Media can help reframe views on teachers unions. Wish Ohioans would pay attention.

An opinion piece in yesterday's Wall Street Journal is encouragement to anyone who bemoans the tendency of teachers unions to thwart reform efforts.?? "How Teachers Unions Lost the Media" points out that teachers unions increasingly have been scrutinized by the press, even targeted by "liberal" papers like the New York Times. The evidence of this media shift lies not just in the name-calling ("indefensible," "barriers" etc.) of certain union practices??but in the fact that many outlets have stood up for controversial figures like Michelle Rhee and have profiled the successes our nation's most impressive charter school networks.

All of this is fantastic news for national reform efforts ??- ??not necessarily that teachers unions are portrayed as slow-moving, stale and/or self-interested - but that entrepreneurial leaders, charter groups, etc. are getting some spotlight and praise.

However, it's hard to stay elated here in Ohio. Not only are there relatively few such leaders and groups to spotlight, but most of our media (and the general public) are not so forward-thinking?? as to paint them in a positive light. Teachers unions in the Buckeye State are robust, and nestled comfortably in the pockets of most Democratic leaders (including the governor). We are the state whose attorney general sued to shut down charter schools ??and whose governor tried to kill off the charter sector in his first biennial budget, then attempted to cripple it in the next.

Achieving a real policy shift in the education reform debate - and specifically in the way Ohioans perceive teachers unions, charter schools, or entrepreneurial groups like KIPP or TFA - is a daunting task. The criticisms wielded against teachers unions by the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, or other national outlets play an important role in breaking down the current status quo and exposing the (often) perverse incentives for teachers unions to protect their own. ??Still, it's hard not to wonder if Ohioans are paying attention to such press, and wonder when (if at all) politicians and the public will be willing to enter the fray.

Jamie Davies O'Leary
Jamie Davies O'Leary is a Senior Ohio Policy Analyst at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. She works with a coalition of high-performing Ohio charter school networks, facilitating their advocacy efforts and providing research and technical assistance.