According to Michelle Rhee, teachers unions aren't the biggest problems in public education. They just can't be a part of the reform solution because their members—also known as teachers—don't put students first. Unions are merely a special interest group that's too busy thinking about increasing their paychecks and benefits to care about closing the achievement gap.
Rhee shared her views on the MSNBC political talk-fest Hardball with Chris Matthews on Wednesday night. Matthews asked the former D.C. public schools chancellor if the unions are, "for education or for the teachers?"
Well, look, you know people want to give teacher's unions a hard time right now and then people are saying, "Well why aren't the unions coming along? Why don't, why don't we get them to change? Why can't they embrace for reform?" But the bottom line is the purpose of the teachers union is to protect their members. It's to maximize the pay and the privileges of the teachers. So the teachers unions aren't really the problem. They're just doing their job and they're doing an excellent job of that...
If teachers who happen to be union members aren't putting kids first, well, who is? Michelle Rhee and her new organization, Students First, of course. Rhee goes on to tell Matthews,
...when all you have as a special interest group is the teachers union and you don't have an organized interest group that's advocating on behalf of children, then you create an imbalance where the policies and laws that are put in place are put in place, you know, for adults instead of for children. And that's the purpose of my new organization, Students First, is we're gonna advocate and put pressure on decision makers and politicians to put kids first."
It seems like Students First would go further faster if, instead of dismissing the teachers unions, Rhee could actually figure out a way to work with them. After all, teachers are the ones doing the hard work in the classroom. Union membership doesn't automatically mean a teacher's not putting kids first.
You can watch the entire interview, including her take on what schools need to do to improve and her pledge to Matthews to not get involved with any right wingers or ideological fools here: