California Dems censure school reformers

Delegates at the California Democratic Party convention overwhelmingly passed a resolution blasting Democrats who support school reform as fronts for Republicans and corporate interests, reports the Los Angeles Times.

“People can call themselves Democrats for Education Reform — it’s a free country — but if your agenda is to shut teachers and school employees out of the political process and not lift a finger to prevent cuts in education, in my book you’re not a reformer, you’re not helping education, and you’re sure not much of a Democrat,” said state Supt. of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, a registered Democrat whose office is nonpartisan.

California Teachers Association President Dean Vogel said reformers are working to eliminate workers’ rights and “hellbent on turning students into test-taking machines.”

“I’ll tell you right now, they want to do that, they have to come through us,” Vogel said.

“Let’s be perfectly clear,” he added. “These organizations are backed by moneyed interests, Republican operatives and out-of-state Wall Street billionaires dedicated to school privatization and trampling on teacher and worker rights.”

Gloria Romero, a former Democratic majority leader in the state Senate who leads the California chapter of Democrats for Education Reform, called the Sunday resolution “stupid.”

“They drank some Kool-Aid that has been fresh squeezed for them by the most powerful political interest in California, the California Teachers Assn.,” she said, adding that improving schools for minorities and the poor should be a priority for the party.

“They beat their chest,” she continued, “they get some money into their campaign coffers, but they walk away having abandoned the call for quality education for children of color.”

Reformers have the momentum, argues Walter Russell Mead. “The Democratic politicians and donors pushing for such reforms seem to have weighed the costs to unionized teachers and decided that they are worth the benefits to students.”

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa fielded a reform slate in the recent school board elections with mixed results.

Are teachers conservative by nature?

If Republicans showed respect for teachers, they’d discover people with “conservative values” who might enter the “big tent” writes Colleen Hyland, a New York teacher, in The Weekly Standard.  by nature.

Conservative values go hand in hand with teaching. Teachers see the evidence every day that stable families produce well-adjusted kids who succeed in the classroom. Many teachers are people of faith. Most of us are proud Americans who say the pledge every day with our students and mean it. We teach kids how to show respect and use proper manners by modeling them ourselves. We stress personal accountability.

Teachers are receptive to the idea of limited government and local control, Hyland writes. “Layer upon layer of government bureaucracy” forces teachers to  “spend too much of their day with redundant paperwork, wrestling with standards that are overly complex and often contradictory.”

Get the Department of Education off our backs. . . . Speak about deregulating our classrooms and we are all ears.

Of course Republicans would have to “talk about teachers as if you actually like them,” Hyland writes. Treat them with respect.

Whether it’s coming from administrators or politicians, teachers resent -top-down demands that belittle their expertise and ignore their experience. Give teachers credit for what we do as professionals. We are facing a collapsing American culture that is at odds with education in general. It is that same collapsing culture that unites conservatives in support of traditional -values. Despite voting consistently for liberal candidates who actively court their votes, most teachers I know lead fairly traditional lives that respect faith, family, country, and community.

While some teachers are “entrenched liberals,” others feel “the only respect they receive comes from the Democratic party,” Hyland writes. “They would welcome an invitation into the big tent of the GOP.”

Does she have a point?

 

Dems, Republicans have switched on vouchers

“The Republicans’ talk about giving parents the right to choose is a politically expedient strategy,” writes Jack Jennings, founder of the Center on Education Policy,  in the Huffington Post. “Just beneath the surface of the education rhetoric are political motivations to thwart integration, weaken the Democratic coalition, and cripple the teachers’ unions.”

Know your history, responds Doug Tuthill on redefinED. Both Democrats and Republicans have switched on private school choice over the years.

Democrats George McGovern and Hubert Humphrey both ran for president on platforms supporting tuition tax credits for private schools, and Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, D-N.Y., was the U.S. Senate’s leading advocate for giving parents public funding to attend private schools. The Democratic Party reversed its support of public funding for private school choice in the late 1970s – as a political payback to the National Education Association for giving Jimmy Carter its first ever presidential endorsement.

Via Greg Forster.

This is’t a right-left issue: Black Democrats in big cities often support vouchers, while suburban Republicans do not.

