Monday, October 24, 2011

Tea Party and Teachers’ Union Make Strange Brew: Jonathan Alter

Jonathan Alter nails what's going on in Congress:

Talk about bizarre bedfellows. The National Education Association, the country's largest teachers' union, and the Tea Party are both arguing against federal accountability standards in education.

The NEA's position is no surprise. Although its liberal members support federal mandates for special education, desegregation and a hundred other things, God forbid they should be judged by federal standards on the little matter of whether their students are actually learning anything. The union prefers the status quo, where they use their muscle and sophistication to turn every state and local accountability effort into mush.

With the help of hidebound union leaders, superintendents and bureaucrats who care more about their privileges than kids, 17 states have actually lowered standards in recent years to make student test scores look better. Meanwhile, about 90 percent of local school districts that receive Title I aid (intended to help schools that have a high percentage of low- income students) have figured out how to game the system to continue getting funding from Washington while doing virtually nothing to improve their worst schools.

Anti-Mandate Mood

As the Senate considers a bill that would overhaul President George W. Bush's failed No Child Left Behind Act, an anti-mandate mood has taken over. The individual mandate requiring the uninsured to buy health-care coverage under the Affordable Care Act is now such political poison that the idea of Washington requiring anything from anybody is anathema on the right.

So now the pending education bill contains no requirement that states implement rigorous teacher and principal evaluation systems (a must for improving schools). And it would attach almost no other strings to federal aid beyond the nebulous standard of "continuous improvement." Where else but in the American education system could moving from an F to a D on a self-graded exam be seen as success?

Ideology Over Experience

Even Republican Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, who understood the importance of accountability when he was secretary of education 20 years ago, is now saying that moving away from guaranteed job security for teachers and toward performance standards should be voluntary. He must know that this approach has been shown countless times to have no effect. For Alexander and other Republicans who have been saying sensible things on education for years, ideology is now trumping their own experience as the Tea Party's influence grows.

But look on the bright side: Today's congressional dysfunction suggests that the odds are decent that the whole bill fails.  


Tea Party and Teachers' Union Make Strange Brew: Jonathan Alter

By Jonathan Alter Oct 20, 2011 7:00 PM ET Thu Oct 20 23:00:31 GMT 2011 0 Comments

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