Matt Di Carlo at Shankerblog has some, as always, thoughtful and nuanced ideas on the discourse surrounding education policy. He argues that accusations of “teacher bashing” is often an unfair charge to level against education reformers, but that these reformers should also recognize that there is less space between criticizing teachers unions and criticizing teachers than they think. He writes:

So, is there any distinction between teachers and teachers’ unions? Of course there is.

People who disagree with policies traditionally supported by teachers’ unions, or support policies that unions tend to oppose, are not “anti-teacher.”… It’s certainly true that the rhetoric in education can cross the line (on both “sides”), and extreme, motive-ascribing, anti-union statements are understandably interpreted as “bashing” by the teachers that comprise those unions. Some of the discourse involving unions and policy is, however, from my (admittedly non-teacher) perspective, more or less substantive.

So, you can “love teachers and disagree with their unions,” but don’t kid yourself – in the majority of cases, disagreeing with unions’ education policy positions represents disagreeing with most teachers. In other words, opposing unions certainly doesn’t mean you’re “bashing” teachers, but it does, on average, mean you hold different views than they do.

He goes on to note that teachers are not  a monolith, and thus there will be disagreement among teachers and some will oppose union policies. But I think this point deserves more emphasis, specifically I think many rules favor incumbents and people who already are teachers over people who would otherwise be teachers, or will become teachers. This is true of a wide range of occupational licenses. For instance, maintaining rules that make it hard to become a barber make incumbent barbers better off, but hurt those who would have become a barber were it not for the rules.

So while it is true that opposing policies that helps incumbents means opposing policies they support on average, I think it is a less understood and in many cases more important point that rules which help existing workers often hurts others who want those jobs.

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