Technological change is destined to be resisted by the teachers unions

Terry Moe and John Chubb say…

The fact that [technology] offers enormous benefits is not enough to guarantee that it will be embraced by the public schools and its potential fully realized. Technological change will run into the same political roadblocks that all major reforms have run into, and for exactly the same reasons. Powerful groups will try to block it. (pp. 29–30)

It is a fact that the teachers unions have vested interests in preserving the existing educational system, regardless of how poorly it performs. It is a fact that they are more powerful – by far – than any other groups involved in the politics of education. And it is a fact that in a government of checks and balances they can use their power to block or weaken most reforms they do not like. To recognize as much is not to launch ideological attacks against the unions. It is simply to recognize the political world as it is. (p. 54)

If anything is stone-cold certain about the current structure of power, it is that technological change is destined to be resisted by the teachers unions and their allies. This is “their” system, and they are compelled by their own interests to preserve and protect it. They will go to the ramparts to see that technology does not have real transformative effects. (p. 55)

[Liberating Learning: Technology, Politics, and the Future of American Education]

Previous posts in this series

  1. Education’s resistance to technology will be overcome

  2. It would be impossible for the information revolution to unfold and NOT have transformative implications for how children can be educated

  3. Technology will free learning from the dead hand of the past

10 Responses to “Technological change is destined to be resisted by the teachers unions”

  1. I don’t think it will be the just the unions dragging their feet. Put school boards on that list as well.

    We just wrapped up negotiations here. One of the discussion points going in was what the role of online teaching would be.

    The teachers here are in favor teaching online. It would increase our enrollment and make it possible for some of our students to continue with this district, even though it student circumstances won’t allow them to physically be here.

    There are some interesting questions that need to be answered. Can a teacher work for more than one district at a time? What is a reasonable student-teacher ratio? How do online students fit into that count?

    The board’s basic response to this was no response. Not up for discussion.

    Yes, teachers do what they do best and that is organize. Does that automatically get results? I’m not so sure. I think we are on the side of using more technology in our practice. At least the teachers I know are.

    School boards, administrators, students and parents all have some say in the future of technology in education. All of the stake holders need to take a look forward to the future and make some changes in expectations.

    I think there is some fear in the management here are that it might cost some money and they don’t want to bother tax payers.

    I’m ok with my role changing. I’m ok with new tools (make sure I get training.) I know my local is too (they know about my training needs.) I’m not so sure I am on the defensive and protecting anything except my students. I want my students to learn. I think I am a typical union member.

    It seems to me that this is something that a whole school system (board, administration, parents, students and yes the union) could work together on. If the board, teachers, administration and parents did a better job of selling the idea of technology in education, we might see some results.

  2. I suspect that teacher unions – and teachers in general – fear of technology is rooted in a general sense of loosing their job (or at least face a reduction in salary) to the new technological inventions.

    And, I believe, it’s a valid concern (see NPR’s “getting an education online” @ and “Welcome to Yahoo U” @

    Teachers are sensing vast changes coming. It’s human nature to become insular and protect your own.

  3. I agree with the statement about resistance to change, but I think Zach is right on. Insularity is a function of any organized group, not just teacher’s unions.

    Some of us just are trailblazers in the change process, who will buck that resistance on a regular basis, but, we do have legal limbo on a lot of these issues–where does a teacher’s personal life end and his/her professional life begin, for example, on a social media site?

    What type of qualifications do you need to teach online?

    What other questions need to be addressed?

  4. After reading Disrupting Class by Christensen, Horn and Johnson I’m rethinking the type of leadership that is needed for this transformation to happen. They state that educational leaders must be more forceful in making this change happen. Certainly difficult for those of us who believe in collaborative change. Of course the trick is maneuvering through the politics of your situation. Dictating the direction while still keeping your job. Certainly tough when you have so many constituents.

    I do agree that we all want the best for our students. Just not sure that everyone can agree on what the best is.

  5. I would argue that the unions are only able to maintain status quo in the classroom because other important stakeholders also support the same position.

    Look at the “reform” proposals from state and national politicians, going all the way to the top. Along with many parents, business leaders, and, yes Roger, school boards they all want to see classrooms that look like the ones they sat in for 13 years. Just get those headline-grabbing test numbers higher.

    The Industrial Revolution forced a whole new educational structure on American society (from individual and small group learning for the rich to assembly line schools for all). I wonder how long it will take for the current information/network upheaval to force the next major change. I’m not sure the disruptions described by Christensen, et al will be enough.

  6. Chubb/Moe may have a point, but I don’t think the teacher unions will be the biggest problem. It’s unfortunately true that the unions mirror the same hierarchical paper passing culture that is strangling public education, but the bureaucracy of the unions has significantly greater potential to awaken to the tools of our time than do most district administrations, if only because they’re so much smaller and less well funded.

    I don’t think the issue is one of online vs bricks and mortar, either. Blended classrooms, classrooms that fully utilize today’s tools, may be what actually save our traditional districts. We need the social and extracurricular structure to support the new blended classes that are becoming increasingly more common.

    Football coaches are beginning to see how Moodle can be an asset to their team building efforts; a student will be able to participate in school A for sports and school B for football. It’s going to drive state athletic associations nuts, but it’s on the way.

  7. Whoops ! I meant to say school A for academics and school B for football.

  8. Blended classrooms, classrooms that fully utilize today’s tools, may be what actually save our traditional districts.


    We are going to need some very good reasons for physically going to school for the blended part to take place, however. Programs that can only take place in person. I think they exist: Team sports, Drama, Music, quickly come to mind.

  9. Jacqueline Gilfillian Reply October 6, 2009 at 10:42 pm

    Technology is here. If teachers don’t keep up
    with technology they will be left behind. Children today breath, eat and sleep technology,it is their driving force. And politicians need to find the money to pay for it. This will also be a challenge, just like health care. Maybe the President can give tax breakes for health care if a business donate.
    Breaks for other wealthy individuals,who help bring technology to all schools.

    By the way,I am a Chicago Public School teacher,23 years. My technology skills need help,and I am fighting this challenge. I am completing a master’s degree,plus taking extra courses intergrating technology into the classroom all online. It is truely a challenge for me,but I am enchancing my skills
    daily,so are other teachers. If we are going to help every child me must embrace technology.

  10. Having been a teacher, an instructional technology consultant and now an employee of the “teacher’s union” I’ve read the comments above with great interest. I spend a great deal of time in school buildings and always check to see what new technology is being used. I’ve often been surprised to see that little innovation has taken place in the last few years. However, I know this is not the result of any organized resistance from the union, but is instead largely a product of time. In a world of NCLB teachers simply do not have the time to innovate and take risks that they did when I taught. Instead teachers spend more time prepping for tests when they could, instead, be pushing the technology envelope.
    We also have to realize that our school calendar is based upon an antiquated idea. We do need change which could include additional days for professional development. This will take additional funding and in a day when any tax increase is a bad idea, it’s unlikely to happen. Yes, teachers are often resistant to change, but isn’t everyone. If we truly want change we need to find a way to provide people with the training and time to implement the changes.

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