Model for ‘New Unionism’ Shifts Gears

April 07, 1999 6 min read

Model for ‘New Unionism’ Shifts Gears: A role model for the “new unionism” extolled by the National Education Association appears headed toward an older style of labor relations. Starting in June, the local union leadership at the Saturn Car Co. will be replaced by a regime that advocates more traditional job protections.

The union’s current leaders, who lost decisively in a February election, include many who helped forge the “partnership agreement” that has drawn hundreds of other employers and organizations--including the NEA and the American Federation of Teachers--to the Spring, Hill, Tenn., plant. (“A Different Kind of Union,” Oct. 29, 1997.)

Based on the idea that management and labor should shed their adversarial ways and work cooperatively, the pact gives decisionmaking authority to workers at every level of the company.

Many of the candidates who won in the recent election, however, want to change or abolish some of the innovations that resulted from that approach, such as permitting union leaders and management to join together to choose individuals for some jobs.

The newly elected leaders, however, say they are still committed to working within the partnership.

Nor have NEA officials changed their minds. “We still believe that partnership is the right approach,” said spokeswoman Kathleen Lyons.

Kosovo Connections: The conflict in Yugoslavia has been brought closer to home for members of the teaching profession, prompting a strong proclamation of support by the leaders of the two U.S. teachers’ unions for NATO’s military action there.

Among the atrocities reportedly carried out by Serbs against ethnic Albanians living in Kosovo, located in southern Serbia, are the slayings of more than 50 teachers, including several who were executed in front of students, union officials said.

NEA President Bob Chase and AFT President Sandra Feldman heard news of the massacres from an Education International official from Kosovo while at a meeting of that group’s leaders in Belgium late last month. The two quickly sent a joint letter to President Clinton, thanking him for “the strong action you have taken to stop the bloodletting by Serbian forces in Kosovo.”

Retaining Evolution: Leading scientists and educators are urging states to adopt biology textbooks that fully explain evolution and its importance.

The discussion of evolution in available biology texts “reflects the broad consensus in the scientific community,” says a statement issued last month by the National Center for Science Education Inc.

“We ... deplore the efforts made in some states and districts to require that evolution be disclaimed,” the statement adds. “Such disclaimers single out evolution from all other scientific ideas as somehow less reliable or less accepted by scientists, or as ‘only a theory.’ ”

The El Cerrito, Calif.-based group is dedicated to ensuring that evolution is taught in schools.

Textbook to Web: Science teachers will soon be able to find direct Internet links to topics they’re covering in textbooks.

Through a federally funded project, the National Science Teachers Association is inserting codes into the margins of texts that will direct teachers and students from its World Wide Web site to others dedicated to the topics covered in the books.

Holt, Rinehart & Winston will include the links in environmental science and chemistry texts. Harcourt Brace & Co. will add similar codes to a new series for elementary students.

The Web site is (free registration required).

Reforming Teacher Education: While many colleges and universities have improved their teacher-preparation programs, others have not and must accept responsibility for ensuring that students have excellent teachers, concludes a task force of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities.

The Washington-based organization, whose members produce 54 percent of the nation’s beginning teachers, issued “A Call for Teacher Education Reform” last month. The task force on teacher education concludes that “the urgency for the reform of teacher preparation” has never been greater.

The 16-member task force, made up of college and university presidents, chancellors, chief academic officers, and other education leaders, recommends that the presidents of state institutions take the lead in making teacher education a top campus priority. Among its many recommendations, the group calls for simultaneous reforms in teacher education programs and the K-12 schools they serve; joint curriculum planning between education school faculty members and professors in other academic disciplines; and programs to increase the racial and ethnic diversity of the pool of prospective teachers.

The report is available for $5 to nonmembers (free to members) through AASCU Publications, 1307 New York Ave. N.W., Fifth Floor, Washington, DC 20005-4701; (202) 293-7070. The document also is accessible on the Web at

Money for Teacher Training: The Carnegie Corporation of New York, under the leadership of its president, Vartan Gregorian, has announced an overhaul of the foundation that will channel substantial funding toward teacher education.

The grantmaking foundation, which will give away some $79 million this year, has concluded that teacher education still has “second-class status” in higher education. To remedy the problem, the foundation plans to disseminate the best models of teacher education; help state policymakers devise incentives and accountability measures; and promote a broader public understanding of the importance of teacher quality.

The renewed commitment to subsidizing higher education projects will be accompanied by a focus on urban and early-childhood education and care, which have long been a focus of the foundation’s efforts.

The New York City-based foundation has dedicated about $17 million this year to education efforts.

Involving Scholars: Professors in scientific and mathematical fields need to play a role in the professional development of current teachers and the preparation of the next generation, says a pre-eminent scientific group.

Scientists, mathematicians, engineers, and technology experts need “to provide integrated preservice and in-service experiences that blend scientific knowledge with pedagogical methods and effective teaching practices,” according to a report released last month by the National Research Council.

The report by the research arm of the Washington-based National Academy of Sciences outlines ways to improve undergraduate instruction in science, math, engineering, and technology.

“Transforming Undergraduate Education Science, Mathematics, Engineering, and Technology” is available for $24 from the National Academy Press, 2101 Constitution Ave. N.W., Washington, DC 20418; (202) 334-3313 or (800) 624-6242. It is also available online at:

Think-Tank Task Force: A California think tank is assembling leading scholars to craft a five-year research and action agenda for K-12 school reform.

The Hoover Institution will convene the panel of 12 researchers, called the Koret Task Force, to discuss K-12 policies and design a research agenda tracking those policies. The Palo Alto, Calif., think tank will publish annual essays from each of its members and will advise the Hoover Institution on how to address the needs it identifies.

The panel is composed of advocates of vouchers and other school choice programs as well as those who support traditional curricula.

Led by John Raisian, the Hoover Institution director, the group includes Chester E. Finn Jr., the president of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation; E.D. Hirsch Jr., the University of Virginia professor of English who developed the Core Knowledge curriculum; Paul Peterson, a Harvard University researcher; and Diane Ravitch, a noted education historian and New York University research professor.

--Jeff Archer, Ann Bradley, & David J. Hoff

A version of this article appeared in the April 07, 1999 edition of Education Week as Model for ‘New Unionism’ Shifts Gears