Insurgents, or engineers

Andy Rotherham today gives us a look at a few examples where progressive-minded teachers are acting as change-agents within their unions. And, surely, the news is promising. But these “insurgents,” as Rotherham calls them, are still mostly acting as engineers tinkering with the machinery that drives a top-down model of public education. Nowhere in Rotherham’s examples do we find evidence that teachers want to disestablish the duopoly among boards and unions and introduce parents at the bargaining table.

This takes us to an overlooked passage in the now-famous strategy document prepared by a Connecticut affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers. The AFT, to be sure, understood that simply saying, “No,” was no longer a solution, that it had to propose ideas to reform troubled schools if it wanted to kill legislation that would have established a parent trigger. The AFT believed that it stopped the parent trigger and, according to the document, “turned it into a vehicle for collaborative success.” The union’s ideas included the creation of school governance councils that gave parents a voice, but it acknowledged that the word “governance” was a misnomer. The councils would have no real authority.

To be fair, Rotherham does argue that these insurgents still have a lot to prove and they have yet to wrestle with the decision to protect their members while agitating for real reform. But our debate still mostly looks at reform within a corporate structure and falls short of finding solutions that create a truly professional relationship between teachers and families. The change-agents profiled by Rotherham say they want to be more accountable, but we don’t know to whom.  Giving parents authority through the trigger or through choice establishes professionalism between families and teachers simply because the parent can sever the relationship at any time. NewTLA, Educators for Excellence and Teach Plus are to be commended for their ambitions, but they should strive to be more responsive to the needs of parents. By doing so, they will empower themselves.

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BY Adam Emerson

Editor of redefinED, policy and communications guru for Florida education nonprofit

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