Schools & Unions: Learning their lesson – Can a teachers’ union be an engine for reform?

The Economist:

THE election on July 14th of Randi Weingarten as president marks a new era for the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), or so the union says. For years teachers’ unions have been demonised as the main obstacles to school reform, often with good reason. Now the AFT is billing Ms Weingarten as a “reform-minded advocate”. With American students lagging, Ms Weingarten insists that “the union is the solution.” She has some convincing to do.
If any teachers’ union were to promote reform, it would be the AFT, America’s second-biggest. While the larger National Education Association has historically been less nimble, the AFT’s president from 1974 to 1997, Al Shanker, supported accountability and even some pay-for-performance schemes. (“I used to shy away from bribery,” he reportedly said, “but I’ve come to the conclusion that it has a place.”) Today the AFT supports such bonuses, if negotiated with a local union. It also represents teachers in more than 70 charter (publicly funded but self-governing) schools, in ten states.