COULD THE TWO TEACHERS' UNIONS MERGE?

Yesterday, labor leaders from both the AFL-CIO and Change to Win coalitions met to discuss reunifying under one umbrella, reportedly encouraged to do so by the Obama team. For edu-wonks, this raises questions about whether the two major teachers' unions, the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, could possibly become one.

Historically, the NEA sought to keep its distance from the AFL-CIO, believing that teachers were better represented by a white collar "association" than by a "union" that included manual laborers. Over time, the NEA and AFT differed in attitude and on some matters of policy; the Al Shanker-led AFT was on board with President Reagan's alarmed response to the Nation at Risk report, while the NEA tended to more reflexively defend American schools from their critics.

Today, both organizations are critical of NLCB, but in different ways. The AFT represents teachers in some of the nation's highest profile poor, urban school districts, including New York City and Washington, D.C. Led by Randi Weingarten, the union has taken pains to embrace the mantle of education reform for poor children and the goal of closing the achievement gap. New York's AFT affiliate, the United Federation of Teachers, is even opening several unionized charter schools. And remember -- "charter" remains a dirty word to many public school teachers. The NEA, on the other hand, is associated more with suburban districts and the middle class parents who are upset over NCLB's focus on standardized testing.

So there are still some major barriers that make a merger between the NEA and the AFT quite unlikely. I'll be following these developments, so stay tuned.

--Dana Goldstein

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