Lesley Lavery

Jun 3, 2021

A Collective Pursuit

Teachers' Unions and Education Reform

Temple University Press 2020

A Collective Pursuit: Teachers' Unions and Education Reform (Temple UP, 2020) focuses on the idea that individuals, in this case, teachers, are multifaceted and multidimensional actors who pursue goals for a variety of reasons and those reasons are connected to their capacity to do their jobs, to the best of their abilities, as well as their interests as citizens and community members. According to Lesley Lavery’s research, the data indicate that teachers are the most important in-school predictors of student success. This suggests that in thinking about educational structure and reform, the focus should always include the individual teacher in a classroom and their capacity to do their job well. Thus, Lavery’s analysis in A Collective Pursuit is both to understand the capacity and role of the individual teacher in the classroom and in the American educational system, and to understand the role that organized labor has played in working on behalf of teachers but within a changing educational landscape. 

This landscape, in recent decades, has seen the advent and expansion of the charter school movement, and various teachers’ strikes in expected places (Chicago public schools) and in unexpected places (West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kentucky, and elsewhere). Lavery peels apart the various dimensions of these dynamics, examining the establishment of the two largest teachers’ unions in the United States (the AFT and the NEA) and how their origins impact both the way they approach their missions and how they work on behalf of educators. Into this dynamic, of public schools, teachers’ unions, state regulations of funding streams and the perpetual reform of education, we see the advent of charter schools, which are also public schools, but are allowed to operate a bit differently, in a number of states, from the traditional public-school model. Lavery’s analysis examines how charter schools have been integrated into the public-school arena, and now, how the teachers at some of these schools are moving towards unionization efforts and why they are inclined to do so. Lavery explores the important connection between organized labor, the individual teacher, and educational reform efforts. These connections are complex, but they are also at the heart of the American educational system and they need to be considered in context of reform, new approaches, and, as so many have experienced in the midst of the COVID pandemic, home schooling efforts and parent involvement in their children’s education.

Lilly J. Goren is professor of political science at Carroll University in Waukesha, WI. She is co-editor of the award winning book, Women and the White House: Gender, Popular Culture, and Presidential Politics (University Press of Kentucky, 2012), as well as co-editor of Mad Men and Politics: Nostalgia and the Remaking of Modern America (Bloomsbury Academic, 2015). Email her comments at lgoren@carrollu.edu or tweet to @gorenlj.

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Lilly J. Goren is professor of political science at Carroll University in Waukesha, WI.

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