Friday, April 14, 2006
Obama, Woolsey, And The Big Choice For Democrats
Two new bills worth watching on the Hill. First, in the Senate Barack Obama (D-IL) has (last month) introduced S. 2441, a forward looking reform solution bill (pdf). The bill would essentially support innovation grants to districts that want to push the envelope on teacher quality, leadership, and creating networks of new schools. Recall that Obama gave a speech last year in which he noted that just railing against No Child Left Behind wasn't much of an education policy. His bill won't change the world by itself, but it is a step in the direction of post-NCLB ideas focused on structural changes to make the law's ambitious goals more attainable.
But it's hard not to see the juxtaposition of Obama's bill and rhetoric with a draft bill circulating in the house (pdf) under the sponsorship of Lynn Woolsey (D-CA). The Woolsey bill is not all bad, for instance it includes some sensible ideas like more money for states to develop assessments. Yet it's also a laundry list of ways to rollback key provisions of No Child Left Behind so that a shell of "accountability" exists but there are no real teeth. Its prospects, once it's introduced, are uncertain and depend some on who wins control of the House in November and how much Democratic NCLB supporter George Miller can push back on it.
The specifics matter less than the politics right now. It's hard to miss that younger Democrats increasingly think like Obama, signaling an important generational shift. That puts Democrats at something of a crossroads in terms of moving forward or backwards on the education issue and about how the party will be perceived in 2008.
More School Vouchers (Literally)
By the way, these initiatives to give businesses tax credits when they donate money to various private school voucher programs are springing up all over the place. AZ's Governor, Democrat Janet Napolitano reversed field and let one through a few weeks back, here's one in NH, they're kicking around elsewhere and several states already have them like Florida and Pennsylvania. You know, I'm really starting to think that Boardbuzz is BSing me when they say there is no momentum behind this stuff...
The eagerly awaited Nina Rees missive on Supplemental Education Services is now out in Gadfly. It's less about the significance of the SES program and more about its practical shortcomings. Rees says yes there is a quality problem, but then appeals to the school choice community to solve it! I buy the diagnosis but not the cure. The school choice community certainly can bring a lot to the table in term of lessons learned, but there is a fundamental disagreement about the role of choice v. quality, or public interest v. private interest there. Rees points to DC, for instance, as a model but the choice crowd couldn't even bring themselves to swallow common assessments for kids and schools in the publicly funded program. In other words, if, as Nina says, part of the problem with SES is a lack of accountability then how exactly is the voucher crowd going to help us solve it? It's like saying we have a problem with pilots flying drunk and then asking the scotch manufacturers to help us get on top of it. To the extent there are models for accreditation, accountability and quality in school choice they're mostly around charter schools (with some exceptions in Milwaukee's voucher program thanks largely to Howard Fuller) and the voucher crowd has largely been dragged kicking and screaming to what accountability there is.
Villaraigosa shows his cards...word is that UTLA will show some of theirs next week...Good question in the meantime is what radicalized Villaraigosa so much? Also, hard not to notice that Villaraigosa's play and Steve Barr's are getting people to the table and that there is a real conversation happening in LA...Related: Mike Antonucci asks a good question per my query above.
Over at Quick and the Ed, Sara Mead makes a good point about the broader frames and perceptions that politicians project because of various issues. This is especially true with an issue like education. Despite how much they purport to care about education in polls, when pressed for specific answers, generally fewer than one in ten voters tell pollsters that a national candidate's position on education issues would cause them to change their vote. But that does not mean education does not matter? No. Substance matters, and it matters politically because a candidate can use the issue to send signals that they're a moderate reformer as Bush did in 2000. Conversely, it can reinforce negative perceptions of a candidate as it arguably did for Kerry to some extent in 2004.
Couple of takeaways for 2008. First, because most voters are not as strident as the activists about these issues politicians should temper their rhetoric accordingly. For Democrats, school vouchers are a key example. I'm not a fan and many/most Democratic pols are not fans, but it's better to say why in measured tones than to castigate voucher proponents and accuse them of seeking to destroy the public schools etc...Besides, are urban parents who understandably want vouchers out to destroy the public schools? It's somewhat analogous to abortion politics. Reasonable people can agree to disagree and politicians who, while not backing off of their own beliefs, send a signal of tolerance of divergent views are in a stronger position with the general electorate.
