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.

Education upstarts

“Education policy has long featured two players—the government and teachers unions,” writes Rachel Brown in The Atlantic.  Now Education Upstarts have “stepped up to lobby legislators and drive the conversation.” Among them: 

Graphics by Kiss Me I’m Polish

Stand for Children

Who: Co-founder and CEO Jonah Edelman is the son of the civil-rights leader Marian Wright Edelman.

What: The most grassroots of these groups. Leads efforts to lobby state governments for reforms such as value-added teacher evaluations and more-equitable school funding.

 

Democrats for Education Reform

Who: Bankers, CEOs, and other wealthy Democrats. Adviser Cory Booker lends liberal star power.

What: Offers political cover to Democratic politicians who alienate teachers unions by supporting education reforms such as mayoral control of schools and national curriculum standards. Has helped loosen the unions’ grip on the party.

Michelle Rhee’s Students First ”has yet to establish itself as a major player on the policy front,” despite Rhee’s high profile, writes Brown.b

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.

Romney to NAACP: I’ll champion ed reform

In his NAACP speech, Mitt Romney promised to “be a champion of real education reform” and a foe of special interests that try to “get in the way.”

When it comes to education reform, candidates cannot have it both ways – talking up education reform, while indulging the same groups that are blocking reform. You can be the voice of disadvantaged public-school students, or you can be the protector of special interests like the teachers unions, but you can’t be both.

. . . I will give the parents of every low-income and special needs student the chance to choose where their child goes to school. For the first time in history, federal education funds will be linked to a student, so that parents can send their child to any public or charter school, or to a private school, where permitted. And I will make that a true choice by ensuring there are good options available to all.

Black children are 17 percent of students nationwide, but 42 percent of students in the worst-performing schools, Romney said.

Our society sends them into mediocre schools and expects them to perform with excellence, and that is not fair. Frederick Douglass observed that, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”  Yet, instead of preparing these children for life, too many schools set them up for failure.  Everyone in this room knows that we owe them better than that.

Romney’s education proposals are here.

The NAACP should listen to Romney (and Obama) on school choice, writes RiShawn Biddle, a crusader against “zip-code education.”

Los Angeles shortens school year again

As Chicago lengthens the school day, Los Angeles keeps shortening the school year. A deal with the teachers union would cancel up to five instruction days in the coming school year and reduce teacher pay by 5 percent. “This would bring to 18 the number of school days cut over four years,” reports the Los Angeles Times.

There is, in fact, a strategic advantage for unions in taking furlough days and shortening the school year. The salary cuts that result are temporary; they expire after one year and must be renegotiated every year.

In the process, teachers avoid making permanent concessions on pension or health benefits. L.A. Unified employees still pay no monthly premiums for health insurance for themselves or family members. And teachers still receive raises based on experience or additional education.

Shortening the school year also “could generate the outrage needed to build public support for boosting state funding,” political analysts say.  ”You’re not going to mobilize nearly as many people by warning them about the need to renegotiate pension and health benefits,” said Dan Schnur, director of the Jesse Unruh Institute of Politics at USC.

“Democratic lawmakers in Sacramento recommended legislation this week that would allow districts to cut up to three weeks off the next two school years — on top of the five days already approved, if voters fail to approve a tax initiative on the November ballot,” reports the Times. They’re going to kill puppies and kittens too.

For reform — and for teachers

Education reformers need to reach out to teachers, writes Fordham’s Mike Petrilli.

How can we continue to make the case for reform without alienating teachers, without turning them into the enemy, the problem, the object of our disdain?

“One way is to put teachers in charge of their own schools,” he writes. Let teachers become school leaders.

I don’t think this will appeal to many teachers. They want to teach, not deal with management hassles.

When Petrilli asked for input, I suggested that teachers need to know that reformers understand the challenges they face in the classroom and are proposing ways to help them do their jobs well. He writes:

Another way is to champion reforms that teachers do support. For instance, make it easier for educators to discipline unruly students, or to use “ability grouping” in their classrooms instead of mandating the nearly-impossible strategy of “differentiating instruction.”  In other words, remove the obstacles (often ideological in nature) that are getting in the way of teachers achieving success in their classrooms. . . . And get their backs when they are faced with ridiculous demands from parents or others.

Petrilli also sees non-union groups such as Teach Plus, the Association of American Educators, and Educators for Excellence as a way to give teachers an independent “voice” and ensure “they aren’t learning about reform solely through the filter of union rhetoric.”

I think education reformers need to listen to teachers about what they think would improve their schools and help more students learn.

Update: Self-pitying Tantrums Are a Poor Way for Educators To Win Friends, Influence People, writes Rick Hess. He quotes “venomous” comments in response to his column on Gov. Scott Walker’s recall victory in Wisconsin. “Which words or phrases showed a profound hatred for educators or public education?” he asks. “Because, honestly, when I went back and re-read it, I didn’t see ‘em.”

Both sides of the ed reform debate need to “ease back from the self-righteousness,” urges Matthew DiCarlo on the Shanker Blog.

Men dominate the education reform debate, writes Nancy Flanagan. “Men are making the policy arguments and pronouncements, hosting the virtual communities and producing the media. Women are carrying out the policy orders, teaching kids to read using scripted programs and facing 36 students in their algebra classes.”  True?

