2008-08-29 / Columnists

School Scope

Commentary By Norman Scott

Democrats: All On Board In Attack On Teachers Unions Odds And Ends

Norman Scott Norman Scott Welcome back to another year of the education follies. There's been a ton of stuff going on in the ed world and my ednotes online blog has been a busy place this summer. In the midst of the Democratic Party convention, there has been a battle for the heart and mind of Barack Obama by what appears to be two versions of education reform. But I don't see them as all that different.

I've been pointing out that when it comes to the ed reform movement, Democrats have not been all that far away from the Republican agenda: a market based approach that puts the blame on teachers and their unions for failures in education. Joel Klein, Al Sharpton, Cory Booker and the rest of the Educational Equality Project gang are Democrats. I won't call them small "d" democrats because they favor mayoral dictatorships over urban schools of poor minority kids while white suburban parents get to vote on school boards and budgets.

The Bigger, Bolder approach calling for more resources to lower class size, provide early intervention, etc. would seem more in line with traditional values of the Democratic party. Are the EEP and Bigger, Bolder approaches all that far apart? Both call for accountability. But what does that mean? Where is the accountability on the part of politicians and the business community?

GothamSchools blogger Kelly Vaughan says:

"As a society, it makes no sense to put the whole burden on schools. I will know that our nation really wants to leave no child behind when I see a complete package of funded legislation that takes on health care (physical and mental), housing, environmental justice, early childhood education, and a host of other issues that affect the development and opportunities of our kids. 'Our schools are failing,' is nothing but an excuse when the rest is left unaddressed. To me, it looks like common sense: no excuses schools in a no excuses society."

When UFT/AFT President Randi Weingarten jumps on the one-way accountability bandwagon - "Yes, we do want to be accountable" - we know we are in trouble. I've been asking Randi for a decade, "Accountable for what and to whom?" I jumped on her from the day she first uttered her support for mayoral control in 2001 when I knew from the Chicago experience that the only answers politicians will have is to blame teachers and their union while they escape accountability for underfunding schools.

What I want my union leader to say is: We have always been accountable to our children and to our parents and to our principals. But to some federal, state and city government that raises itself above accountability by refusing

to fund education adequately while funding money for billion dollar bailouts and illegal wars? No way! Randi had a golden opportunity in her speech at the Democratic convention to make an important point for teachers. She failed the test. Chapter leader Lisa North commented: "Wow, Randi's speech basically

said nothing about education except that public education is important and too much testing is not a good idea. It seemed very weak."

I didn't expect anything more. Did you hear her mention class size and the studies that support it? Did you hear her call for full funding of education instead of wars and bailouts? Did you hear her call them on No Excuses

on their part?

Randi has always tried to play both sides against the middle by bending over backwards to try to show she is a reasonable union leader and "progressive" in a willingness to give up teachers.

To be perfectly fair, she is just following the trail blazed by Al Shanker back in the early 80's when he jumped on board the same bandwagon.

But what good has it done the AFT/UFT as they still keep coming under attack?

Union Tensions at DNC

Michelle O'Neill reported at an Education Week blog:

The education event that followed the NEA luncheon showed the growing tensions within the Democratic Party over school reform, and the role of teachers' unions.

Though it's no surprise an event sponsored by the Democrats for Education Reform would have a slight antiunion message; many of the speakers at the event took several shots at unions during the press conference announcing the Education Equality Project in June. Today, the sentiment was strong and persistent at standing-room-only, three-hour forum called Ed Challenge for Change.

Here at the Denver Art Museum, Democratic mayors from Newark, N.J., Washington D.C., and Denver joined education reform darlings including New York City's Joel Klein and Washington D.C.'s Michelle Rhee. The group was referred to as the "misfits" of the Democratic Party by DFER's Joe Williams, a nod to their willingness to speak up against the influence of teachers' unions, which have formed the backbone of the party.

The educators, along with the Rev. Al Sharpton, kicked off the event with a nearly hour-long press conference to tout the event. There, Rhee (who left early to catch a flight home; D.C. schools open on Monday), took the Democrats to task, saying the party is "supposed to be the party that looks out for poor and minority kids," when that's not actually happening. The anti-union sentiment spilled over into policy forums that followed. The fight against the teachers' unions and other special interests is a "battle at the heart of the Democratic Party," said Newark Mayor Cory Booker. "As Democrats, we have been wrong on education. It's time to get right."

Even former Colorado Gov. Roy Romer, who has tried to avoid controversy in his position as the ED in '08 leader, earned some murmurs from the audience when he said that reformers cannot be "wedded to someone else's union rules and that politicians, practically speaking, need to work with unions even though they are 'wedded to the past.'" Dana Goldstein at The American Prospect said:

"If ...teachers... embrace the Democrats for Education Reform agenda — giving up tenure in exchange for higher starting salaries and merit pay tied to student achievement — the unions will have to get with the program. If they don't, they'll risk becoming irrelevant to their own members." Unions are already becoming irrelevant to their own members for the opposite reasons: capitulation to the BloomKlein Educational Equality Project agenda. Unfortunately, Randi Weingarten will not resist the "advice" Dana Goldstein offers and will continue to lead the teacher union movement into oblivion.

Norm blogs daily at: http://ednotesonline.blogspot.com/ His email is: normsco@gmail.com

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