It’s smart to be skeptical about union “reform” efforts

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There’s no question that the education reform movement has gained a boatload of momentum in the past year, particularly since President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan came on board.

But has the war already turned into such a rout that the teachers unions are starting to wave their white flags?

Consider this. According to Blog.Newsweek, the AFT recently shocked everyone by announcing that the recipients of its new Innovation Fund grants would use the money to develop model teacher evaluation systems that will actually consider student achievement as legitimate criteria.

Both the AFT and NEA have stridently opposed this idea in the past, and in several states even pushed through legislation preventing such evaluations from occurring.

But now Randi Weingarten, president of the AFT, has been quoted as saying “Teachers and their unions are not afraid to take risks and share in the responsibility for student success,” and that her union “isn’t shying away from the issue that the evaluation system is broken.”

Perhaps somebody should check Ms. Weingarten’s temperature. She doesn’t sound like herself in those quotes.

Then we tripped across an article in Labor Notes, which reported that a group of union teachers from across the nation, calling themselves “reformers,” recently met in Los Angeles to develop their own plan for changing and improving our public schools.

. They’re going to meet again in October to plan a series of forums and press events to publicize their “vision of education reform that puts educators, not education management organizations, in the driver’s seat.”

Does all of that sound promising? Perhaps. But we’re more than a little skeptical of the union’s sudden conversion to reform. Our guess is that they’re quickly developing a strategy designed to beat the true reformers at their own game.

We’re willing to bet that any teacher evaluation system designed in conjunction with the AFT will put only limited weight on student achievement. But that window dressing may be enough to win millions of “Race to the Top” federal dollars for some states.

Don’t think for a second that the teachers unions aren’t interested in getting some of that money for their states and schools, despite the nasty things they’ve said about “Race to the Top.” If that means pretending to be interested in student achievements, so be it.

As for the group of union teacher reformers, their strategy is a bit too obvious.

By coming up with an alternative reform agenda that presumably doesn’t involve charter schools, merit pay, tenure reform or any other popular concepts, they’re trying to position themselves to remain in control of the educational establishment. If things have to change, the unions want to make sure they change in the most comfortable ways possible. What better way to guarantee that than to design the “reforms” themselves?

A clever bunch, these union teachers. They may be conniving, deceptive and unscrupulous, but they’re definitely not stupid. They’re not surrendering. They’re simply adjusting their strategy on the run, like a good quarterback trying to salvage a broken play.

Stay tuned. . .

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