Survey: Teachers’ unions lose support

Teachers unions are losing support, according to an annual survey by Harvard’s Program on Education Policy and Governance and Education Next. Only 22 percent of the public has a positive view of unions in 2012, down from 29 percent in 2011.  More striking, only 43 percent of teachers have a positive view, down from 58 percent the year before. Teachers holding a negative view nearly doubled to 32 percent from 17 percent in 2011.

Researchers ask:

“Some people say that teacher unions are a stumbling block to school reform. Others say that unions fight for better schools and better teachers. What do you think? Do you think teacher unions have a generally positive effect on schools, or do you think they have a generally negative effect?”

Respondents have five options: very positive, somewhat positive, neither positive nor negative, somewhat negative, and very negative. Many people choose the neutral option.

When people have just two choices on their assessment of union impact, 71 percent of teachers said unions had a positive impact. However, the public split down the middle on the either/or option: 51 percent said unions had a negative impact, while 49 percent said their effect was positive.

Gov. Scott Walker’s victory in the Wisconsin recall election is good news for schooling and a big loss for the state’s teachers’ unions, writes Rick Hess.

Public-sector unions also lost pension reform votes in San Jose and San Diego.

Lawsuits on the western front

It seems like it’s a tougher time today than in days past to be a teachers’ union.   They are on the defensive all over the country.  From the public union battle royale in Wisconsin, to New York’s release of value-added data over union howls of rage (with the accompanying spectre of an implemented evaluation process), to the revolt of the urban mayors… teachers’ unions are under various sorts of legal, political, and institutional attack all over the country.

Out here in California, Students Matter has launched a lawsuit to strip away many of the institutional protections that teachers possess.  Howard Blume tells us all about it:

A Bay Area nonprofit backed partly by groups known for battling teachers unions has filed a lawsuit seeking to overturn five California laws that, they say, make it too difficult to dismiss ineffective teachers.

The suit, filed on behalf of eight students, takes aim at California laws that govern teacher tenure rules, seniority protections and the teacher dismissal process.

* * * *

The group behind the legal action is the newly formed Students Matter. The founder is Silicon Valley entrepreneur David F. Welch and the group’s funders include the foundation of L.A. philanthropist Eli Broad.

The suit contends that teachers can earn tenure protections too quickly — in two years — well before their fitness for long-term employment can be determined. The suit also seeks to invalidate the practice of first laying off less experienced teachers during a budget crisis, rather than keeping the best teachers. And it takes aim at a dismissal process that, it alleges, is too costly, too lengthy and typically results in ineffective teachers holding on to jobs.

I’m uneasy about litigating what are essentially public policy questions in courts.  It’s not really what they’re designed to do, and they generally don’t do a good job of it.  (See, e.g., the consent decree for San Francisco public schools.)  But at the same time, sometimes it’s the only option left to people.  It’s difficult, if not impossible, to push too heavily against public employee union interests here in California.

Blume does an able job in his article tying this lawsuit to the overarching issue of teacher quality, and implying (correctly, I think) that this is part of a larger pushback against unions in general.

It’s not clear to me that these sorts of protections are going to help with teacher quality, though.  Procedural changes will only get you marginal improvements here and there.  If teacher quality is a serious concern (and I’m not 100% sure it’s a problem, though it seems plausible) then what you should really do is address the substantive issue: get a different sort of teacher ex ante.  To use an analogy: if the cars you build are not loved by the consumer, you have two options: increase your quality control, or design a better product.  And the unions wouldn’t have as much political leverage if you tried to tighten up teacher qualifications — indeed, they might support it so long as you grandfathered in all the existing teachers.  I’ve never met a union that didn’t like barriers to entry.

Et tu, Antonio?

Via EducationNews.org, we discover that Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa — a Progressive’s Progressive if ever Southern California had one — has finally caved:

Antonio Villaraigosa, once a labor organizer in Los Angeles and beloved by his union supporters who backed him in his elections to the State Assembly and his current mayoral office, is one of a growing number of Democratic mayors who have switched positions regarding unions in education. The Los Angeles Mayor describes the teachers union as an ‘unwavering roadblock’ to the improvement of public education in the city.

My personal suspicion is that these Democrat mayors know that the unions are essentially ideological hostages: they have nowhere else to go.  What are they going to do with their political warchests, throw in behind a conservative?  That’s the cost of putting yourself out on the political extreme in a two-party system: you sometimes just have to take it and like it.

It’s interesting (if that’s not too vague a word) to see the prise de fere going on in the political rhetoric, too:

The unions, already feeling under assault from Republican strongholds pushing through reform legislation and neutering tenure wherever possible, are unhappy at what they see as the betrayal of Democrat’s supporting the reformists in their battle, but the reformers will claim that they’re not fighting against the unions per se, but are fighting for the children being failed by the current system.

It’s always for the children, isn’t it?

The cult of success

The new issue of AFT’s American Educator features a cover story by Diana Senechal on The Cult of Success (pdf). “In research studies, newspaper articles, and general education discussions, there is far more talk of achievement than of the actual stuff that gets achieved,” she writes.

In Bipartisan, But Unfounded: The Assault on Teachers’ Unions (pdf), Richard D. Kahlenberg defends unions from attacks on all sides.

The issue also includes Meaningful Work (pdf), by Will Fitzhugh, on how writing history research papers prepares students for college and life.