Second, as is usually the case in politics, the Republican and Democratic positions do not move independently of each other. The ability of Republicans to use the same play as Bush used in 2000, presenting a candidate as a moderate because of their education positions, is related to whether or not Democrats leave the center open. Somewhat conveniently, though, the centrist pragmatic consensus around standards, public sector choice, and investing in education is pretty good politics as well as pretty good policy. Which party will claim that hill first? I'd handicap it as harder for the Rs but still doable and easier for the Ds right now, especially one who is willing to weather a little heat (see below).
Maybe President Bush is a uniter not a divider after all....backstory here. There may well be some merits to this lawsuit, though it's worth noting that the NEA's own lead lawyer doesn't think so, but to date it's hard not to see this as a big PR effort (there were/are elaborate PR plans accompanying it). That's a questionable use of the federal courts.
Kevin Carey Does Hate Teachers, And Russlynn Ali Does, Too!
There has been some dispute, thankfully not as serious as this dispute, about whether Kevin Carey does, or does not, hate teachers. The evidence is in: This NY Daily News op-ed makes clear, he does...And, Ed Trust West's Russlynn Ali must, too, if this testimony before the Aspen NCLB task force is any indication.
First, implementation [of NCLB's teacher quality provisions] has been slow, and that’s being generous. States are only now beginning to comply with reporting requirements -- after fighting, dodging, and just plain ignoring the law’s requirements since the very beginning. Second, dollars in Title II of NCLB that are earmarked to help raise teacher quality have not been appropriately targeted nor have they paid off with much innovation. And third, through statutory loopholes in the definition of “comparable” services, NCLB actually ignores big differences in access to teacher quality, essentially codifying the teacher quality gap into law.
Giddy up! Here's a really gratuitous pop from Education Week... not that there is anything wrong with it... Accompanying this story about the woes of ELC and the Follow the Leaders Project is this photograph of former Deputy Secretary of Education Eugene Hickok (who is barely even mentioned in the story!). Did ELC feed them this picture out of spite or is this just the only photo of Hickok Ed Week could find? What’s next, an article on STEM careers and a picture of Margaret Spellings with a bong?
New Carnival of Education Blogs is up. And, the Homies are having their carnival, too.
Joel Klein's Pernicious Influence On New York Education
No, no, it's not the much chattered about reorganization, which seems to me a good idea. It's that he's reduced Diane Ravitch, who is rightly regarded as a legend, to blogging! It's one step away from walking around with a sandwich board! He must be stopped! Also from NYC, see this interesting turn of events reported by Joe Williams.
If you didn't get enough of the CEP flap, Jay Mathews brings it back in today's WaPo. The story is more about the Ed Next article than the 71 percent issue and includes a back and forth with Ed Next's author Greg Forster and CEP's Jack Jennings. Worth reading though Jay sort of uncritically relays all the various views without helping readers sort them out or offering his own analysis...might be helpful on a complicated issue like this. Big winner today: Ed Next, boffo press for them as they were able to introduce a forthcoming article into the news cycle. Second place: The edublogs. Hard not to notice that Jay is reacting to a story the blogs kicked around...
Update: In a clarification, Ed Week offers a little 71 percent justice!
I missed this important USA Today op-ed by First Amendment Center's Charles Haynes about reconciling different views about homosexuality in public schools. Via Dangerous Thoughts who didn't.
O...And Oh Brother, Here Come A Million Little Pieces Of Predictable BS
This week (11th and 12th) Oprah Winfrey is going to focus on education. Apparently Bill and Melinda Gates one day, KIPP and Kevin Johnson the next. Good right? I guess not because already the listserves are burning up with preemptive charges of bias, calls to arms, we must resist, and so forth...but the shows haven't even aired...does Oprah have a rep on education I don't know about? Is she a part of the big conspiracy? She gave some money to SEED but that's all I really know and in fact have thought she hasn't done enough to focus on education considering the platform she has...(Disc--I'm on the Gates College Ready Roundtable).
Update: I clearly do not watch enough Oprah. Reader MM, who must, notes that she has been a spokesperson for A Better Chance and has also featured Rafe Esquith, who was an inspiration/mentor for KIPP's Feinberg and Levin on the show. So, it seems as though she thinks we can do better for kids than we do now...she is part of the conspiracy!
