State of play: teacher unions and school reform

It’s well known that labor unions in general tend to support Democrats. It’s also well known that teachers unions, whose memberships make up one in four union members, are particularly supportive of Democrats.  About one in 10 delegates to the Democratic Convention in 2008 were teacher union members. Democrats, of course, tend to favor more government spending on education. But, as this comprehensive analysis by Steven Brill in the upcoming New York Times magazine points out, President Obama and his education team have shown they are more aligned with reformers who focus more on results than on spending. This camp wants to change the basic rules of the education world, especially as they relate to teacher tenure, seniority, compensation, productivity, and charter schools.

There are gems of writing and reporting throughout this piece. Perhaps the most instructive is a passage in which Brill, the founder of the defunct American Lawyer magazine, describes two schools–one a charter school and one a traditional school–that each occupy half of a building in Harlem.

This is also a must-read for anyone who wants to get a sense of the forces at work in the school reform camp as well as those who want to better understand the $4 billion “Race to the Top” competition.

–Richard Lee Colvin