Democrats are fervent supporters of public education, and the party genuinely wants to help disadvantaged kids stuck in bad schools. But it resists bold action. It is immobilized. Impotent. The explanation lies in its longstanding alliance with the teachers’ unions — which, with more than three million members, tons of money and legions of activists, are among the most powerful groups in American politics. The Democrats benefit enormously from all this firepower, and they know what they need to do to keep it. They need to stay inside the box.
And they have done just that. Democrats favor educational “change” — as long as it doesn’t affect anyone’s job, reallocate resources, or otherwise threaten the occupational interests of the adults running the system. Most changes of real consequence are therefore off the table. The party specializes instead in proposals that involve spending more money and hiring more teachers — such as reductions in class size, across-the-board raises and huge new programs like universal preschool. These efforts probably have some benefits for kids. But they come at an exorbitant price, both in dollars and opportunities foregone, and purposely ignore the fundamentals that need to be addressed.
What should the Democrats be doing? Above all, they should be guided by a single overarching principle: Do what is best for children.
Archive for November, 2008
Last Friday, the Jefferson County Education Association (JCEA) president sent an email through the chain to her members about their political refund option in anticipation of the Independence Institute informing them. We’d like to thank her for helping to spread the word, but need to provide a few clarifying comments about her message first:
1. JCEA’s Every Member Option (EMO) political money is $24 a year (or $2 a month) for each member. For those not willing or able to do the math, CEA’s EMO is $39 a year ($3.25 x 12).
2. “JCEA and CEA’s EMO is optional for all members.” Only if by “optional” you mean the union takes the money and promises to give it back if you fill out separate refund request letters to CEA and JCEA before December 15. Find out how here, or go directly to CEA’s online refund request form here.
3. “Contribution” is a funny word to use to describe the EMO. Insisting that “Members agree with the EMO contribution” because most of them don’t ask for it back before a deadline sets a pretty low standard. The point isn’t whether a majority of JCEA/CEA members agree with the EMO, but whether each member is well-informed enough to make his or her own decision and does so affirmatively.
4. The claim that my friends at the Independence Institute are “telling teachers to request a refund of their ‘political money’ and encourages members to drop their membership” is specious. Like the Independent Teachers website highlighted in the email, the messages themselves don’t encourage teachers to take action one way or the other. It just points out their options (including membership in CEA), something that appears quite threatening to the JCEA president.
5. Telling teachers exactly how to respond to emails that haven’t even arrived yet is both presumptuous and condescending. Apparently, the JCEA president has serious doubts about whether her members can think for themselves. Providing access to complete information about teachers’ money and membership options doesn’t sit so well with some.
6. If a member has questions about how his or her EMO is spent, the JCEA president insists that members make a phone call directly to her. She fails to point out that teachers can find the information on our website. Or they can go on the Colorado Secretary of State website themselves and search “JCEA” and “Public Education Committee” to see how the respective small donor committees dole out part of the money collected from their paychecks right along with general dues.
Read on for the actual text of the email sent to teachers from the JCEA president: Continue Reading »
I find it kind of nice to be not-so-famous, without all the media attention. We should just let kids be kids, right? That must be a lot tougher when your dad has just been elected President of the United States.
To show its support for the burgeoning public school choice movement, the people over at Democrats for Education Reform were circulating an online petition encouraging the Obamas to send young Sasha and Malia to a Washington, D.C., charter school.
In response to the petition, the Center for Education Reform’s Jeannie Allen wrote over at the Edspresso blog why choosing a charter school would be a bad idea for the First Family:
While my organization is the nation’s leading advocate for charter school choices, I’m not so sure I want to see the Obamas choose a charter school. Though I disagree with our president-elect on many issues and fear that obsessive government solutions and spending will push us further into a government dependency, I want the best for him and his family when they come to Washington. I want him to have no distractions other than those that impact us all.
With a clever, tongue-in-cheek tone, Allen explains the rigorous challenges, structural inequities, and political hectoring to which charter schools are subject. She concludes:
Charter schools are working for about 1.5 million children, and in the District they are the key to why Chancellor Rhee can do what she is doing. They have opened up minds and hearts to a better way for children. The few that haven’t worked have, like any failing school should be, closed. But despite working 20 hours a day, on less funding and still meeting the needs of the vast majority of their kids, these schools have to fight every day for the right to exist and must put up with political shenanigans that have more to do with adult jobs than children’s welfare.
