As No Child Left Behind (NCLB) continues, many of its supporters are arguing there needs to be more focus on teacher quality, and their arguments are sometimes accompanied by thinly veiled threats of a clampdown. And these threats are not coming from just the usual suspects of conservative foundations and think tanks. As The New York Times editorialized Oct. 22, following less than hoped-for progress on math and reading scores as measured by this year's National Assessment of Educational Progress, "The next level of progress will require deeper systemic change, especially in the realm of teacher quality. . . . That will mean hard work and more money — and a direct confrontation with the politically explosive issue of teacher preparedness."
There is little doubt that teacher unions, already under attack by conservatives, will become enmeshed in these confrontations. The question is not so much if unions will have to address teacher quality, but why and how.
One answer to "why" is because teacher unions can be well equipped to do so by virtue of their day-to-day interaction with teachers and the resources they can marshal to develop programs and collaborate on a districtwide level.
Equally important, the alternative is far less pleasant. "We have to address the quality issues or other people — be they mayors, or governors, or whoever — will impose their reforms on us," argues Tom Mooney, president of the Ohio Federation of Teachers and a former president of the Cincinnati union (see interview p. 34). "And it will probably be in ways we will not like and that will not help students."
The answer to "how" will depend in part on the local context: Who is leading the initiatives? What are the relations between the union and administration? And are the initiatives a smokescreen for privatization and the de-skilling of the teaching profession?