Democratic Convention 2012

Beleaguered Teachers Unions Still Exert Influence on Democrats Where it Matters

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Convinced?

CHARLOTTE–President Barack Obama has occasionally received high marks from impressionable non-liberals for (in the words of New York Times columnist David Brooks) "tak[ing] on a Democratic constituency, the teachers' unions," in the process becoming "the most determined education reformer in the modern presidency." The evidence for these claims usually comes in a triptych: The president occasionally talks tough about teacher performance, he appointed the decently reformist education secretary Arne Duncan, and together they pushed through the "Race to the Top" initiative that encourages states to embrace reforms.

As I wrote in March 2010, there are some other contextual considerations:

He [also] poured an unprecedented $100 billion into the education status quo via the stimulus package alone, ensuring the exact opposite of what Brooks claims: keeping failed teachers in failing schools. He signed into law the absolutely gratuitous euthanasia of Washington, D.C.'s school voucher program. He proposed jacking up the federal education budget another 6.2 percent this year even in a time of profound fiscal crisis, and the main reformist element of his approach–the Race to the Top initiative, which incentivizes states to embrace charter schools and more closely link teacher evaluation to student performance–amounts to less than 5 percent of the education stimulus money, and may have its biggest impact in railroading through a single national academic standard for K-12 schools.

There has been much talk about education at the Democratic National Convention, including by some of the Democratic politicians who have been most vocal about taking on teachers unions. Meanwhile, the National Education Association alone has a reported 350 delegates at the convention. So who is winning this skirmish in what Tim Cavanaugh has called the DNC's "Laborgeddon"? From the perspective of publicly enumerated policy, I'm calling it a rout: The beleaguered teachers unions have locked in the rhetorical and policy status quo.

Just look at the neutered way that Democratic reformers themselves have discussed education during the convention. In a nutshell, and contrary to some of their performances in office, the consensus has been that we just need to throw more money at the problem while greatly exaggerating the scope of "reform." No rubber rooms shall be harmed in the course of their remarks. Here's Newark Mayor Cory Booker:

ROWR!

[I]nvesting in people doesn't stop with our troops. Our platform and our president make it clear that the most critical investment we can make in a 21st-century, knowledge-based economy is education. Our president has already doubled Pell grants, raised education standards, invested in research and development at our universities and early childhood education in our neighborhoods. Our platform and our president state it clearly: our nation cannot continue to be the world's number one economy if we aren't committed to being the world's number one educator.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who has locked horns with his local teachers unions, was fairly mute:

[T]he president worked to put accountability in our children's schools with "Race to the Top" so that every child has an education that measures up to their full potential. 

Note the clever (and knowing) deployment of "worked to." And here's Education Secretary Arne Duncan:

[The president] believes that teachers matter. In his first two years in office, he helped save the jobs of 400,000 educators.

And President Obama didn't just invest resources; he demanded reform. And 46 states responded by raising education standards. The president also believes teachers must be respected and paid like the professionals they are. No teacher should have to teach to the test. Great teachers should be recognized and rewarded.

Re: "demanded"—As Reason Foundation Director of Education Lisa Snell has put it, the combination of massive teacher bailouts and minor Race to the Top carrots (which are not to be confused with sticks) amount to "status quo 20, reform 1."

Caption contest!

The non-reformers speaking at the convention haven't even bothered paying lip service to the idea of changing the way public education dollars are spent. Former president Bill Clinton, in his highly entertaining speech last night, tossed off a one-liner typical of the genre:

We know that investments in education and infrastructure and scientific and technological research increase growth.  They increase good jobs, and they create new wealth for all the rest of us.

And Tuesday night keynoter Julian Castro, mayor of San Antonio, probably best summed up this view:

We have to come together and invest in opportunity today for prosperity tomorrow. And it starts with education. […]

We know that you can't be pro-business unless you're pro-education. We know that pre-K and student loans aren't charity. They're a smart investment in a workforce that can fill and create the jobs of tomorrow. We're investing in our young minds today to be competitive in the global economy tomorrow.

The Democratic Party Platform crows that the "Recovery Act represented the largest education investment since President Johnson," and included this revealing non-sequitur: "Because there is no substitute for a great teacher at the head of a classroom, the President helped school districts save more than 400,000 educator jobs." More tortured language from the party's statement of values:

We Democrats honor our nation's teachers, who do a heroic job for their students every day. If we want high-quality education for all our kids, we must listen to the people who are on the front lines. The President has laid out a plan to prevent more teacher layoffs while attracting and rewarding great teachers. This includes raising standards for the programs that prepare our teachers, recognizing and rewarding good teaching, and retaining good teachers. We also believe in carefully crafted evaluation systems that give struggling teachers a chance to succeed and protect due process if another teacher has to be put in the classroom.

How DARE you!

This walking-on-eggshells act extended outside the Time Warner Cable Arena. On Monday afternoon, at a theater a stone's throw away, a handful of teachers union activists celebrated Labor Day by protesting the screening of a new Maggie Gyllenhaal vehicle called Won't Back Down. The film's sin? Depicting teachers unions and administrators as the obstacles to improving poor public schools via the "parent trigger" and other items from the school-reform toolbox.

