Special Interest? Teachers Unions and American Education
About This Event
Online registration for this event is closed. Walk-in registrations will be accepted.

If you cannot attend, we welcome you to watch the event live on this page.

In recent years, teachers unions have been at the center of debates about school reform. Critics regard the unions' concerns about evaluation, tenure, and pay reform as huge roadblocks to school improvement. Supporters argue that unions provide classroom professionals with an essential voice. Into this debate wades Stanford University professor Terry Moe with his new treatise, Special Interest: Teachers Unions and America's Public Schools, in which he marshals evidence on elections, campaign contributions, and education governance to argue that unions have an exaggerated and detrimental impact on American schooling. Responding to Moe will be Deborah Meier, a champion of teachers unions and the founder of New York City's Central Park East schools, and Heather Harding, vice president of research and public policy at Teach for America. Please join us for a hard-hitting discussion of this controversial issue.
3:15 PM

3:30 PM
TERRY MOE, Stanford University
DEBORAH MEIER, Coalition of Essential Schools and Forum for Education and Democracy
HEATHER HARDING, Teach for America


5:00 PM
Adjournment and Wine and Cheese Reception
Event Summary

WASHINGTON, JUNE 8, 2011--National education experts sparred in a fiery exchange over the contentious issue of teachers unions Wednesday at AEI. Stanford political science professor and renowned researcher Terry Moe presented major findings from his new book, Special Interest: Teachers Unions and America's Public Schools, a comprehensive history and analysis of teachers unions in the United States. Moe argued that unions have wielded their political might to put teachers' interests first, resulting in a system filled with "good people who often do things that aren't good for students and schools." Two esteemed respondents--Deborah Meier of the Coalition of Essential Schools and Heather Harding of Teach for America--drew from their personal experience in education to respond to Moe's case. Meier, a longtime advocate for teachers unions and founder of several high-performing schools across the Northeast, raised serious objection to Moe's characterization of unions, arguing that management, not teachers, has long been the obstacle to boosting school performance. Meier also rejected the position held by many reformers that standardized testing should be the basis of teacher evaluation, asserting that "things have gotten worse by making tests the center of education." Harding found a middle ground, noting that while all can agree that collective bargaining contracts must be more nimble and more transparent, ways must be found to meet teacher demand for more professionalism in the field. As Harding argued, collaboration between all school stakeholders should aim to "amplify teachers' professional voice without losing the gains of the labor movement."


View event details

View complete summary.
Speaker Biographies

Terry M. Moe is the William Bennett Munro Professor of Political Science at Stanford University, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, and a member of the Koret Task Force on K-12 education. His book Politics, Markets, and America's Schools (Brookings Institution, 1990, with John E. Chubb) is a landmark in the study of public education. In the years since, he has written extensively on the politics and reform of American education--including Liberating Learning: Technology, Politics, and the Future of American Education (Jossey-Bass, 2009, with Mr. Chubb) and Schools, Vouchers, and the American Public (Brookings Institution, 2001). Mr. Moe's newest book, Special Interest: Teachers Unions and America's Public Schools (Brookings Institution, 2011), is the culmination of many years of research. In it, he provides the first comprehensive study of America's teachers unions, exploring their historical rise to prominence, their exercise of power in collective bargaining and politics, and the vast consequences of that power for schools, for reform, and for American children. As a political scientist, Mr. Moe has research interests well beyond public education. He has published influential work on public bureaucracy, the presidency, and the theory of political institutions more generally, and his contributions have helped shape the development of these academic fields.

Deborah W. Meier is a senior scholar at New York University's Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development; board member and director of new ventures at Mission Hill School in Boston; director and adviser to the Forum for Democracy and Education; and board member of the Coalition of Essential Schools (CES). Ms. Meier has spent more than four decades working in public education as a teacher, writer, and public advocate. She began her teaching career as a kindergarten and headstart teacher in Chicago, Philadelphia, and New York City schools. In 1974, she launched the first of many small elementary schools in East Harlem, and in 1985 she founded Central Park East Secondary School, a New York City public high school where more than 90 percent of entering students went on to college. During this period, she founded a local CES center, which networked approximately fifty small CES-style K-12 schools in the city. From 1992 to 1996, Ms. Meier also served as codirector of the Coalition Campus Project, which successfully redesigned two large failing city high schools, and created a dozen new small CES schools. She was an adviser to New York City's Annenberg Challenge and senior fellow at the Annenberg Institute at Brown University from 1995 to 1997. Ms. Meier has written many books on the work she and her colleagues have done in East Harlem, New York, and Roxbury, Boston. She was the recipient of a MacArthur award for her work in public education. 

Heather A. Harding is vice president of research and public policy at Teach For America. Her professional career has spanned classroom teaching, professional development, and empirical research throughout her career. Her areas of expertise include culturally relevant pedagogy, urban school reform, qualitative research, and teacher education. Since she began her career as a Teach For America corps member in rural North Carolina, she has served in numerous roles in education organizations, including the Boston Plan for Excellence, Citizen Schools, the Annenberg Institute for School Reform, and the Knowledge Is Power Program. Ms. Harding's current role at Teach For America represents her second stint on staff; in the mid-1990s, she was executive director in eastern North Carolina.

Frederick M. Hess is a resident scholar and director of education policy studies at AEI. In addition to his Education Week blog Rick Hess Straight Up, he is the author of influential books on education including The Same Thing Over and Over (Harvard University Press, November 2010), Education Unbound (ASCD, 2010), Common Sense School Reform (Palgrave Macmillan, 2004), Revolution at the Margins (Brookings Institution Press, 2002), and Spinning Wheels (Brookings Institution Press, 1998), as well as the coeditor of the new volumes Stretching the School Dollar (Harvard Education Press, 2010) and Customized Schooling (Harvard Education Press, 2011). His work has appeared in scholarly and popular outlets such as Teachers College Record, Harvard Education Review, Social Science Quarterly, Urban Affairs Review, American Politics Quarterly, the Chronicle of Higher Education, Phi Delta Kappan, Educational Leadership, US News & World Report, the Washington Post, and National Review. He serves as executive editor of Education Next, as lead faculty member for the Rice Education Entrepreneurship Program, on the review board for the Broad Prize in Urban Education, and on the boards of directors of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers and the American Board for the Certification of Teaching Excellence. A former high school social studies teacher, he has taught at the University of Virginia, the University of Pennsylvania, Georgetown University, Rice University, and Harvard University.

View Event Details

Also Visit
AEIdeas Blog The American Magazine

What's new on AEI

AEI Election Watch 2014: What will happen and why it matters
image A nation divided by marriage
image Teaching reform
image Socialist party pushing $20 minimum wage defends $13-an-hour job listing
AEI Participants


Frederick M.
AEI on Facebook