So stay out of that one, Mr. President-elect. We don’t need you to have more worries than the ones you’ll already have upon arrival.
In the end, Allen won the argument. As the Flypaper blog reported on Friday, the Obama family chose the prestigious private Sidwell Friends school for their daughters:
Regardless, seems like a wise choice since the school a) has dealt with first family students before and b) is similar enough to the Lab School in Chicago to provide (hopefully) a smooth mid-year transition. She might be a First Daughter, but Sasha is still very young.
They may have a famous and soon-to-be-powerful dad, but we can’t forget they’re real kids just like the rest of us. And we ought not forget about those families who depend on the opportunities provided by the D.C. voucher program.
Posted under Edublogging
In a new Education Next article, Michael Petrilli gives a little primer on the education blogosphere – what he calls “the far end” of the long tail of the blogosphere at large. That makes someone like Joanne Jacobs, one of the more well-trafficked edu-bloggers, “a big fish in this small pond.”
One way to measure the influence of blogs is by Technorati Authority, which simply tracks the number of different blogs that link to you in the past 180 days. Since I’ve been out there “watching” for more than 180 days now, I thought it would be neat to know where I stack up compared to Petrilli’s list. (Ironically, the article, intended for a non-savvy audience, is already out of date – or as Jay Greene puts it, “like so two months ago”. Meanwhile, Robert Pondiscio at the Core Knowledge Blog wonders why his site was left off Petrilli’s list.)
Anyway, in the world of the education blogosphere, it seems there are no education policy blogs in the top 10. Hmmm. I can’t say I’m terribly surprised by that. Anyway this small “top 10″ section at the end of the long tail includes respected friends like Mike Antonucci’s Intercepts, the Fordham Institute’s Flypaper, and Jay Greene. Their respective authority scores, according to the Core Knowledge blog, are 69, 95, and 93.
What’s the Technorati authority score for Ed Is Watching? 14. Hey! I say it’s not bad for being only 5 years old! And anyway, Technorati is so 2006!
It’s now official. The latest Issue Paper in the *Innovative Colorado School District Series, written by my Education Policy Center friend Ben DeGrow, has been released: Douglas County’s Home-Grown Teachers: The Learning Center Waiver Program (PDF).
The Independence Institute website explains what the paper is all about better than I can:
Seeking a creative solution to shortages in various teaching positions, Douglas County School District received a waiver from the state of Colorado to license and train its own teachers through the Learning Center. The district currently is able to license teachers in areas such as math, science, and world languages; to provide special education endorsements to teachers in other specialties; and to equip unlicensed professionals with the basic skills to teach more highly specialized courses to high schoolers. The waiver is scheduled to be renewed at the end of 2008, contingent on Douglas County meeting certain performance goals.
If it’s true that this means a way for schools to get more skilled and effective teachers in our classrooms to help kids learn better, then more power to Douglas County. And I hope other school districts pick up on it, too.
Anyway, the paper is kind of long. As usual, the Independence Institute also has created a podcast to give you a flavor of the topic. This time, author Ben DeGrow interviews Learning Center executive director Mike Lynch about the waiver program:
This story first made the Denver news way back in May 2006, as Douglas County made its case for waivers to the State Board of Education. Ben wrote an op-ed back then. The story may reappear in the news next month when the school district is scheduled to go before the State Board to get the waiver renewed. Stay tuned. I’ll do my best to help keep you informed about that.
*The Innovative Colorado School District Series also includes the following papers (note: all links are PDFs):
- The Ignacio Market Driven Compensation Plan and Why It Fell Short (2005)
- Delta County School District Has VISION for School Choice (2005)
- Contract Schools Bring Innovative New Choices to Denver Public Schools (2005)
- Denver’s ProComp and Teacher Compensation Reform in Colorado (2007)
Okay, so the last time I told you Joe Williams from Democrats for Education Reform was about to appear on the Independent Thinking television program, it turned out to be a false alarm. Schedules change. Those things are beyond my control.
But now I’ve been promised that this time it’s going to happen for sure. If you’re in the Denver area, you’ll want to tune in to KBDI Channel 12 this Friday, November 21, at 8:30 PM, or next Tuesday, November 25, at 5:00 PM, to watch Joe Williams and our own Pam Benigno discuss the movement to reform education in the Democratic Party and how it might play out here in Colorado. Set your VCR or TiVo, if you must, but please don’t miss it!
