There is a story about school reform that has caught on in recent years. It goes something like this: Politicians, researchers, and superintendents — who know what children need — are trying to institute brave, progressive new reforms in our failing school system. But standing in their way are teachers who are simply not trying hard enough, and evil unions that selfishly protect adults and don’t care about children. The solution? Break the unions and let the leadership do whatever it thinks best.
This story is manipulative and misleading. It ignores the abuses of power that led to the need for unions in the first place; it ignores the deep flaws in the corporate reform and testing movements; it ignores the need for quality teacher professional development and support; it ignores the vast diversity among teachers unions; and it fundamentally puts forward a regressive, untenable solution to our educational woes: improvement through the dis-empowering of a massive number of people.
Fortunately, teachers in Chicago are putting forward a different story, one about empowered teachers acting collectively to improve schools for both teachers and students. Despite confining limits on the union — including a state law that forces them to debate only wages and benefits — the CTU and its progressive new leadership are putting reform issues front and center. The CTU deserves our support. If we are going to have a productive national debate about the reforms we need — even the need to reform some teachers unions — we need to toss aside the anti-teacher narrative for good.
For more info on supporting the CTU, visit http://www.teacheractivistgroups.org/chicago-teachers/