George Will is confused about who is right and who is wrong in the battle between Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the Chicago Teachers Union.

And that’s a good thing, because one would expect this doughty conservative to stand firmly, loudly, and uncompromisingly in opposition to the union.

But he didn’t.

Granted, he doesn’t know that CTU is part of the American Federation of Teachers, not the National Education Association. And he doesn’t know that the name of the NEA was settled in 1857, not just recently to deceive people and “blur the fact that it is a teachers’ union.”

Granted, he thinks the auto industry was fatally wounded by its unions, not by its shortsighted managers, who never figured out that American consumers wanted fuel-efficient cars, not gas-guzzlers.

And then too, he makes the common error of claiming that spending on education in the nation is up while “educational attainments have fallen.” One of his researchers should have looked at the latest reports of the National Assessment of Educational Progress and told him that test scores are at their highest point for every group in history.

But he then does something startling. George Will rejects the central premise of the reformers’ argument. He abandons the “no excuses” philosophy of Michelle Rhee and Arne Duncan. He says that poverty and family collapse affect students’ ability to succeed in school. He says that social order in Chicago is in disarray, even though Arne Duncan and former Mayor Richard Daley proclaimed their plan to be “Renaissance 2010.” Reminder: 2010 is past and gone. There was no Renaissance. What remains of those “reforms”? Little progress, if any, and a legacy of crumbling families and weakened communities.

Says Will:

The city is experiencing an epidemic of youth violence — a 38 percent surge in the homicide rate, 53 people shot on a recent weekend, random attacks by roving youth mobs. Social regression, driven by family disintegration, means schools where teaching is necessarily subordinated to the arduous task of maintaining minimal order.

Emanuel got state law changed to require unions to get 75 percent of the entire membership rather than a simple majority to authorize a strike. Some people thought this would make strikes impossible. The CTU got 90 percent to authorize. Lewis’s members are annoyed, and are not all wrong.

If you count only those members who cast a vote, Karen Lewis won authorization to strike by 98 percent of the members.

George Will is right. Karen Lewis’s members are “not all wrong.”

Quite an admission from the nation’s most eminent conservative columnist.