Two Op-Eds on Teachers

Two op-eds on teachers appeared in tandem today. One by NY Times columnist Nick Kristoff and the other by First Lady Michelle Obama. Both focus on the importance of teachers in fixing this country's education system. While I would have added a few points to either piece, it's difficult to address everything that goes into creating a more functional and more importantly, equitable education system.

Kristoff's column lays out the argument that education is the frontline of the war on poverty. It may seem like an obvious idea, but it's lost on many, and Kristoff rightly makes the connection between education and civil rights. Kristoff's central argument however points out the teachers' unions and the Democrats who acquiese to them as the major obstacles to necessary education reforms.

Kristoff's criticism of the teachers' unions is hardly original, and it's part of a broader movement, exemplified by a recent New Yorker article Kristoff references, that points the finger at the unions. This trend makes me a bit squeamish, because I know firsthand that principals can be vindictive and arbitrary administrators. Without the union I doubt I'd still be teaching.

That said, I'm willing to concede the unions are responsible for blocking several initiatives that could transform education for the better. Worse however, the unions undeniably protect many incompetent teachers who are currently teaching in high need classrooms.

Michelle Obama's column also focuses on the importance of teachers, but understandly avoids the issues created by the unions. Instead she focuses on the need for better salaries, better professional development opportunities, and a major recruitment effort to attract better quality teachers. Not much to quibble with there.

It's difficult for me to stomach union bashing that doesn't acknowledge the necessary protections they provide. And I don't love Kristoff's infatuation with charter schools (also a part of the larger education reform trend). Still, Kristoff and Obama both draw attention to the central fight of creating better schools: better teachers. I'm hoping this point isn't lost when the national conversation turns from healthcare to education.


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