Mike Petrilli on Lessons from the Election
Here’s Mike Petrilli with lessons from the election:
Teachers unions remain the Goliath to the school reformers’ David, even in red states. That was the lesson from votes last week in Idaho and Indiana, where unions successfully took on or took out Republican school superintendents.
In Idaho, three laws associated with Tom Luna, the state superintendent of public instruction, were repealed by referendum, turning back the clock on efforts to phase out teacher tenure, to link pay increases to performance and to expand online learning. Luna’s counterpart in Indiana, Tony Bennett, often called the darling of the national education- reform movement, was fired from his job, despite outspending his little-known, though union-backed, opponent by 4-to-1. Bennett had been an aggressive advocate of vouchers and charter schools, and had called for stronger state control of struggling schools.
In hindsight, the losses shouldn’t have been surprising. Even when reformers outspend their opponents, the unions easily out-organize them. That comes down to simple arithmetic: With 3 million teachers and several million more bus drivers, food- service workers, aides and other staff, the public-education system is the largest employer in the U.S. These folks vote, and they make their views known to friends, family and neighbors, through traditional word of mouth and social media. They’ve even been known to send word via the children in their classrooms.
What lessons should school reformers take from the Indiana and Idaho experiences? Should we adjust our policies? Our tone? Our political tactics?
The answer: All three.
…No young movement in any field can win every battle all the time. Setbacks are inevitable. Victory over the long run can be achieved only if we learn the right lessons from defeat. By aiming our efforts at the schools with the gravest problems, changing our tone and improving our organizing tactics, we can keep moving in the right direction. The fight to guarantee all children a decent education goes on.