The teachers’ unions have put themselves in a difficult position, with Wisconsin, Indiana, and Ohio demonstrating that the traditional labor stance is untenable. So far, media attention to the union story has focused on the fiscal side—state deficits, teacher-benefit packages, and the like. Without question, these are important issues, but they are dwarfed by the implications for teacher effectiveness and improved student achievement. Now is the time to go beyond the rhetoric and to show that all of us—including the unions—are truly behind ensuring effective teachers in all classrooms.
Central to this issue are the conflicting strands of the unions’ position. Union leaders want to say that teachers are very important for public schools. But then again, not too important—because teachers should not be expected to make up for poverty and for uninvolved families. They want to highlight the exceptional teachers. But then again, not too much—because they do not want attention drawn to completely ineffective teachers. They want to argue that the pay is insufficient to attract and retain good teachers. But then again they do not want to draw attention to the salary schedule that refuses to acknowledge differences in teacher effectiveness.