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Drive for education reform has teachers unions on the defensive

Even supporters of teachers unions have been critical of them in recent months, forcing unions to collaborate with school districts on education reform as never before.

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Jeannie Turner (l.) and Patricia Armstrong took attendance before a Jan. 19 meeting of Boston Teachers Union Local 66, in Boston. The union represents more than 7,000 workers.

Ann Hermes/Staff

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Are teachers unions the reason America's schools are failing?

According to one increasingly popular narrative, they are. It's hard to think of a time in recent decades when teachers unions have been more under attack, not only from those on the right but also from many on the left, including President Obama and Arne Duncan, his Education secretary.

The recent documentary "Waiting for 'Superman,' " by liberal filmmaker Davis Guggenheim, cast unions as the "bad guys," fighting to help even incompetent teachers retain their jobs. Michelle Rhee, the former District of Columbia schools chancellor and frequent union foe, just launched Students First, an organization that directly opposes the positions of many teachers unions. In numerous cities and states, lawsuits and legislative battles are being fought over tenure, seniority, and teacher evaluations – with the union-backed position often losing.

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