Democratic mayors across the nation challenge teachers' unions in political shift

April 6, 2012

I noticed an interesting Washington Post article this week.  It reports that Democratic mayors in Los Angeles, Chicago, Cleveland, Newark and Boston are challenging teachers unions.  It is unusual for elected leaders in major cities to identify local unions as one reason reforms cannot be achieved.  According to the story, these mayors:

  • seek changes to the uniform teacher pay scale in favor of merit pay;
  • wish to expand public charter schools, which are largely non-union;
  • some want to lengthen school days, requiring teachers to work more hours;
  • nearly all wish to eliminate teacher tenure, which makes it nearly impossible to remove weak teachers from classrooms.

Mayor Villaraigosa calls the teachers union “the one, unwavering roadblock” to improving public education in Los Angeles. 

Union opposition to changes in education policy has affected public opinion.  As the article reports, in a 2011 Gallup poll, 47 percent of respondents said teachers unions hurt the quality of education, while 26 percent said they helped.  This 2-to-1 margin is the highest since Gallup began asking the question in 1976. 

Here in Washington state, we have seen a similar pattern of union opposition to change.  This session union opposition blocked passage of a bi-partisan bill to lift the ban on charter schools.


Students First launches in NYC

Very interesting. Also this week, former D.C. schools chief Michelle Rhee’s group, Students First, launched Students First NY specifically to advocate for education reform policy and candidates in the upcoming 2013 NYC mayoral election. The concern is that hard-fought reforms will be lost in a hotly contested election, similar to what happened in Washington D.C. when D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty was defeated after his first term. From New York Times.