The role of the teachers' union in the education reform debate from the perspective of the union membership

Joel S Adelberg, Fordham University


The quality of education in America's public schools consistently ranks among the top concerns of the American public, government officials, and policy makers. The role of the teaching profession in these policy discussions is the subject of many studies. The teachers' union, in representing the public voice of its membership, is at a crucial juncture in establishing its place at the policy table. This study was an attempt to determine whether teachers perceived a role for their union leadership in these discussions of education reform on their collective behalf. Through a qualitative research design, 25 high school teachers, representing 5 school districts in Westchester County, New York State, were interviewed regarding their views of their profession, education reform, union leadership, and the role of the union in representing teachers during discussions of educational policy. Teachers were able to articulate their views on issues of education reform, although they perceived their views to be contrary to those they believed held by many of their colleagues. Regarding the role of the union, it was established that teachers were much more knowledgeable regarding the functions of their local union leadership than they were of the teachers' union at the state and national levels. Teacher perceptions of the function of the union were that the union should serve in its historical and traditional roles of negotiating contracts and protecting conditions of the work place. Teachers expressed a general lack of familiarity of the positions held by their union on questions of education reform and they frequently did not see a role for the union in these discussions, despite the efforts of some state and national union leaders to establish such a role. Teachers viewed themselves as advocates for the best interests of their students. However, they did not see the union as sharing this role, believing such a role in conflict with the union's more traditional functions. The implication of this is the great challenge ahead for the union in convincing both its own membership and the public at large of its ability to assume a serious role at the public policy table.

Subject Area

School administration|Labor relations

Recommended Citation

Adelberg, Joel S, "The role of the teachers' union in the education reform debate from the perspective of the union membership" (2008). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3312051.