I found Stephen Sawchuk’s Education Week article “New Groups Giving Teachers Alternative Voice” a well-needed introduction to some of the other groups in the country working to include teachers in policy decisions.
One of the issues facing these groups, the Washington New Millennium Initiative included, is establishing a relationship vis a vis the unions. Some, such as Educators 4 Excellence, are very clear in setting themselves up as an alternative to the union. NMI’s position is more complex. I believe it is possible for my work in NMI to support and improve my involvement in the union. Indeed, some of my fellow Washington NMI leaders are deeply involved in working with the Washington Education Association.
But Washington NMI is not a front for WEA, nor are the other NMI groups arms of their own locals. And Washington NMI appeals to teachers that believe that teacher voice should drive education policy decision but who have not found it in their interest to get involved in union work. It may be that they feel that their views are not reflected by the union. But I think the bigger draw has to do with approach: Whereas WEA is a large, politically-oriented organization that changes direction slowly, NMI is a small, research-oriented organization that can change on a month-by-month basis based on the teachers involved.
That said, I am always aware that we are walking a fine line. On the one hand, we don’t want to take away resources that could be effectively used by the union. On the other, we don’t want to be the union’s research-arm. Similarly, we want to be able to engage many of the foundations and organizations often perceived as enemies of the union while at the same time not kowtowing to their agendas.
I would like to see Sawchuk’s article spawn more conversation about how teachers’ voices should influence policy and how those individual voices both make up and are separate from the platforms of the unions, foundations, and other organizations. It is easy to cast NEA on one side of a battle by declaring that it believes X and the Gates Foundation on the other by stating that it believes Y. But there are plenty of teachers within the union that I respectfully disagree with just as there are excellent teachers that I know that now work for the Gates Foundation.
In short, I believe the key is to encourage teacher voice regardless of the route it takes to get heard. How do we make this happen and continue to walk the fine line?