Tag: The Education Trust

Race to the Edujobs?

As I have pointed out since the beginning of the year, the efforts by congressional Democrats and President Barack Obama to keep control of Congress may be the most-immediate problem…

Gut check time.

As I have pointed out since the beginning of the year, the efforts by congressional Democrats and President Barack Obama to keep control of Congress may be the most-immediate problem for the school reform efforts being orchestrated by Obama and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. As Republicans continue to gain momentum — and are likely to capture seats in Indiana, Arkansas and perhaps, even Connecticut — Democratic leaders will need all their activists on the ground to bring out the votes — especially the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, the single-biggest donors in Democratic (and general election) politics. But NEA and AFT support won’t come without a price — or without conflict with centrist Democrats who are driving Race to the Top and other Obama initiatives.

This was exemplified yesterday when outgoing Rep. David Obey proposed to use $500 million in dollars slated for Race to the Top to fund a $10 billion package to stave off an ever-dwindling wave of teacher and school staff layoffs. School reformers such as the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, Congressman Jared Polis and the Education Trust went on the warpath, wrangling support against Obey’s effort, while the NEA and AFT reminded other congressional Democrats that they better pay to play.

As Education Trust communications czar Amy Wilkins rightly points out, Obama and Duncan can’t afford to let Obey succeed — and not just because the administration will lose credibility among states and the school reform movement. The reality is that the Obama administration has little in the way of concrete achievements (at least those that don’t involve the controversial and still-likely-to get-partly-overturned health care reform plan). Education reform is one of those sparse achievements and anything that renders it a failure may lead to Obama going the way of Jimmy Carter in the re-election department.

Then there is the reality that this latest version of the education bailout plan (originally planned for $23 billion) is not even needed. A few months ago, it was assumed that as much as five percent of the 6.2 million teachers and school staffers would be laid off due to fiscal problems. Since then, as Mike Antonucci points out almost daily, those layoff numbers have dwindled further as school districts and states use furloughs, tighten belts and attempt to divert federal special education funding to keep teachers and staff on payrolls. That this comes after a previous $100 billion bailout (as part of the federal stimulus plan passed at the beginning of Obama’s term as president) — along with news that education spending hasn’t exactly been flatlined in the past decade — makes school districts and states look downright spendthrifty.

Obama and Duncan probably realize that ARRA II, as I call it, won’t force states to deal with the long-term causes of their fiscal woes: Pension deficits, overly generous benefits such as nearly-free healthcare for teachers, and the traditional system of compensating teachers, which has been costly to taxpayers and students alike. Even if ARRA II forced school districts to abandon the use of reverse seniority (or last hired-first fired) in layoff decisions, it wouldn’t mean much without the acquiescence of NEA and AFT locals, who oppose any change in the status quo.

But for the Democrats, other considerations matter. This includes bolstering the re-election prospects of vulnerable candidates and setting the table for Obama’s re-election effort two years beyond. For the Democrats to overcome the odds of a Republican victory in November, they need lots and lots of bodies. And money. The NEA and AFT offer plenty of that — including $66 million during the 2007-2008 election cycle alone — and far more campaigners on the ground than what school reformers can muster.

Which has always been the problem for the school reform movement. Sure, they have succeeded in winning over most of the policymakers within the Beltway and the nation’s statehouses. But the NEA and AFT have the advantage of strength in numbers. Until now, that intimidation power — the combination of teachers working the corridors of Congress and state capitals and the soft lobbying of parents in schoolhouses — is why the two unions have dominated education policy. Although teachers unions have fewer supporters and can no longer count on unquestioned support from Democrats, they can still whip up enough money and bodies to stave off the most-pathbreaking of reforms, and win over support for bailout schemes that benefit their rank-and-file.

School reformers need to pay attention to what is happening now and build stronger ties to grassroots advocates and parents on the ground; and challenge politicians opposed to school reform at the ballot box and in the hallways. Without them, Race to the Top will become crawl back to the past. The 1.3 million kids destined to drop out in the next year need more than that.

UPDATE (10:54 p.m., July 1): Proving my point, Obey rallied all but 15 Democrats to approve the Race to the Top cuts 239-182 [note: link still says vote not yet available). All but three Republican voted against it.

