finally, “The Hybrid” is Teach Plus, a network of teachers with chapters in several major cities.  The group focuses on recruiting accomplished teachers who want leadership roles within their schools or to advocate for reform, but don’t want to leave their classrooms.  More than 4,500 teachers are involved so far, and 250 have gone through the selective 12- and 18-month fellowships.  Teach Plus wants to partner with unions, but admittedly wants to “support and reward the best rather than focus on defending the worst.”  So far, several Teach Plus members have been elected to leadership roles within the Boston Teachers Union.

Rotherham admits that it is too early to tell whether any of these groups will succeed in changing the teachers’ unions.  However, the three groups share striking similarities, the most notable being a frustration with the education conversation today and a desire for actual change.  The response from the unions so far has been to “co-opt or marginalize” them.  And the essence of the conflict is also a convoluted one:  unions exist to protect workers’ rights, which in the case of education creates immense friction between this function and reforms that individualize the worker: differentiation based on performance and real individual accountability for results.

To read the full article, please visit http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,2087980,00.html?artId=2087980?contType=article?chn=us