Education Opinion

Different Views of School Reform

By Walt Gardner — September 26, 2012 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Educational reform varies greatly across the country. What is seen as transformational in one place is regarded as insignificant in another. The settlement of the teachers strike in Chicago this month, for example, contrasts dramatically with the referendum on the ballot in Idaho in November. Yet both come under the same umbrella.

Karen Lewis and Randi Weingarten claim that Chicago serves as a case study of moving past “random acts of ‘reform’ that have failed to move the needle and toward actual systemic school improvement” (“A Gold Star for the Chicago Teachers Strike,” The Wall Street Journal, Sep. 24). They cite four ket tenets to make their case. Their argument differs from the sentiment in Idaho, where in 2011 tenure was eliminated and collective bargaining rights were severely curtailed (“What Do Teachers Deserve? In Idaho, Referendum May Offer Answer,” The New York Times, Sep. 24).

The difference is largely due to the history of the two venues. Chicago has long been a union city, while Idaho has always been a staunchly conservative state. Yet there is more to the story. It has to do with shifting alliances. I don’t recall a time when a Democratic mayor (Rahm Emanuel) and a Republican governor (C. L. Otter) shared the same opinion about a highly controversial issue. In this case, it’s the power of teachers unions, which both Emanuel and Otter blame for the poor performance of students in their city and state, respectively.

We know how the seven-day strike in Chicago ended. How voters in Idaho will cast their ballot on the education overhaul package remains to be seen. If I read the tea leaves correctly, however, I think voters will support the new law because the tide is slowly but surely turning against teachers unions. There will be pockets of resistance, of course, but they will be anomalies. It’s not that voters are disaffected with teachers individually. Instead, it’s teachers unions. This view was expressed by Judge Andrew Napolitano, who said that “they don’t deserve a gold star; they deserve a scarlet letter” (“Napolitano on Chicago Teachers Strike Op-Ed,” Fox Business, Sept. 24).

Critics of teachers unions point out that police can’t strike because doing so would pose a threat to the safety and welfare of the community. In their opinion, teachers who strike pose a threat to children by denying them an education. But what if not striking created an even more serious danger? Consider the situation today at American Airlines (“AMR’s Pilot Troubles Grow,” The Wall Street Journal, Sept. 25). Its pilots complain that the airline is failing to address maintenance warnings about aging aircraft. As a result, flights have been delayed or cancelled, angering passengers. But isn’t there a greater issue than inconvenience? By the same token, don’t teachers have a duty to take a stand when children are subjected to conditions that undermine learning? Of course, parents are always inconvenienced when teachers strike. But isn’t there also a greater issue involved?

The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner’s Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
School & District Management Webinar
Ensuring Continuity of Learning: How to Prepare for the Next Disruption
Across the country, K-12 schools and districts are, again, considering how to ensure effective continuity of learning in the face of emerging COVID variants, politicized debates, and more. Learn from Alexandria City Public Schools superintendent
Content provided by Class
Teaching Profession Live Online Discussion What Have We Learned From Teachers During the Pandemic?
University of California, Santa Cruz, researcher Lora Bartlett and her colleagues spent months studying how the pandemic affected classroom teachers. We will discuss the takeaways from her research not only for teachers, but also for

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Schools Get the Brunt of Latest COVID Wave in South Carolina
In the past few weeks, South Carolina has set records for COVID-19 hospitalizations and new cases have approached peak levels of last winter.
4 min read
Two Camden Elementary School students in masks listen as South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster talks about steps the school is taking to fight COVID-19, Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021, in Camden, S.C. McMaster has adamantly and repeatedly come out against requiring masks in schools even as the average number of daily COVID-19 cases in the state has risen since early June. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins)
Education More States Are Requiring Schools to Teach Native American History and Culture
Advocates say their efforts have gained some momentum with the nation’s reckoning over racial injustice since the killing of George Floyd.
3 min read
A dancer participates in an intertribal dance at Schemitzun on the Mashantucket Pequot Reservation in Mashantucket, Conn., Saturday, Aug. 28, 2021. Connecticut and a handful of other states have recently decided to mandate students be taught about Native American culture and history. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
Education Judge's Temporary Order Allows Iowa Schools to Mandate Masks
A federal judge ordered the state to immediately halt enforcement of a law that prevents school boards from ordering masks to be worn.
4 min read
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks to reporters following a news conference, Thursday, Aug. 19, 2021, in West Des Moines, Iowa. Reynolds lashed out at President Joe Biden Thursday after he ordered his education secretary to explore possible legal action against states that have blocked school mask mandates and other public health measures meant to protect students against COVID-19. Reynolds, a Republican, has signed a bill into law that prohibits school officials from requiring masks, raising concerns as delta variant virus cases climb across the state and schools resume classes soon. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Education Hurricane Ida Deals New Blow to Louisiana Schools Struggling to Reopen
The opening of the school year offered teachers a chance to fully assess the pandemic's effects, only to have students forced out again.
8 min read
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021. Louisiana students, who were back in class after a year and a half of COVID-19 disruptions kept many of them at home, are now missing school again after Hurricane Ida. A quarter-million public school students statewide have no school to report to, though top educators are promising a return is, at most, weeks away, not months.
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021.
John Locher/AP