July 25, 2006

Lightning education politics analysis

Two items across the transom today, with a brief response each before my son kicks me off the computer to play a MUD (or is it a MOO?):

  1. Yesterday's Title I Online article on NCLB politics seems mostly on target, as AFT's NCLBlog and Andrew Rotherham point out. There are several dynamics interfering (in the wave-like fashion), and so I'd expect some choppy sailing for whoever's interested in regulatory implementation over the next year. One issue the article did not discuss: increasing signs that the Democrats will take over at least one house of Congress next year, something that will increase the hostility of Congressional oversight, especially in areas with political implications. One possibility for ED's apparent capriciousness in its sanctions threats (and here I refer to crossed signals with state governments): This year may be the last point at which ED can "get tough" without an immediate hearing in one or both houses on Capitol Hill.
  2. I'd stayed out of the fray on the Joe Williams piece on NEA funding of like-minded groups on NCLB, even though I thought the phrase "front groups" sounds awfully 1950s-ish. There's a solid historical reason for the development of what David Tyack called "interlocking directorates" in education politics, beyond Tyack's analysis, and the whole topic could have used a lot less outrage and a little more perspective. See the AFT NCLBlog commentary, Kevin Carey's rebuttal, and Rotherham's blurb for the gist of claims and counter-claims on whether the report is anti-union. My initial impression was that it was semi-heavily spun (welterweightly spun?) and missed opportunities for deeper discussion about the role of teachers unions. So I was inclined to ignore the mini-tiff, because even though I'm not teaching or being paid to reseasrch this summer, my plate is completely full.

    On the other hand, however, comes Rotherham's response to Mickey Kaus's mini-punditry over the weekend about Democratic officeholders' willingness to criticize teachers unions:

    [I]t seems to me that the whole teachers' union issue wouldn’t have the resonance it does if Democrats were not frequently so entirely tethered to them. Put another way, I don’t think [the Center for American Progress] is in the union busting business but because there is frequently so little daylight between the teachers’ unions and Democrats any effort to do much of anything interesting on education policy almost inevitably runs afoul of them...

    There's a myth there about tethering, and this time it's less to do with unions than the misnomer of a monolithic Democratic party. It is true that the relationship between local unions and Democratic legislators is usually warmer than with Republican legislators, but that's not uniform and there's an additional difference between legislators and executives at the local and state level. (In Florida before Jeb Bush, wags said that we had a two-party state: there's the legislature, and there's the governor.) Unions didn't particularly care who was in charge of a city or suburban district in the 1960s and 1970s (when teacher union activism became a major force in local and state school politics): They wanted recognition and negotiation of working conditions. The end result is that while Democratic politicians have more of a reason to negotiate policies with teachers unions (see L.A. mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and the fate of his takeover as the primary extant example), they have different motives, and you're always going to see differences between teachers unions and politicians of either major party as long as there's a political reason for an officeholder to address education policy.

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Posted in Education policy on July 25, 2006 7:13 PM |