Public unions

American teachers under attack

March 23, 2011: 11:01 AM ET

With state budgets buckling, American teachers are facing the erosion of tenure protection, employee benefits, and other job protections that they fought for and won years ago.

By Elizabeth G. Olson, contributor

FORTUNE -- Who can blame American teachers for feeling beleaguered as state after state strips away the job protections, especially tenure, that they have won in recent decades?

The status teachers enjoy in many other countries often eludes them in the U.S., with public sentiment bouncing from embracing them as heroic warriors on the front lines of any number of social "wars" -- whether the culprit of the day is drugs, gang violence, or poverty -- to dismissing them with the insulting old saw, "those who can't do, teach."

Only a few years ago, there was a clamor to train, treat and pay teachers better to encourage bright young people to choose teaching over more lucrative options like finance and law.

In his State of the Union address in January, President Obama extolled teachers, telling "every young person listening tonight who is contemplating their career choice: If you want to make a difference in the life of our nation, if you want to make a difference in the life of a child -- become a teacher. Your country needs you."

Such sentiments have quickly come full circle amid the riveting battle in Wisconsin, where teachers, along with other unionized workers -- except for firefighters and police -- have been at the center of Governor Scott Walker's push to end collective bargaining. His success, however temporary, has given a veneer of credibility to those who are pushing to sever the links between a teacher's experience on the job and their job security. More

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