Friday, November 14, 2008

Obama may make parents a stronger player in education

John Kirtley sent me the article below with this comment:

Today we had an event in Jacksonville celebrating our tax credit scholarship program for low income children. I wish President-elect Obama could have seen it. It was held at a school in a poor neigborhood that has a 99% graduation rate, in a city that graduates less than half its minority students. Our MC was a black Democrat, one of many in attendance. Please see this clip (2 min):

For those like Obama who are "pro parental choice but anti-voucher", consider this: there are private schools in Jacksonville serving low income kids on this program. There are five charter schools in the city. Would the President elect tell the parents who were at this event today that this program is wrong? Would he tell parents whose children are in schools not working for them that they should wait until a charter school comes to their neighborhood? They should wait when 95 other schools like this one are eager to take their kids?

These are real lives we are talking about. These parents don't care that he "proudly proclaimed his history of public school choice" to the NEA. They have a simple question for him: why can't we choose these schools?

Here's an excerpt from the article:

I was thrilled that he knew he was wading into hostile territory, and did it anyway. He stood up before the largest national teacher assembly in the country and announced, in effect, that while he admires teachers and wants badly to help schools, the union agenda sometimes gets in the way. And it does.

Unions first took hold in the United States because they were the only countervailing force to monstrous practices of America’s growing Big-Business. Only by banding together could workers unions force management to the bargaining table. There, unions won such rights as we take for granted now — the 40-hour work week, safety regulations and fair treatment of the 50-year-old whom management wants to replace with a young buck.

But now, in public education, there is no real countervailing force to the unions. The taxpayers have some representation at the bargaining table, but kids and parents have none. Families will never have the kind of monolithic power that can fight in contract negotiations because they’ll never become a bureaucracy in their own right. Nor should they have to. But more than anything, a well-established union is a bureaucracy. Teachers unions came into being to stop the exploitation of teachers, but grew into private businesses whose main concern is to support themselves. And bureaucracies that outlive their usefulness fight like piranhas to stay alive.

So Obama wooed the teachers, but did not woo the union bureaucracy.

By supporting the parents’ right to choose where their children go to school, just as an example, Obama signaled that he was willing to shift some power back to the families who have too long been left out of the education equation. Mandating parents to send their child to a school they don’t like serves no one but the bureaucracy protecting the employees’ paychecks. Empowering parents with options gives weight to a countervailing force that would, at last, bring the kids’ interests into a better balance with the grown-ups’. The interests of students and teachers should never be divided, and if unions cannot serve and nourish the common goals of teachers, families and taxpayers, they deserve to go away.

Here’s hoping that Obama’s momentum will inspire the Democratic Party to examine, finally, and fix this very broken part of its own machine.


Obama may make parents a stronger player in education

01:00 AM EST on Sunday, November 9, 2008

Last summer, presidential candidate Barack Obama addressed the National Education Association’s annual convention, by way of video stream projected onto a big screen. A YouTube version of the speech, with reaction shots of the massive audience of teachers union delegates, was posted soon after the July 5 event. It’s still up, if you’re curious. It has surprises. It gave me some hope.


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