What Does It Mean to Involve Teachers in Policymaking?

By Stephen Sawchuk — February 18, 2010 2 min read
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We have two exciting new additions to our ever-expanding stable of education blogs, Rick Hess Straight Up and Walt Gardner’s Reality Check.

Walt’s first post has already made me think about what we all really mean about involving teachers in policymaking. I’m looking forward to see him elaborate on it in a future post, but for what it’s worth, here are a couple of thoughts to chew on:

If you think teachers aren’t considered in policymaking, then the next logical question to ask is which mechanisms and strategies would be the most fruitful for increasing their voice. This is very much the same question I posed recently about the American Federation of Teachers’ push for labor-management “collaboration": It sounds great, but how do you accomplish it? How about in nonbargaining states? What does it look like? What happens when the two parties have a legitimate disagreement about policy?

A related question I have is to what extent teacher empowerment does or doesn’t mean doing what teachers’ unions want. I had an interesting and lively conversation once with one of my frequent commentators on this blog, a unionized public school teacher, about whether “teacher voice” and “teachers’ union voice” are one and the same thing. The answer seems to be both yes and no.

Yes, in the sense that teachers’ unions are the democratically elected bodies that represent teachers and through which teachers can affect policy. No, in that although unions take pains to minimize differences within their memberships publicly, there are plenty of internal disagreements. Take the California v. Wisconsin smackdown on charter schools at last summer’s National Education Association Representative Assembly, for instance.

Or consider the way unions’ approach to bread-and-butter issues tends to favor veteran teachers over novices, such as defined-benefit pension plans and across-the-board rather than targeted raises. Or the number of surveys that show differences in how teachers of various ages and stages in their career approach reform issues.

Gardner says that as practitioners, teachers aren’t listened to to the same degree as doctors and lawyers. I’m not convinced this is a fair analogy. Teachers are without question professionals, but there is arguably much less agreement about what the profession of teaching entails in terms of training, professional growth, and so on than in the professions of medicine and law.

Your thoughts? C’mon, I know you have them. Let’s hear some chatter.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.