A conflict of interest

Two editorials in the past week point to a widening realization across the political spectrum that U.S. teacher unions serve their members, not students. The Wall Street Journal illustrates this point with a piece about two episodes that clearly place union demands at odds with school quality. The New York City case, which we discussed last week, was finally resolved when Joel Klein exploited a contract loophole to keep parent-financed teachers aides in schools. But in Baltimore, the union has gone after the highest-performing school in the city, and in some subjects and grades, the state, demanding that its teachers be paid more. The school can't afford the pay raises and is being forced to cut staff and hours, two of the very things that make it so successful. The LA Times, a less likely union-basher, also makes an earnest appeal for the United Teachers Los Angeles to reprioritize. Its editorial chastises UTLA's efforts to undermine a new LA Unified School Board resolution that would allow charter operators, community organizations, and the union itself to open 50 new schools; after years of softball reforms that have yielded soft results, invigorating "the district with new models...has to trump union concerns," the paper writes. The clearest example of the shifting landscape in LA-LA land is Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, a former UTLA organizer himself, who is now pleading with his former union colleagues for cooperation. Maybe this media attention from both sides of the country, and the political aisle, will encourage unions to put the kibosh on its bold and brassy push for adult-centric priorities. Or maybe not.

"Teachers unions, listen up," editorial, Los Angeles Times, July 31, 2009

"Pay your teachers well," editorial, Wall Street Journal, August 3, 2009

A previous version of this piece misspelled the last name of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Villagairosa. It has since been corrected.