"Choice is a false thing," protester Pamela Grundy told Reason.tv. "There's no evidence that they'll get a better education for their children, and those parents are being manipulated by for-profit corporations….It doesn't serve the public good of having excellent educational opportunities available for everyone."

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, with typical charm and finesse, has accused Won't Back Down of "using the most blatant stereotypes and caricatures I have ever seen," resorting to "falsehoods and anti-union stereotypes," and "affixing blame on the wrong culprit: America's teachers unions." The film, Weingarten said, "contains several egregiously misleading scenes with the sole purpose of undermining people's confidence in public education, public school teachers and teachers unions."

But even funnier than watching labor get red-faced at Hollywood was the Democrats' delicate approach to allowing the film to be screened at all (an anguish that organizers of the Republican National Convention did not share). As The Huffington Post reported,

[U]nlike Tampa, where the promoters had little concern about making waves with the party establishment and had no trouble when they ran the idea past the Republican National Committee, the request for a Charlotte screening went to the highest levels of the Obama administration, which passed the decision off to the Democratic National Committee, according to a source with knowledge of the chain of events. According to this source, Valerie Jarrett, Obama's close personal adviser, and David Plouffe, his top political adviser, both saw the request but eventually handed the decision over to the DNC's political director, Patrick Gaspard, who raised no objections.

Bottom line: Those who seek to reform public education through competition and choice should not expect much from a second Obama/Biden term.

Learn more about "The Machine" from Reason.tv:

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  1. Where are my homeschool vouchers, dammit.

  2. Sometimes dude you jsut have to roll with it.

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  3. “He (obama) signed into law the absolutely gratuitous euthanasia of Washington, D.C.’s school voucher program.”
    _

    No vouchers have local voter approval to transfer local property tax monies outta the local district.

    1. This is incoherent even by your standards.

      1. this is a good time to buy a house so you may begin to understand property taxes

        1. So you meant “Voters have not given approval for local property taxes to be transferred out of the local school district via vouchers?”

          This is a good time to go to a non-public school so you may begin to understand English.

    2. Then maybe that local district ought to improve so people will choose to send their children there.

      That’s how competition works, you moron.

      1. But if you take down the fence, people might leave!

    3. Gay marriage initiatives left to voters haven’t worked out so great either. Doesn’t mean it’s on the wrong side of liberty.

      1. No.

        When voters get it wrong (as in they don’t side with progressives), then it is the duty of the courts to intervene.

        When voters get it right (as in they agree side with progressives), then any intervention by the courts is “judicial activism”.

        Heads they win, tails you lose.

        1. the only court intervention needed w vouchers is to force the issue onto the local ballot for loval voters.

          absent that, vouchers are typical gop brownshit tatics

          1. brownshit

          2. Not all school funding is local.

          3. But what if the local voters get it wrong and OK the vouchers?

            Isn’t it the duty of the courts to overturn the vote and stick it to the GOP?

            1. I’ll back Orrin here and say that if he wants to get rid of State Boards and Departments of Education and return power to the municipalities, that is OK by me.

  4. Can’t have kids learning unapproved material.

  5. In a nutshell, and contrary to some of their performances in office, the consensus has been that we just need to throw more money at the problem while greatly exaggerating the scope of “reform.”

    Well, there you go. They’ve come to a consensus. Who can argue with consensus? If there’s a consensus then it must be true.

    1. The science is settled, as it were.

      1. The social science is settled?

        1. All science is settled by consensus now.

          That old scientific method went the way of the constitution. It was way too limiting. And old.

  6. Caption Contest!

    ‘What style is that?’
    ‘Well if you must know, it’s the Preying Mantis style.’
    ‘Well this is the Snake’.

    1. ‘And now I will demonstrate a black man kicking a white man in the face’

    2. Trouser Snake?

      ‘Beware my Low Aiming Cigar Style!’

      ‘I will counter with my Louis XIV Leg Thrust!’

  7. Years ago, Ann Coulter did throw out a funny one-liner which I’ll paraphrase:

    “Most common words heard at the Democratic National Convention: ‘Where do you teach?'”

  8. Caption contest: “It was more fun when I was the bootlickee.”

  9. the teachers’ unions are invested in expanding the power of the teachers’ unions. It is no more complicated than that. The state of education is immaterial. They are a pressure group; no more, no less.

    Like most other unions, the teachers’ version act as a money-laundering operation for the Dems. Teachers who maybe conservative, libertarian, or apolitical still have money taken from their checks and siphoned into Dem candidates’ campaigns.

    When WI gave teachers the opt-out ability, a sizable number broke from the union. Some might see that as a clue. The education lobby has always been against anything that challenges its monopoly, whether the alternative is called charters, choice, or something else. Most folks would see that as a red flag.

    1. Pournelle’s Iron Law of Bureaucracy tates that in any bureaucratic organization there will be two kinds of people:

      First, there will be those who are devoted to the goals of the organization. Examples are dedicated classroom teachers in an educational bureaucracy, many of the engineers and launch technicians and scientists at NASA, even some agricultural scientists and advisors in the former Soviet Union collective farming administration.

