Knapp charts era of collaboration for Seattle teachers union
Statewide opinion on public education can rise and fall over what happens in the Seattle Public Schools. All the more reason to cheer the Seattle teachers union's new conciliatory tone.
Seattle Times Editorial
JONATHAN Knapp, the new head of the Seattle teachers union, is saying the right things.
In an interview with Times reporter Brian M. Rosenthal, Knapp said teachers in the state's largest district want to work on education initiatives they had previously rejected.
"Simply saying 'no' is no longer an option," Knapp told Rosenthal. "The climate has changed, and we have to be advocates for public education in a way that 20 years ago we didn't. And the way that we do that is building relationships, not by confronting people and saying it's our way or the highway."
Now that's a mission statement.
Teachers unions have squandered a lot of bargaining power and public goodwill over the years with reflexive opposition to change. Not all reform ideas are good, but unions ought to trade defensive posturing for greater collaboration.
Knapp is leading Seattle where many teachers unions across the country are headed. Even the two big national organizations, the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association, have begun working with states and the Obama administration on key changes to public schools.
Knapp's attitude and leadership ought to spur action on several fronts.
The first is bringing the Seattle Public Schools' stricter teacher-evaluation system in line with one recently passed by the state Legislature. Seattle's plan is called an innovative union-district compromise but it must still follow the law.
Preparing teachers for new reading, writing and science assessments and the new standards for curriculum are things Knapp and district leaders will negotiate.
To his credit, Knapp is building a relationship with Teachers United, the progressive group of teachers who've taken on the union's reflexive opposition to education reform, including charters. The union is also facing pushback over its support of innovative schools intended to be an alternative to charters.
A minority of rank-and-file teachers will never embrace reforms. Paranoid suspicions of union-busting or privatizing public education ought to be ignored. There is real work to be done.
Knapp joins new Superintendent José Banda — another leader known for teamwork — in charting a new era for Seattle schools.