Everybody’s getting into the act, setting forth what may be growing dispute between reformers and teachers’ unions on who will get the Education Secretary nod (and by extension, what the Obama Administration’s education policy will be like). Follow Eduwonk’s links and you can see for yourself how the controversy seems to be playing out.
But there is an interesting voice missing here: organized labor.
You might say that labor’s voice isn’t “missing” because it is so obvious where it will side: with the NEA and the AFT, teachers’ unions that have consistently fought any accountability measures for education and seem to deny that teachers can have any role in improving the academic achievement of low-income children.
Perhaps that’s right: and if so, it shows that conservatives are right about the intellectual corruption of the labor movement.
Whose children are actually attending the public schools in low performing urban school districts? Low-wage workers, most in service industries, tens of thousands of them Latino–precisely the population that labor wants to organize in a globalized world. (In Los Angeles, a new big push is in organizing car wash workers, jobs that can’t be sent overseas.). Service workers do not make a lot of money, are often concentrated in urban areas, and are dependent upon the public schools for their children to advance economically.
Whenever teachers’ unions insist that they cannot be held accountable for anything, that there is nothing that schools can do, and that any measures to increase performance represent some sort of right-wing conspiracy, they are, in effect, undermining other sectors of the labor movement. Other unions are soon going to be faced with a choice: support the NEA, or support their workers. Which way they go will tell us a lot about the future role of labor in building a strong progressive movement.