      Secondly, there will be those dedicated to the organization itself. Examples are many of the administrators in the education system, many professors of education, many teachers union officials, much of the NASA headquarters staff, etc.

      The Iron Law states that in every case the second group will gain and keep control of the organization. It will write the rules, and control promotions within the organization.”

  10. “Choice is a false thing,” protester Pamela Grundy told Reason.tv. “There’s no evidence that they’ll get a better education for their children, and those parents are being manipulated by for-profit corporations….

    The U.S. government education system is the biggesst for-profit corporation the world has ever seen. I suspect bigger than the Catholic Church.

    1. They would make just as much sense if they replaced “corporations” with “bogeymen.”

    2. “Choice is a false thing,”

      War is peace.
      Freedom is slavery.

      and most appropriately: Ignorance is strength

  11. Does anyone fall for the democrats tire old education is the solution snake oil?

    1. I read letters daily in my local paper that make that exact point.

      If you don’t support increasing teacher salaries then you are opposed to education. You’re just a corporate shill who wants illiterate low-wage workers in the sweat shops. There is no middle ground. No alternative. Either you want to spend more public money on education, or you want no education at all.

      1. To piss off tony:

        “Socialism, like the ancient ideas from which it springs, confuses the distinction between government and society. As a result of this, every time we object to a thing being done by government, the socialists conclude that we object to its being done at all. … We disapprove of state education. Then the socialists say that we are opposed to any education. We object to a state religion. Then the socialists say that we want no religion at all. We object to a state-enforced equality. Then they say that we are against equality. And so on, and so on. It is as if the socialists were to accuse us of not wanting people to eat because we do not want the state to raise the grain.”

        — Fr?d?ric Bastiat, The Law, 1849

  12. I just cannot follow the logic that states that because everyone needs to eat, either everyone needs to eat at Ruth’s Chris or no one can eat there.

    1. It’s not logic. It’s a matter of fairness. The person who can’t afford to drop a hundred bucks for dinner will envy the person who can. Why should they feel envy? That’s not fair. How come one person can go there while another can’t afford it? That’s not fair.

      “Sorry Johnny, but since you didn’t bring enough for everyone, it’s going in my drawer.”

      Teach ’em early.

      1. One of the many things that added up to convince me to take my kids out of private school was the supply list listed a box of 16 crayons. If you bought the 32, 64, 120, etc. your kid wasn’t allowed to keep it because not everyone had the 32, 64, 120, etc. That, and the principal ruling that a Kindle is an “electronic toy” and not allowed at school.

        When my kids didn’t re-enroll and she called to ask why, I told her it was because she was, and I quote, an abject moron.

        1. Even if I had the coin to send the little one to a private school, the ones available around here totally suck. They’re all religious institutions that aren’t even accredited.

          Luckily the local public school was a private school until it was subsumed by the public school system a few decades ago, and because it retains some of the pride and values of a private institution, it happens to be one of, if not the, best public school in the state.

          1. Not all private schools around me are religious. There are a few “academies” run by ultra-progressive hand wringers.

            p.s. Well, except for one, who had an actual bona-fide Big-L Libertarian as the principle.

        2. I’m surprised about the crayon cap. You’d think they’ed want to have a few kids with 120’s because they could then be shared with the rest of the class.

        3. But this is the wonder of private schooling. You didn’t like the policies, so you had the option of pulling your kids out and finding another option. With public schools, that option doesn’t always exist, especially in areas that don’t have a lot of private school options. If you don’t like the policies, curriculum, etc, you’re stuck with it. Because, fuck you, that’s why.

          1. I send my kids to private school and I like the ability to tell the principal to stick it when I don’t like her policies. I’m a cash-paying customer and I expect to get a good product for my money. If I’m not getting what I want I’ll take my thousands of dollars in tuition money somewhere else and the school administration knows that, so when I talk to them, they tend to actually listen.

            A couple of years ago, a group of parents had a problem with a teacher- she was rude and disrespectful to the parents and was a generally lousy teacher in the classroom. There were several complaints to the pricipal throughout the year about this teacher’s attitude attitude, and the teacher did not teach at that school again the next year.

            That’s why I love private school. It costs me a bundle, but the service you get is worth it.

  13. [The president] believes that teachers matter. In his first two years in office, he helped save the jobs of 400,000 educators.

    And then the stimulus money ran out…

    1. …and the skies turned termination slip pink, and the tears rained down.

  14. Teachers unions are the worst of all unions.

    1. Apparently you know nothing of my failed marriage.

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  16. like Tampa, where the promoters had little concern about making waves with the party establishment and had no trouble when they ran the idea past the Republican http://airmaxhall.fantasyblog.fr/ National Committee, the request for a Charlotte screening went to the highest levels of the Obama administration, which passed the decision off to the Democratic National Committee, according to a source with knowledge of the chain of events. According to this source, Valerie Jarrett, Obama’s close personal adviser, and David Plouffe, his top political adviser, both saw the request but eventually handed the decision over to the DNC’s political director, Patrick Gaspard, who raised no objections.

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