Jim Ryan is bullish on the choice components of Romney’s ed plan. I think there is a lot less there than he hopes. Doesn’t this line from the Romney paper (pdf), “adopt open-enrollment policies that permit eligible students to attend public schools outside of their school district that have the capacity to serve them” have 18-wheeler sized weasel word loopholes that will render it meaningless in practice? And I don’t see Romney, who these days can’t bring himself to tell states to hold schools accountable for educating these students suddenly deciding to mandate their enrollment elsewhere.
Matt Miller lists his bill of particulars against the teachers unions and then takes Mitt Romney and school reformers to task for simplicity about the unions writing,
[The] reality is this: The top performing school systems in the world have strong teachers unions at the heart of their education establishment. This fact is rarely discussed (or even noted) in reform circles. Yet anyone who’s intellectually honest and cares about improving our schools has to acknowledge it. The United States is an outlier in having such deeply adversarial, dysfunctional labor-management relations in schooling.
The second half of that graf is true, we are an outlier (although in some countries teachers unions have kidnapped those they disagree with so we’re not at the very end of the tail…). But the first half of his point falls into the same trap as most discussions about teachers unions and the same simplicity Miller is objecting to: The issue isn’t unionism per se, it’s the specific policies and elements. That’s why the nonsense about schools in the south is a fallacy. And it’s also why “strong” unionism is the wrong measure. What does that even mean, membership size, for instance, or percent of practitioners who are members? Or does it mean political potency? Or school autonomy? It surely doesn’t mean force transfers does it? Point is, depending on which of those elements you decide to look at the comparisons between the U.S. and other countries make more or less sense. And you can’t disconnect some issues – for instance due process – from a country’s larger labor policies.
Miller’s obviously right that more attention to selection would be good for the profession. And for Romney’s people the issue is fundamentally the teachers unions per se not any specific policy. But for a broad swath of reformers the issue is policy not the existence of teachers unions. Unfortunately, in our polarized debate there is hardly anywhere to have a conversation about that.