Back to LA...Steve Barr is winning. Also, note the LA Times descriptor of charters, long at 22 words but not too shabby though it doesn't get at the open admissions issue. Incidentally, per the posts below and the need to change public schools, this is the equation that ought to scare the teachers' unions into moving on the issue: Steve Barr, strong union proponent, Teamster, along with a very big coalition of almost entirely minority parents is at odds with the teachers' union and the school district in LA. You don't need to be an ace political consultant to see the problem there...And if Barr doesn't succeed, these guys (Clint Bolick, Ken Starr, and company) are more than willing to help out...
You were riveted by pop culture icon JLo, but trust Eduwonk, you haven't lived until you've experienced the phenomenon that is HessLo! Frederick "I'm Rick Hess Bi*ch" Hess and rising star Laura LoGerfo have teamed up on a biting (though with a message) satire of the AERA annual meeting, which is going on now in San Francisco.
Per this post, every descriptor (but one) I've received for how to describe a charter school has been way too long...<10 words folks! Brevity and precision. The one was "freedom schools." Funny, but hardly impartial.
Man, he's everywhere! If you didn't get enough Casey below, then at Edwize, per Friday's op-ed Leo Casey has three questions for me, distilled right here, in their original here. Leo asks: (1) Why no mention of the UFT charter initiative (2) "Why, in a discussion of charter schools and teacher unions, can you not bring yourself to mention the fact that for every teacher unionist who “reflexively opposes” charter schools, there are two charter school advocates who “reflexively oppose” teacher unions? And (3) "Why defend charter schools by making a case for the most questionable of charter schools, “virtual schools,” classroom-free, teacher-free and book-free institutions which have proven to be little more than a conduit to access public funds without providing meaningful education and a means for the paper accreditation of ‘home schooling’?"
Answers: (1) By their form op-eds are short-order writing and one can't include everything. If the UFT's charter initiative wasn't pretty exceptional that would be one thing, but it is. Consequently, not mentioning it doesn't change the national picture the op-ed was giving readers. And, the piece did clearly note that teachers' unions can bring a lot to the table here and that the voice of teachers' needs to be in the conversation.
(2) Because it's not true and it's ludicrous that Leo even tries to attach some mathematical precision to it. Has he done a census, a poll? In fact, this fiction may be one of the most self-destructive myths going in teachers' union circles now.* They seem to think that charter schools are some great right-wing conspiracy, when in fact the evidence, as it exists, is that, if anything, they are perhaps something of a left-wing conspiracy! The teachers' unions focus on the very small percentage of charters that are run by for-profit outfits or right-wing types and ignore the overall landscape. Those anecdotes will be their undoing because the thousands of young people flocking into charters, who are, while not uniformly, pretty overwhelmingly progressive, are becoming increasingly radicalized toward teachers' unions. In other words they're sowing dragons' teeth. For what it's worth, my guess of the landscape, which I daresay I'm a little closer to than Leo, would be about 20 percent hostile to teachers' unions on principle, 20 percent enthusiastic, and 60 percent agnostic and waiting to be won over by one side or the other.
That said, two other points. First, the vocal national leadership for charter schools does now skew right, I'd argue, but that's changing and not representative of the picture on the ground. Besides, more Democrats would come out on the issue if it were politically safer. Second, the way to marginalize the genuine union-haters is to come to the table because they are only as strong as the teachers' unions are absent on the reform scene. And, what makes charters exciting as a movement is that they are not ideological, per se. Rather, they're a pragmatic solution that can be accessed by anyone, and can be and are supported by the left, right and middle. You can't say that about too many things in education!
(3) Because that's exactly the point. The piece was not about charters per se but about more customization for kids. As I said virtual charter schools are bit players in this drama and I suspect they will continue to be because they will not appeal to most parents. But they do work for some kids. It's the resistance to any sort of idea like this that is the point. And as I pointed out they need more accountability but that's not a reason not to have them it's a reason to get the policy right. In terms of homeschoolers, who cares? If they're willing to come into the public system and play by the public rules then isn't that more people, not fewer, with a stake in publicly financed education? I suspect that most will not. There is a raging debate in the homeschool community about virtual public schools precisely because of the public regulations. But, if even a minority of them want to come into the fold, what's the sense in keeping them out?