Democrats split on trigger, teachers

Who speaks for Democrats on education? asks Gadfly. Won’t Back Down, Hollywood’s positive take on the parent trigger movement, was shown at a theater near the convention site with the blessing of the White House, despite opposition by teachers’ union leaders.

DNC delegates who attended passed parents and teachers who picketed outside on their way to listening to uber-reformer Michelle Rhee discuss the movie inside.

. . . As Rhee pointed out, “There is no longer sort of this assumed alliance between the Democratic Party and the teachers unions.”

Democratic Mayor Rahm Emanuel, President Obama’s former chief-of-staff, faces a Chicago Teachers Union strike next week.

The alliance between the teachers’ unions and the Democratic Party is “fraying,” opines the LA Times.

Let the infighting begin

Democrats don’t agree on school reform, writes RiShawn Biddle in his analysis of the mid-term elections. Republican infighting has just begun.

The fact that so many Democrats lost despite the $24 million spent by both unions on their behalf in the last week (and $40 million by the NEA alone this year) is one more sign that the NEA and AFT are no longer useful to the party. That President Obama’s school reform agenda remains the only popular aspect of an overall agenda that has been largely rejected by voters this year — along with the fact that reform-oriented candidates such as Joe Manchin and Chris Coons have won their respective races — also means that the two unions will have fewer supporters inside the party ranks.

Centrist and progressive Democrat school reformers see education as a civil rights issue, which makes improving teacher quality a civil rights issue. “But the NEA and the AFT are the biggest obstacles to the much-needed overhauls in teacher recruitment, training and compensation that are critical to the school reform agenda,” Biddle writes.

Republicans are split too. Rep. John Kline, the likely chair of the House Education and Labor Committee, opposes No Child Left Behind’s accountability provisions. In a statement, he called for local control.

Expect a clash within the congressional Republican camp as reform-minded conservatives of the standards-and-accountability bent (including soon-to-be speaker John Boehner, who helped usher in No Child when he was education committee chairman) battle over policy with the Kline camp (who represent suburban districts that have long-opposed reform efforts) and movement conservatives with small government leanings and a desire to dial back federal policy in all areas.

Boehner is a politically savvy education reformer, writes Andrew Rotherham in Time. But he won’t rule by fiat.

. . . many of Tuesday’s winners are coming to Washington set on cutting federal spending, which means that unlike in the past, big infusions of cash will not be available to help grease the wheels for political deals around education reform.

Don’t expect any big education bills, Rotherham writes. The Education Department doesn’t know how to work with Congress and the two parties are divided internally on education policy.

Guest-blogging on Rick Hess Straight Up, Andrew Kelly, an American Enterprise Institute research fellow, analyzes the state results. Ohio and Florida, recent Race to the Top winners, elected governors who could revamp state education policies and end union “buy-in,” Kelly writes.

In Oklahoma, 81 percent of voters rejected a proposition that would have required the state to maintain per-pupil funding levels comparable to the five neighboring states. Republican Janet Barresi, founder of two successful charter schools, was elected state superintendent. She promises to expand parental choice, including homeschooling.


What now for education?

Obama’s education plans fit the new Congress, which will take a more humble approach to federal policy, predicts Chad Aldeman on The Quick and the Ed.

Obama’s Blueprint for ESEA Reauthorization admits the federal government can’t make states fix all the schools — one in three — that haven’t made  Adequate Yearly Progress under No Child Left Behind, Aldeman writes.

Instead, the Obama Blueprint asks states to really focus on repairing a smaller, more manageable number of persistently low-performing schools identified by the states themselves.

The Obama Blueprint asks for greater transparency around teacher and principal effectiveness, requires states to measure the effectiveness of teacher preparation programs, and would compel states to publicly report data on college enrollment and remediation rates by high school. None of these new data elements are paired with any stronger accountability than a “plan” to address any inequities that are revealed.

States can join the Common Core Standards Initiative or “upgrade their existing standards, working with their 4-year public university system to certify that mastery of the standards ensures that a student will not need to take remedial coursework upon admission to a postsecondary institution in the system.”

