Harmonic Convergence of Conservatism and The National Education Association
Kevin Carey notes that even as state-level Republicans are waging war on public sector unionism, congressional Republicans are basically giving the country’s largest teacher’s union what it wants in repudiating the reform trajectory of No Child Left Behind, Race To The Top, and all the rest:
The smaller but influential American Federation of Teachers has often engaged, if erratically, with the standards movement. Some local unions have also been willing supporters of reform. But the NEA is the 800-pound gorilla. NEA President Dennis Van Roekel has accused the Obama administration of “scapegoating” teachers and insists that issues like teacher pay be left at the local level. Van Roekel’s predecessor, Reg Weaver, called NCLB a “cruel hoax” and spearheaded a lawsuit designed to gut the law’s annual testing and accountability provisions.
Now, whether they realize it or not, Republicans in Congress are trying to grant the NEA’s wish by rolling back decades of bi-partisan education reform. As Michael Petrilli, a former Bush administration education official and current vice president of the right-leaning Fordham Institute, puts it, “the local control faction of the Republican party and the anti-accountability wing of the Democratic party are converging.”
I think that what you’re seeing here is that the preferred arguments of the NEA play very nicely into the hands of hard-core conservatives who’d probably in their dreams just not have public education. This is how Jonathan Mahler characterized the landscape in his tour d’horizon of the education reform debate:
Opponents of reform will tell you the movement was built on a false premise, that the Reagan report was based on declining SAT scores, which weren’t really declining; it was just that more people were taking the test. The anti-reformers (for lack of a better term) have their own founding document, too: “Equality of Educational Opportunity,” a federal study released a bit awkwardly in 1966, in the midst of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s efforts to persuade Congress to devote more resources to schools through programs like Head Start. It concluded that school-based factors like money and teachers actually have little bearing on student achievement, that what happens outside the classroom is actually far more significant than what happens inside of it.
The logic of this position is in fact that the reformers are wrong. The logic of this position is that it doesn’t make sense for the federal government to encourage charter schools. This logic of this position is that it certainly doesn’t make sense for the federal government to encourage schools to change teacher compensation rules or impose accountability standards on schools. But that’s because the logic of this position is that it doesn’t make sense for the federal government to spend on money on K-12 education. So it’s not surprising that on some level you’re seeing this convergence on the federal policy agenda. There are a variety of standpoints from which you can viably criticize the compensation reform agenda without implying that we should drastically cut spending on public schools but the “what happens in schools doesn’t matter in general and in particular it’s unfair to say that some teachers are more effective than others” carries the clear implication that we should pay teachers less and crush their unions.