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Read: Diversity Department

What the dropout nation is reading about:

1. John Fensterwald notes some new teachers union antics on the Race to the Top front. The NEA’s California affiliate and its locals are intoning to districts that they shouldn’t sign the memorandums of understanding required to receive Race funds. Other NEA and AFT affiliates will likely take similar steps — or even

A student at the Codman Academy charter school looks at college options.

What the dropout nation is reading about:

  1. John Fensterwald notes some new teachers union antics on the Race to the Top front. The NEA’s California affiliate and its locals are intoning to districts that they shouldn’t sign the memorandums of understanding required to receive Race funds. Other NEA and AFT affiliates will likely take similar steps — or even offer their own alternate visions (as seen in Pennsylvania) as other state legislatures ignore their lobbying and entreaties.
  2. Meanwhile in Tennessee, outgoing Gov. Phil Bredeson is pushing to use student test score data in evaluating teacher performance in a special session. The state’s largest teachers union has its own thoughts. Of course.
  3. By the way, my American Spectator colleague, Joseph Lawler, offers his own skeptical thoughts about Race to the Top, looking at Massachusett’s reform efforts (which may soon sit on Gov. Deval Patrick’s desk).  In Kentucky, the Bluegrass Policy Institute takes aim at state legislators for offering a Trojan Horse version of Race reforms (HT to EducationNews). And Jamie Davis O’Leary looks at what he describes as Ohio’s embarrasing Race reform plans.
  4. James Guthrie takes some time at Education Next to assess whether school reform is actually happening. He has his answer. I would say that it is happening, but still incomplete.
  5. Monise Seward is none too pleased with the results from the Southern Education Foundation’s report on public education in the southern states. Her biggest issue: “the correlation between minority status and/or poverty with low academic expectations by the ‘experts’ and public education institutions.” The lack of discussion about over-diagnosis of black and Latino males (along with white males) is particularly jarring to her.
  6. At the New York Review of Books, David Kaiser and Lovisa Stannow read over the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics’ report on sex abuse in juvenile prisons and jails. Let’s just say that they are more shocked by the evidence than yours truly. If anything, America’s juvenile justice system is sometimes even more shameful in the pervasive neglect, abuse and denial of due process rights to children than the woeful public schools this publication covers.
  7. EdTrust releases their report on addressing achievement gaps in the age of Race to the Top and No Child. From its perspective, it isn’t enough to just close the gap. More thoughts from yours truly this weekend.
  8. Mike Antonucci notes that the president of the AFT’s California affiliate has some choice thoughts about parents who support the newly-enacted “parent trigger” in the state’s Race to the Top-driven school reforms passed yesterday. No comment.
  9. This headshaker of the week comes from the News Leader in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. And the lack of thought starts at the headline: “We can’t let charter schools steal funds from public education.” Pardon me, but public charter schools are part of the public education system, right? Or am I — and virtually everyone else covering education — just dreaming?
  10. While Michigan politicians aren’t even considering handing over control of Detroit’s traditional district to Mayor Dave Bing, Wisconsin is still picking over whether Milwaukee’s mayor will gain control over that city’s public schools. As reported in the Journal-Sentinel, one parent opposed to mayoral control asks: “How in the world does excluding parents from selecting their school leadership encourage them to participate in the education of their children?” Everyone in the hearing savvy about the politics of school boards elections likely laughed under their breath and paid him no more mind.
  11. And finally, the debate between education civil rights activists such as Gary Orfield and the charter school movement over diversity in charters is the subject of my latest National Review report. As I hinted at in the piece, it’s easy for those in the ivory tower to go on and on about diversity when they have the choice to not send their children to the nation’s worst dropout factories and academic failure mills. Integration only works if the schools are of the kind that all children can achieve their respective educational destinies.
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Live Tweeting The Schott Foundation’s National Opportunity To Learn Conference

I’ll be at the Schott Foundation’s annual confab on Thursday and Friday. I won’t be around for everything, but you can get quick hits on comments by U.S. Department of…

You seen the bird. Do what he says.

You seen the bird. Do what he says.

I’ll be at the Schott Foundation’s annual confab on Thursday and Friday. I won’t be around for everything, but you can get quick hits on comments by U.S. Department of Education honcho Russlynn Ali and Congressman Chaka Fattah via the Dropout Nation Twitter feed . Enjoy.

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