It's getting down to the wire in Wisconsin. Teachers' contracts might not be renewed if Gov. Scott Walker has his way and enacts legislation stripping most public employees of collective-bargaining rights. As with many major political and policy fights these days, this one really isn't about education, but educators are involved in the dispute on a high level. The furor right now is mostly in Wisconsin, but the Indiana state legislature also is considering several collective bargaining measures that the Indiana State Teachers Association says is "an attack against public employees and public school teachers."
It's probably just a coincidence that these events are occurring within the same weeks of the first labor-management conference run by the Education Department to help teachers unions and superintendents get along. But the louder the shouting gets about union rights in Wisconsin and elsewhere, the harder it will be for school districts and their local teachers unions to hear one another at a reasonable decibel level.
What is at stake for labor-management collaboration? Advocates for some of the more controversial changes in education, like merit pay and earned teacher tenure, could argue that a wholesale dismantling of the unions is beneficial to their cause. Should they go that far? Is it possible for union reps to bargain with their school districts in good faith, and possibly make concessions, if the broader national dialogue pulls labor and management apart? Is there a way to salvage the progress that teachers unions and school districts appear to be making, at least in their willingness to talk, in the midst of this broader controversy?