*The myth is sort of Biblical, charters were pure originally but then there was a fall...Along came Checker Finn with an apple...
Let me be clear, I love college sports. So I'm not one of these detractors who says that they distract from or diminish the real work of universities even though there is some truth to David Boren's quip about needing a good football team to build a university around. And frankly, I don't mind some special privileges for athletes, they work hard for their schools and don't make a dime (while everyone around them is).
But what does sort of gall me is that while a lot of colleges and universities pretty much throw their hands up about graduation rates, particularly for minorities (pdf), they are able to move the needle for athletes (even though there is still a long way to go) when the pressure is on to do so. Why? Well, tutoring, support, etc...So it's not as though all the ingredients for attacking this problem more generally are a great mystery...
So, as if on cue, on the UFT's blog Leo Casey has responded to the Hess - West op-ed in the NY Daily News the other day. Casey is like Michener, long and almost every post starts with a grand historical sweep. In Leo's case it's usually a reference to a thinker who certainly doesn't qualify as a household name (in this instance it's Maimonides, you'll get no Aristotle or Aquinas here rube!). I would have paid more attention in political theory and been a better student of religion had I known how relevant it all was to contemporary education policy.
In any event, Hess and West (or others, NYC Educator questions Casey here) can respond to the main points of the post but there is one aspect of it I want to tug on because I think it's relevant to the discussion of teachers' unions more generally. Basically, in his response, Casey picks at the particulars in an effort to discredit Hess-West. In one instance he writes:
Hess and West assert that innovative and collaborative teacher union leaders are voted out of office by their members, and then cherry picks a total of three anomalous examples to make their case, ignoring the far more numerous instances ignoring the far more numerous instances where the most outspoken union reformers, such as Adam Urbanski in Rochester and Tom Mooney in Cincinnati, were re-elected for decades.
Leave aside the specifics and the two anecdotes rebutting three, I'm not sure Casey does his brethren any favors with this argument. As Julia Koppich described in Collective Bargaining In Education, being a reform union leader is difficult for a variety of reasons (Joe Williams makes the same point in his recent book). Not the least of these is that it's always easy for someone to come along on your flank and make the case that you're selling out the membership.
To put it in a New York context, there are a bunch of things that UFT head Randi Weingarten could say or propose that would make me very happy but likely cost her job (never mind the stuff that would make the conservatives happy). Now that of course doesn't mean that there are not things unions leaders should do, in my view, or that I'd like to see Weingarten do, or that more incremental progress isn't possible, just that it's important to be realistic about the constraints union leaders operate under. And lest the reactionaries label this "union bashing," since it's obviously not a very flattering picture of some teachers' union members, it's nothing of the sort. Rather it's basic organizational behavior in any membership organization. Even if so inclined, the leader can only get so far out in front of the members. And we know that in the case of the teachers' unions, at least with the NEA and presumably the AFT, too, it's even a bit more complicated because the more active minority drives things (again, something not too atypical from an organizational standpoint).
The UFT's charter school initiative is a good example of all this. As vilified as Randi Weingarten has become in parts of NY's charter school community over the cap issue, she catches equal heat from a lot of folks in the AFT universe who pretty much loathe her charter school initiative. And yet Weingarten is one of few union leaders even dipping a toe into the water around providing more choice in the public sector and is much more forward looking than many. It's too bad because teachers unions do have things to bring to the table here and so that posture is counterproductive.
So, the problem with Leo's argument (and with this post I'm starting to mimic his brevity!) is that if it's so easy to be a reform union leader in this environment, as he seems to be saying, then what the hell is the hold up? Again, while I think there are a bunch of things that need to change, that the pressure needs to stay on, and that the status quo is untenable for public education, that doesn't make it easy to make those changes. For their part, union leaders obviously can't go around blaming their own members for the politics they have to manage behind them, but it surely doesn't do them any favors when their own people say that this is all a piece of cake! It's not.
Afterthought: As a national issue, former NEA president Bob Chase illustrates this. understood the changing landscape and tried to move the ball, but got clobbered. Not because he wasn't sincere in his efforts but because the active membership wasn't there yet (and still isn't). Again, doesn't mean that's not a problem but it's a complicated one.