Thursday, March 03, 2011

Disingenuous Dems

And here's Mike Petrilli's reply:

Disingenuous Dems

Posted by Mike Petrilli on February 25th, 2011 at 2:58 pm

As Alexander Russo rightly noted yesterday, many reformers (especially those of the Democratic persuasion) are struggling to figure out what to say about Wisconsin. Joe Williams of Democrats for Education Reform offered a thoughtful, if agonized, take on the issue, but ultimately lands at a bizarre place (click on the same link and scroll down):

The fact that so many people are watching what looks an awful lot like an attempt to stomp unions out of existence threatens to hurt what has been a rather impressive era for education reform that has played out from coast to coast in the last few years. And it isn't just Wisconsin and Indiana. The fight is playing out in places like Ohio as well, and while we're normally an optimistic bunch here at DFER, we are profoundly worried that this kind of overreach will set education reform back years.

Andy Rotherham joins the chorus, responding to Checker's Gadfly editorial that urged reform-minded Dems to stand with the Governor Walkers of the world.

It seems to me Finn would have a much stronger case if he could (a) show where some moderate Dem has reversed course on a position in the wake of Wisconsin or (b) acknowledged that, in fact, so far the only people who have really changed course are Republican governors in states like Indiana or Florida. To say that moderate reform Dems who were against abolishing collective bargaining before the Wisconsin episode are still against abolishing it now is true, yes, but doesn't seem like much of an argument…So partisanship is fun but I'd actually be more interested in hearing Finn's take on the other argument making the rounds: By overreaching Republicans like Scott Walker may actually be setting back efforts to make some common-sense changes to teachers contracts.

A few points:

1. Andy may be right that DFER-types have never called for the abolition of teachers unions or collective bargaining rights. But he and his ilk do support the expansion of charter schools–the vast majority of which are non-unionized. Furthermore, reform-minded Dems want merit pay, rigorous teacher evaluations, and quality-sensitive layoffs–all of which the unions oppose, and all of which are impeded by the typical collective bargaining agreement. And they want schools to be more attractive to new recruits–which (as Chris pointed out earlier) requires reining in pension and health-care benefits in order to  boost salaries. So why wouldn't they support limiting collective bargaining rights, as Governor Walker proposed? Yes, teachers "should have a voice," but they don't have a God-given right to bargain for free health care, or unaffordable pensions, or Kafkaesque evaluation protocols. Is Walker really trying to "stomp unions out of existence?" Who's being partisan now?

2. How exactly is this going to set the reform movement back? I understand that my Democratic friends desperately want to be seen as true progressives–even though they support ideas that were long associated with the GOP. And I guess they believe that if reform ideas are "infected" with the taint of being "Republican," it will doom the inroads being made into key Democratic constituencies. Perhaps. But does anyone really think the unions are going to offer concessions–like they did in Wisconsin–without a strong push like this? And does anyone believe that local teacher union contracts are going to suddenly get more reasonable without political pressure from the states? Arguably it was the Republican drive for vouchers in the 1990s that gave rise to–and cover for–the charter school movement. Something similar is playing out now. Democratic ed reformers should see Governors Walker, Kasich, Daniels, Christie, and Scott as blessings from on high, for their "extreme" positions can make DFER ideas look tame.

3. It's worth noting that, for all the talk of bipartisanship and cross-ideological agreement within the reform movement, fault lines still exist. I used to think those were mostly around vouchers or funding. But today at least it appears that one's opinion about public sector unions–whether they should exist, whether they need limits–is the major factor separating DFERS from RFERS.

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