Friday, September 29, 2006
Be Careful What You Wish For?
Per the item below, Republicans want these laws because the teachers' unions disproportionately help Democrats (90+ percent of their political giving as a rule). But, the Republicans (and many Democrats) also think the teachers' unions are an obstacle to improving schools. The teachers' unions obviously won't want to lose this dues money/political influence. So isn't one possible outcome here that the result of this litigation and subsequent legislation is that they spread the cash around more in order to assuage their membership -- which is not nearly as divided along stark partisan lines -- and consequently become more not less powerful as they bring more Republicans into their fold? Just a theory...
Here's why the addition of Roberts and Alito to the Supreme Court matters, lower profile but far reaching cases like this public employee union dues issue (Ed Week$ here) that could really clobber the teachers' unions. At issue is basically whether a positive check-off --meaning members have to affirmatively approve it not just file papers saying no -- for dues money being used for political purposes can be required by state law. The SCOTUS taking the case is not a good sign for the teachers' unions nor is the court's current line-up. Obvious backdrop should the court uphold the Washington State law: How many state legislative chambers are controlled by Republicans now. In the same vein, if the court upholds the WA law, look for a national campaign around some snazzy "death tax" sounding phrase to pass WA-style laws.
Gosh, this stuff keeps happening and we keep hearing from the powers that be how it's no big deal, anomalous, etc...fact is sooner or later Democrats must have something to say about education reform and school choice besides (a) no (b) more of the same or (c) nothing to see here. And South Carolina is especially interesting since there is an important Democratic primary down there in '08...This really is not so complicated though. If Republicans champion choice and Democrats champion choice, accountability, and policies that truly empower parents with good options, seems like the Democrats win...And do not forget that for Republicans to win in many places they don't need to win a majority of African-Americans, just to raise their percentage of the vote. Over at the Charter Blog Justin weighs-in on this, too.
This blog asked me to publicize their un-pc contest. Instead I'll skew it. I will start to believe that electronic voting is unreliable if director and English prof. Tamsen Wolff doesn't win this election.
Couple of quick takeaways from Sam Dillon's NYT Bush on Bush piece about school accountability this week. First, there is a lot to recommend FL's system but if you're concerned about getting kids to standards as a school accountability system it still leaves open the possibility for kids to move through the system without getting there. Second, most states still can't do what Florida does, the article should have engaged with that issue because implicitly it feeds this simplistic notion that the changes to the law are so obvious and people like Rep. George Miller so out of touch. Third, great new attack on NCLB from Jeb Bush with an appeal to religion:
“I mean perfection is not going to happen,” Mr. Bush said Sept. 12 at a news conference in Orlando, arguing that achievement targets are important but that unrealistic ones discourage educators. “We’re all imperfect under God’s watchful eye, and it’s impossible to achieve it."
Read the Peterson-West analysis that the article is pegged to here.
That anti-No Child Left Behind lawsuit in Connecticut is on its last legs...the bottom fell out politically when the NAACP and other civil rights groups jumped-in on behalf of the Bush Administration and now the bottom is falling out legally as well. So just to recap, despite media hysterics, to date no state has pulled out of No Child and the lawsuits have amounted to nothing...
Look for more news stories soon, who knew what/when kind of stuff. Secretary Spellings had better hope there is not a paper/email trail because the Houston Mafia is really pissed-off about all this. Mike Petrilli, who protests that he's not a made man in that crowd, publishes his widely circulated op-ed at National Review putting it on the Secretary...he'd better have an email/paper trail because these are some serious charges:
As the president’s first-term domestic-policy adviser, she micromanaged the implementation of Reading First from her West Wing office. She put one of her most trusted friends inside the Department of Education to make sure Doherty and his colleagues didn’t go soft and allow just any reading program to receive funds. She was the leading cheerleader for an aggressive approach. And now she bobs and weaves: “Although these events occurred before I became secretary of education, I am concerned about these actions and committed to addressing and resolving them.” (Regrettably, much of the media bought this spin — hook, line, and sinker. See here, for instance.) Shame on Spellings for not backing a loyal, selfless, and truly capable lieutenant...
