Still, the attacks have put teachers unions overall in a defensive position, and soul-searching has ensued as they consider how to best shape their vision and priorities going forward. Increasingly, unions are breaking with tradition and endorsing new laws and policies that they would have considered anathema a decade ago.
"The unions are suddenly finding themselves scrambling to establish their position," says Eric Hanushek, a frequent union critic and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University in California. "Their traditional role as strong labor union is running into the opinions of parents and policymakers about the need to fix our schools."
The anti-union story line, among other things, says that unions refuse to allow student test scores to be a factor in major teacher evaluations. It also says that unions make the process of firing so onerous – even for the worst teachers – that few districts see it through.
In fact, however, unions don't always have control over all the pieces for which they're attacked.
"I get angry when criticisms are targeted at unions that should be placed on poor administration," says Susan Moore Johnson, a professor at Harvard's Graduate School of Education in Cambridge, Mass. Districts, for instance, would have a far easier time firing incompetent teachers if they did the thorough evaluations they are supposed to do, she notes. "Unions get blamed because it's too hard to understand," she says.