Find your next job fast at the Jan. 28 Virtual Career Fair. Register now.
Education Opinion

How Not to Win Support for Teachers Unions

By Walt Gardner — August 18, 2010 2 min read

In a blunder that will undermine taxpayer support for teachers unions when they need it the most, A.J. Duffy, president of the 40,000-member United Teachers of Los Angeles, urged members to boycott the Los Angeles Times (“Union leaders calls on L.A. teachers to boycott Times,” Aug. 16). The newspaper’s sin was to publish a front-page story that reported on the use of the value-added model to estimate the effectiveness of teachers in the nation’s second largest school district, and include the names of a few teachers as cases in point (“Who’s teaching L.A.'s kids?, Aug. 15).

Duffy maintained in a series of automated calls to teachers that the database used was “an irresponsible, offensive intrusion into your professional life that will do nothing to improve learning.” He has every right to protest the fairness of the value-added model. But by calling for a boycott, Duffy adds fuel to the fire of criticism that teachers unions obstruct reform. His actions will be seen as killing the messenger, rather than attacking the message.

It’s this tactic that will not help teachers unions win friends and influence people. What Duffy should have done is to challenge his opponents to a debate on the issue. If they refuse, then he can always rebut their views through an op-ed, letter to the editor and advertisement. Why he chose instead to try to threaten the Times through a loss of readers is unclear. It was certainly bound to backfire. On Aug. 17, for example, the newspaper’s lead editorial defended its coverage of the issue (“Teachers, by the numbers”). In the adjacent letters to the editor column, readers weighed in, both pro and con (“What we can learn”). There will be more to come, despite of, or maybe because of, Duffy’s gaffe. What is clear is that his ham fisted strategy is counterproductive.

I say that even though I strongly support teachers unions. But transparency is always the most effective way to address controversy. This is particularly so with the value-added model in today’s accountability movement. Although the metric has been gaining popularity over the last few years, it is still arguable that it does what its supporters claim. Duffy could use the opinions of respected psychometricians as ammunition in his rebuttal. Although the Times tried to clarify what the model is and how it works, its judgment in naming and shaming teachers who do not measure up was indefensible.

This latter point cannot be emphasized enough. Finland, which is widely acknowledged to have the best schools and the best teachers in the world, rejects the measures to establish accountability that the U.S. is now embracing (“Dynamic Inequality and Intervention,” W. Norton Grubb, Oct. 2007). It selects a sample of some 100 schools annually for testing. The results are used strictly for diagnostic purposes, and never made public. According to Grubb, the tests are “not for invidious comparisons, or excoriating teachers, or demeaning students, or identifying the groups performing the worst.”

Teachers unions are at a crossroads in their history. It would be unfortunate if the good work they do in protecting the rights of teachers were tainted by the poor judgment sometimes exhibited by their leaders.

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.


Teaching Live Online Discussion A Seat at the Table With Education Week: How Educators Can Respond to a Post-Truth Era
How do educators break through the noise of disinformation to teach lessons grounded in objective truth? Join to find out.
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
The 4 Biggest Challenges of MTSS During Remote Learning: How Districts Are Adapting
Leaders share ways they have overcome the biggest obstacles of adapting a MTSS or RTI framework in a hybrid or remote learning environment.
Content provided by Panorama Education
Student Well-Being Online Summit Keeping Students and Teachers Motivated and Engaged
Join experts to learn how to address teacher morale, identify students with low engagement, and share what is working in remote learning.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Join us for our NBOE 2021 Winter Teacher Virtual Interview Fair!
Newark, New Jersey
Newark Public Schools
Special Education Teacher
Chicago, Illinois
JCFS Chicago
Assistant Director of Technical Solutions
Working from home
EdGems Math LLC

Read Next

Education Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: January 13, 2021
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
8 min read
Education Obituary In Memory of Michele Molnar, EdWeek Market Brief Writer and Editor
EdWeek Market Brief Associate Editor Michele Molnar, who was instrumental in launching the publication, succumbed to cancer.
5 min read
Education Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: December 9, 2020
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
8 min read
Education Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: Stories You May Have Missed
A collection of articles from the previous week that you may have missed.
8 min read