Matt Di Carlo of the Shanker Institute once again distinguishes himself by stepping out from behind the barricades and examining some of the presumptions we make in the education labor wars. He has performed this task quite well in the past, and while praise from me won’t help his union credibility any, his work is important because it compels us to stop and think about what we’re chanting and screaming at the other side.
This time, Di Carlo analyzes “Teachers And Their Unions: A Conceptual Border Dispute,” in which he asks the question “is there any distinction between teachers and teachers’ unions?” His answer is yes, but is quick to add the evidence that union views accurately reflect teachers’ views. He concludes that “when you hear ‘teachers’ unions,’ at least some part of you should think ‘teachers.’ It would, in my view, improve the tone and quality of our debate if we all recognized that there is a distinction, but, when it comes to views on education policy, usually not much of a difference.”
He is right on that count. There is little to no evidence that the majority of teachers hold any significant education views in opposition to their own union, but there can be large differences between the rank-and-file’s priorities and those of the union, especially as you move up the union’s chain of command. It’s something I examined thoroughly in my 2005 report, The NEA Pyramid, so I won’t repeat all that here. I think Di Carlo and I agree that where the border lies between teachers and their unions depends on which teachers, which level of the union, and which issue we’re talking about.
I would also add one sidebar. If you believe that the union is a model democratic organization and fully represents the views and wishes of its constituency – the teachers, then why can’t the same be true of the people on the other side of the table – the school board, representing (ostensibly) the views and wishes of its constituency – the public?