Since someone is saying something here that is falsifiable look for some press attention...
Update: Sen. Harkin attacks, too! And he likes Mike! This will get messy if it gets tied up in the appropriations process.
Skip these first two grafs if all you seek is content. Funny thing about this blog is that I not only get whacked for sins of commission, things I write, but also for sins of omission, things I don’t! I get a lot of emails to the effect of, “why haven’t you written about x or y? You can’t possibly support/oppose it can you? Jerk!” Or, as one reader wrote the the other day: “Swamped? Light posting? You live to serve this ship!”
Believe me, if I could make a living blogging, I would and then I'd blog much more! Exercise those ‘ol First Amendment rights, the hours are great, you work in your pajamas, the groupies are fantastic (a cross between Almost Famous and Good Will Hunting), I can’t buy a meal, and you don’t even have to write complete sentences or use proper grammar…what’s not to like? It’s a dream job. But it doesn't pay the bills so other things intrude.
That's a long way of saying that it’s only because I’ve been busy that I haven’t written about the recent bill in California which has important substantive and political implications and was a big win for that merry band of contrarian redistributive rebels known as The New Teacher Project.
Recall the NTP report, Unintended Consequences. It was not think tanky noise. Rather, it caught the attention of some California legislators, most notably California State Senator Jack Scott. He asked for more analysis from NTP about how various teacher assignment rules played out in some CA urban districts. Turned out the answer was: Much the same way as NTP showed in their report.
So, he introduced a bill to allow principals at school that CA has identified as “low performing” to choose which if any at all, teachers voluntarily transfer into their schools. Yes, I know, really radical stuff, there goes labor movement! It's Shirtwaist all over again...Anyway, the bill passed, more on that below. Basically, it allows low-performing schools to recruit early and have additional control over staffing. The bill continues some transfer rights and preferences for veteran teachers, but requires that schools be able to consider new teacher applicants and transfers equally after April 15 and ultimately hire the person they consider best for the job.
On the politics, the very powerful CTA strongly opposed the bill but it passed out of Assembly and Senate committees unanimously and out of the legislature by lopsided margins. In other words, very bipartisan. That’s really significant. Basically a civil rights/reform coalition won a not insignificant victory on an important issue. Winds of change, perhaps.
This also seems a slice of a simple and elegant idea put forward a decade ago by Lee Jenkins, then a superintendent in Northern California. Why, Jenkins asked, don’t we give really low-performing schools a lot of flexibility to do things differently including waiving a lot of process oriented regulations with an eye toward relentless effort to improve outcomes for kids. In other words, don’t handcuff struggling schools. Obviously, it takes more than that and just removing regulations is no cure by itself, but it’s not a bad framework for thinking about this and raises some interesting and fun questions for what policies around that should look like.
Beating The [Expletive Deleted] Out Of Phonicsgate
Per this post on this Reading First fiasco, a couple more points from big to smaller:
First, it's a shame that this is being seen as a proxy referendum on the issue of reading research. There was at last a bipartisan consensus around some key points and this IG report (pdf) is allowing and emboldening the flat-earthers to again assert themselves as having research evidence on their side. In fact, that's the irony here. The Bush Administration had a very strong hand to play in terms of ensuring that this funding only supported programs with a solid grounding in methodologically rigorous research, yet they overplayed that hand. And in doing so they likely hurt the very issue they wanted to help by reigniting the debate about reading research.
Second, yes, Chris Doherty is being unfairly thrown over the side as the fall guy.* The idea that his actions were unsanctioned or that he was a lone evil genius is absurd. More than a year ago, Eduwonk said, think Seinfeld...well...Hello Neuman....a lot of the Houston folks pointing at her and there are a lot of chefs in this kitchen besides Doherty. Still, mistakes were made, as they say.
Third, and related, how long can Education Secretary Margaret Spellings get away with this strategy of feigning ignorance about anything that happened pre-2004? It's not like she wasn't in government, or in an influential position no less, during that time.
