Dana Goldstein has been covering education for 13 years. At the beginning of her career, bashing teachers’ unions and praising charters was in. Now red-shirted teachers have canceled that narrative and reminded her (not me) that only 6% of the nation’s children are in charter schools. 

She doesn’t reflect on the damage that charters do to public schools by diverting resources from them and leaving them with fixed costs, larger classes, feeer teachers.

She writes:

I first met Alex Caputo-Pearl, the strike-leading president of the Los Angeles teachers’ union, in 2011, when I shadowed him for a day at Crenshaw High School.

I was working on a book about the history of public school teaching, and Mr. Caputo-Pearl, then a social studies teacher, had a fascinating personal story. He had served in the very first class of Teach for America recruits, in 1990, and was part of a small group of original T.F.A. members who were, 20 years later, still working in urban public school classrooms.

But Mr. Caputo-Pearl didn’t remain in the Teach for America fold. He became a union activist and a critic of T.F.A., charter schools and the entire landscape of test-driven accountability for children and educators. At Crenshaw High, he helped develop a social-justice curriculum in which students organized their learning around the question of how to improve conditions in their low-income South Los Angeles neighborhood. It was unapologetically activist — outside the mainstream of what education reform looked like at the time.

The school district later ended that program, and in 2014, Mr. Caputo-Pearl was elected president of the United Teachers Los Angeles, the local union. He represented a new, more militant generation of teachers’ union leaders. This month, he led 30,000 educators in a weeklong strike for higher pay and more classroom funding, and against the growth of the charter school sector. It’s a story I covered with Jennifer Medina, my fantastic National desk colleague in Los Angeles, and our editors Julie Bloom, Dave Kim and Marc Lacey.

I’ve been reporting on education for 13 years, but I am absolutely stunned by the extent to which teachers’ strikes and walkouts are now a day-to-day part of my job. The Los Angeles action was the eighth mass teacher protest I’ve reported on in just 11 months, shutting down schools for one million students across the country. The reappearance of Mr. Caputo-Pearl in my professional life was just one of several uncanny moments that have made me, at age 34, feel old in beat-reporter years. So much has changed in education, as the focus shifts from calling out and overhauling bad teachers and schools to listening more carefully to what educators say about their working conditions and how students are affected by them.

I was at the Democratic National Convention in 2008, when one of the hottest tickets was to a panel discussion in which rising stars in the party, including Cory Booker, then the mayor of Newark, spoke harshly of teachers’ unions and their opposition to charter schools, which are publicly funded, privately run and generally not unionized. Union leaders argue that charters draw public dollars and students away from traditional schools like Crenshaw High.

Back then, it was hip for young Democrats to be like Barack Obama, supportive of school choice and somewhat critical of teachers’ unions. But now, the winds have changed pretty drastically. The revival of democratic socialism within the party has left many elected officials — even Mr. Booker — much more hesitant, it seems, to critique organized labor. Across the country, red-clad teachers on strike, sometimes dancing and singing, have won the affection of grass-roots progressives over the past year, leading to a new political dynamic around education, just as the Democratic primary field for 2020 emerges. The emphasis now is on what education experts call “inputs” — classroom funding, teacher pay, and students’ access to social workers and guidance counselors — and less on “outputs,” like test scores or graduation rates.

The truth is, both inputs and outputs are important. In some ways, continuing to cover the war between union leaders and charter school supporters frustrates and exhausts me. Charter schools are a growing part of our educational landscape because parents are always looking for more good options when it comes to how and where to educate their children. On the other hand, while politicians and wealthy philanthropists have always given outsize attention to charters, they educate just about 6 percent of American public school children, some three million students. In many ways, the battle is ideological, over what role choice should play in our education system. Will public-sector competition between charters and traditional schools lead to improvement, or simply provoke a melee over scarce taxpayer dollars? So far, both outcomes, I’ve observed, are very real across the country.

A few months ago, I was doing research in The Times’s digital archives when I came across our 1995 obituary of Fred Hechinger, an eminent education reporter and columnist here. I printed it out and clipped a paragraph, which I keep at my desk for inspiration whenever my energy flags after more than a decade on this beat.

“I began to realize that a country’s approach to education in general, and especially to its children, could tell more about its social, political and economic background than a whole battery of interviews with politicians,” Mr. Hechinger once said.

He was right. So I continue on.