It’s hard to have a discussion about public education in New Jersey without mentioning our state’s teachers union, the New Jersey Education Association. Especially for those like me, who incessantly ponder how to infuse higher degrees of equity and student growth into our schools, the union and its leaders loom large.
Over the next couple of months, NJ Education Report will take a step back and examine the role the teachers union plays in shaping education for children in the Garden State. Does it elevate our public school system by pressing for fair funding and more support for students? Or does the union’s significant clout and influence come at the expense of better outcomes for under-served students and families?
Clearly, unions have a role to play in society. This week, the Wall Street Journal reports that Amazon warehouse workers in Alabama are on the verge of unionizing (as they should!) because of inhumane policies that set the rate at which they prepare packages and take breaks.
But sometimes unions are too strong: Just think of the violence in Ferguson, Missouri, and Baltimore and Minneapolis where, according to the New York Times, “police unions have emerged as one of the most significant roadblocks to change” as they “aggressively protect the rights of members accused of misconduct…using their political clout and influence to derail efforts to increase accountability.”
It’s no secret that this platform has often held the union in a critical lens, and a political body of its influence surely deserves scrutiny. After all, Gov. Phil Murphy’s deputy chief of staff is a lobbyist for the union, and the governor’s PAC is largely funded by it.
But all the bells and whistles of education pale in comparison to the most essential element in classrooms: effective teachers. They work as hard—especially this pandemic year—as the most rigorous professionals. As the daughter of teachers union members and a lifelong liberal Democrat, I’ve seen firsthand what happens when they lack that critical cloak of union protection.
Yet is there a point at which union political power goes too far? Through this series we hope to reach nuanced and fair conclusions about how a powerful union affects a state education system.
We welcome your thoughts, either in the comment box or your own submissions. Feel free to contact NJ Education Report at [email protected]
(Photo courtesty of @lizar_tistry.)