Fourth, while some of the stuff in the IG report isn't really all that damning, the defense being mounted by the Houston-mafia via an op-ed that is unpublished but has widely made the rounds among policy and media types, essentially arguing that results not process should matter, is pretty weak. We are ultimately a nation of laws and while burdensome procedures should be changed, federal officials don't get a pass on ones they don't like. That's a lesson this administration has had a really hard time learning...
Fifth, everyone is looking for a money scandal pay-to-play just conflict of interest. I doubt there is too much there though. I think this was more about ideology than anything else.
*And that is setting off a new and intense round of the fight between the Houston (Paige) and Austin (Spellings) folks.
That's because I'm on Washington Post radio today from 1 or so until 2 with Jay Mathews talking about ed policy issues, what it's like to be on a state board of education, and why I prefer living in the country...Edge of your seat stuff! DC area it's 107.7 or 1500 or you can listen online.
Also on national standards/testing, per this post below, consistently cranky Russo and his sidekick pick up on the “think tanky noise” meme. It’s actually interesting and worth thinking about. Obviously, I don’t think everything that comes out of think tanks is noise, it’s how I earn my living, but in assessing the probabilities of action on an issue in terms of noise versus signal, you’ve got to look at it through a political lens.
I’d break the noise down into two categories. The first covers issues that might not yet be on the policy agenda, but are really plausible candidates for action. A great example of this was the various policy proposals that ultimately became No Child Left Behind. There was a lot of noise in the late 1990s about it from a variety of think tanks and advocacy groups – right and left – but there was also a reasonably clear path for the issue, and a coalition supporting it, to emerge on the agenda in a big way. In fact, the roles are now reversed and the people who had the power prior to NCLB have been divested and this motley coalition of players now has leverage over the policymaking agenda.
Contrast the No Child example with today’s national standards debate. What is the plausible coalition here? You can start with basically the centrist coalition that was willing to support Clinton’s 1996 push for national testing in just two grades. That coalition proved insufficient and contrary to today’s CW, I’m not sure NCLB has broadened support for nationalizing some of these policies so much as made it harder because of all the attendant NCLB politics. The debate is basically about whether or not to roll back NCLB, not expand it! What’s more, there are people like me who are not opposed to national standards in some subjects but would not support imposing the NAEP or any other federal test as the way to do it right now. Add in various other concerns about quality, cost, etc…and you get the picture. It's a relatively small band whose passion outweighs its numbers. Fordham is right that there are ways through this but they’re all tortured to some extent and the big coalition, or even its potential political leaders, have not emerged.
The “if you build it they will come” approach to talking about an issue long enough and hard enough that it becomes an issue on the policy agenda only gets you so far. Some key players have to want to play baseball in the first place. For a great book about these dynamics, hard to beat this one.
At yesterday's Aspen NCLB Commission hearing pretty much everyone was tripping over themselves to tout the virtues of a national test/standards...pretty much everyone that is but the one Bush Administration person -- Dep. Sec. Ray Simon -- who testified. Meanwhile Rep. Miller and Rep. McKeon say it's DOA on their end of Pennsylvania Avenue. Can't see the Senate Republicans taking it on either. So it falls to Senator Kennedy...But still, nobody who has their paycheck signed by Uncle Sam has signed onto this...
Perhaps the opposition from conservatives will ignite Kennedy's contrarian streak but it seems to me that conservative grumbling makes it even less likely this will catch fire. So for now the more interesting policy issue seems to me to be how to mitigate the "race to the bottom" risks within the current NCLB framework.
Also, the conventional wisdom is very firmly that the Aspen Commission will make no major recommendations for changes to NCLB. Consequently, look for radical proposals in their final report...
Parents fight back in Memphis...And, from LA, turns out that Jefferson High School only has about 350 kids in its freshman class while the new Green Dot schools have about 750...that's not sustainable for Jefferson over time. Backstory on all that here. So, faced with declining market share attack the consumers. Good strategery!