On the pages of Time, Andrew Rotherham examines the various reform-minded groups that have sprung up within the ranks of the big-city teachers’ unions. Sarah Rosenberg at The Quick and the Ed follows suit. Rotherham calls them “insurgents” while Rosenberg refers to “a revolution.” While I applaud any publicly stated diversity of thought within NEA and AFT, I am considerably less sanguine about the prospects of major internal reform.
There are two problems. One is that in any corporate culture radical changes in direction are frowned upon, if not suppressed. In unions, whose very hallmark is solidarity, this reluctance to entertain unorthodox thought is ratcheted up several levels. The relative electoral success of NewTLA is remarkable, but such victories don’t usually result in further gains in subsequent elections. I admit we are operating in extraordinary times, so maybe things will be different and I’ll be surprised.
Second, everyone is an insurgent until he or she achieves power. If you think this is an easy transition, ask Karen Lewis in Chicago. Or ask Bob Chase how that new unionism thing worked out for him. The teacher union reform field is littered with the bodies of those who sought to alter the union’s primary mission – protecting teachers – and found themselves ousted in favor of challengers who promised to get tough with administrators.
You say you want a revolution? Well, you know…