(By the way, here’s a link to the hour-long video of the provocative discussion led by Joe Williams at our Independence Institute offices a couple months ago.)
Colorado is the home of the first state chapter of Democrats for Education Reform. And after all, as our own Ben DeGrow pointed out a few days ago in the Denver Post, there is hope for more positive change in the area of school choice and other innovation education reform from the new Democratic leadership in the state legislature.
The times are changing in Washington, D.C. And that means federal education policy is on the table. What about No Child Left Behind? Should it be eliminated, or just modified? What is worth keeping, and what’s not?
Starting today and going until Thursday, over at the NewTalk website, a group of education experts discuss the question: “Should we scrap No Child Left Behind?” The discussion is moderated by our good friend and prolific scholar Jay Greene. NewTalk is a project of the national legal reform group Common Good.
Panelists include Joe Williams of Democrats for Education Reform, Neal McCluskey from Cato’s Center for Educational Freedom, the Hoover Institution’s Eric Hanushek, and Elaine Gantz Berman from the Colorado State Board of Education.
Take some time in the next couple days to head over and check out the discussion, which is sure to be thoughtful and lively.
If you’re someone who reads the Denver newspapers on the weekend, you likely noticed an op-ed in the Denver Post written by our own Ben DeGrow. The title of the piece is “Putting Education – Not Unions – First”. (You’d almost think Ben has been reading a thing or two that I write here.)
But never mind that. I just wanted to share with you one section that I particularly liked and hope that you check out the whole thing:
Sometimes, the interests of the Democratic Party and teachers union officials align closely. The Colorado Education Association and Colorado Federation of Teachers together give Democrats about $50 in contributions for every $1 they give Republicans.
Of course, not all Democratic legislators are in the pockets of the teachers union hierarchy. It is remarkable, though, to see not one but two legislators without union connections assume the highest positions at our state Capitol. Peter Groff’s Democratic peers voted to re-elect him as state Senate president, and Rep. Terrance Carroll was selected to become the new speaker of the House.
Supporters of public school parental choice could find no better friends in the Democratic caucus than Groff and Carroll. Both men have a strong record of protecting charter schools against union-backed legislative attacks, even attacks launched by other Democrats. [link added]
Bold words from a guy whom CEA has called “[one] of the most virulent *anti-public education individuals in the state”.
* “anti-public education” = CEA code speak for anyone who disagrees with their agenda
There are plenty of kids in Colorado who live out in the country or in remote small towns. I don’t know many of them myself. Yet while I’m sure they have their own challenges in learning and education, they don’t get as much attention as those of us who live in and around the big city of Denver.
That’s part of the reason why my friends in the Education Policy Center put together a project looking at the academic performance of Colorado’s rural school districts, compared with the numbers of poor and non-white students they serve.
The author of the newly-released Assessing Colorado Rural Public School Performance (PDF) is Paul Mueller, who spent the summer working in our offices. (Just in case you were wondering, I didn’t see much of Paul, because I spent much of my summer months off school playing outdoors rather than visiting the Independence Institute.)
Anyway, for those of you who don’t have the time to read Paul’s paper, you can listen to him and Pam Benigno talk about the findings of the report – including a couple school districts that succeeded at “beating the odds” despite high-poverty or high-minority student populations – on an iVoices podcast:
I hope you walk away with a sense of what successful practices are being used to make a difference with rural students, and of what the opportunities for open enrollment across school district boundaries might do to enhance outcomes. For the sake of those other kids in faraway places, let’s keep the debate and discussion going.
It’s Friday. I couldn’t resist the chance to play in the snow before it melted. And my friends in the Education Policy Center are all recovering from last night’s big Founders’ Night party (that nobody invited me to). So there’s not a lot of time to write.
But I did see this about the guest speaker Michelle Malkin:
Malkin said she felt liberated to have escaped the Beltway, having come West specifically for the educational opportunity available to her children.
Apparently, a major reason Michelle Malkin and her family were attracted to move to Colorado was the availability of high-quality education options. That was terrific news, and very true! While there is still plenty of room for improvement, Colorado does have a thriving charter school sector. Charter schools and all other education options can be found at our amazing School Choice for Kids website.