The unions' purpose

Liam Julian

Richard Kahlenberg takes on Michelle Rhee, whose ?dramatic, often authoritarian, style is ill-suited for education.? He also takes on the ?elite press,? which has been far too uncritical of the former schools chancellor because she is ?a hard-working Ivy League graduate? who reporters simply ?respect?. . .?as one of their own.? (Kahlenberg graduated from Harvard College and Harvard Law School, which doesn't at all invalidate his point but does make his phrasing sort of weird.) And Kahlenberg also takes on Richard Whitmire's new book about Rhee, The Bee Eater, which he calls too flattering of its subject and too uninformed about the topics it covers.?Per the latter plaint, Whitmire writes in The Bee Eater that Rhee's tenure-reform proposals ?represented an existential challenge? to the AFT: ?If the union couldn't protect their members' jobs,? Whitmire wonders, ?what was the point of having a union?? Kahlenberg responds: ?In fact, teachers' unions were created to do lots of things: lobby for more funding for public education, increase teacher salaries, reduce class size, improve the ability of teachers to discipline students, and fight private-school-voucher initiatives.? In other words, Kahlenberg contends that teachers' unions don't exist only to protect their members' jobs but also to raise their members' salaries; improve their members' working conditions; oppose vouchers so students will remain in public schools and out of private ones; and lobby for smaller class sizes (which mean more teachers, more members, more money, more power). I doubt Whitmire (or Rhee) would disagree with any of that.

?Liam Julian, Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow

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