. . . the anti-testing crowd won’t like that none of the testing requirements would be repealed, civil rights groups may not like a lesser focus on important sub-groups of students in schools deemed OK overall, and the teachers unions may not like the new teacher effectiveness or public transparency elements – but all in all it holds up remarkably well for the changing political landscape.

If the Republicans were telling the truth with that Pledge to America, there will be less discretionary spending and therefore less money to buy reforms.

The National Education Association, which put $40 million into the elections, saw some allies defeated, notes Politics K-12.

. . . the NEA and other education groups, including the American Association of School Administrators and the National School Boards Association, are hoping the Department of Education provides regulatory relief from what they see as the most onerous parts of the NCLB law, possibly including the “all-or-nothing consequences” of not meeting achievement targets, which don’t differentiate between whether a school misses the mark for one subgroup of students (such as English-language learners) or all its students.

The red tide carried many GOP governors and state superintendents into office, State EdWatch reports. But not in California — now a national refuge for Democrats — where the union-backed candidate, Tom Torlakson, beat Larry Aceves, a retired superintendent.

For more on education and the elections, see National Journal.

Education reform after the election

If Republicans gain control of the House and/or the Senate, what will it mean for education policy? Support for education reform doesn’t break on party lines, argue several education experts on National Journal. Obama might do better with Republicans than with Democrats — on this issue.

Democrats vs. Obama's ed plan

The House vote to cut funding for Race to the Top, the Teacher Incentive Fund and charter schools  is a direct attack on President Obama’s education reform agenda, which he considers one of his “proudest achievements,” writes Jonathan Alter in Newsweek.  The headline: How Congress Keeps Screwing Up Education.

Rep. David Obey, D-Wisconsin, is carrying water for the teachers’ union, which has rejected the reforms, Alter writes.

Last year, Congress funded $95 billion to prevent layoffs and only $5 billion for reforms. Now House Democrats want to take money already allocated to reform and transfer it to another effort to protect the status quo. In a Wednesday phone interview with Alter, Obey called Race to the Top a “slush fund,” the union’s phrase.

Obey said his edujobs amendment has little chance to pass in the Senate because it will get no Republican support. Edujobs would have a chance if the money for teachers was tied to reform of the seniority system, Alter writes. But Obama isn’t willing to make that fight.

Rigid “last hired, first fired” rules are a disaster for schoolchildren. They mean that across the country, teachers of the year will be pink-slipped simply because they are young. Yep—some of our very best teachers will be driven out of the profession. Meanwhile, older, incompetent teachers will be kept on. That’s unconscionable. We now know that having a bad teacher two or three years in a row in the early grades all but dooms disadvantaged children.

With a little imagination, there’s a grand compromise available: money to prevent layoffs in exchange for a requirement that seniority no longer be the only factor in determining layoffs (it could continue to be one of four or five factors).

. . . The stranglehold of the teachers’ unions on the Democratic Party, loosened a bit with Race to the Top, is back in place, asphyxiating the careers of the terrific young teachers who the country needs most.

Obey’s mini-coup shows why reform is so hard, writes Eric Hanushek on Ed Next.

In the provinces, seniority layoffs are under attack and some Democrats are leading the charge.

In California, a bill that modifies seniority layoffs passed an education committee on a 6-2 vote, despite strong opposition from the California Teachers Association.

“It’s about civil rights,” Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, a Sacramento Democrat,  said. Under the bill, lay-offs at low-performing schools couldn’t exceed the district average for layoffs. It’s a response to a civil-rights lawsuit charging that laying off less-experienced teachers disrupts low-performing, high-poverty and high-minority schools, which tend to have young teaching staffs.

Chicago has decided to lay off the lowest-performing teachers, regardless of seniority.

Dems divide on education windfall

The $100 billion windfall for education in the stimulus bill may divide Democrats, writes Richard Lee Colvin in Education Next.

One side (of the party) backs strong accountability through reforms such as performance pay for teachers and more support for model charter schools that practice longer school days and longer school years. The other side looks to augment the current system with more support programs such pre-kindergarten, afterschool and summer programs.

Obama thinks there’s enough money to “do it all,” as he promised in a September speech. But there’s enough money.