Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Too much about perception, too little about partners?

Rick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute has a take on what's happening between the Obama administration and organized teachers.  His new blog post for EdWeek discusses Washington developments on education policy, mainly on Congress and the White House maneuvering on "edujobs" proposal to prevent teacher layoffs, Race to the Top, and future ESEA/NCLB renewal.  In the process, he offers a theory about part of the Obama strategy.

First, Hess shares some work by Dave Rogers of Politico.com:
Rogers depicts a "destructive divide between job-hungry lawmakers and a White House anxious to burnish its business credentials at the expense of teacher unions." He reports a meeting (which was news to me) in which Obama personally appealed to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in the run-up to the July Fourth recess, asking her "to intercede and protect education reform funds from being cut to pay for the teachers' jobs." She blew him off, resulting in the Obama veto threat.
Later, Hess writes:
Even Capitol Hill's Democratic education kingpin, House Education and Labor Committee Chair George Miller, is now taking shots at the administration. "There's no strategy there," Miller said. Obama and Duncan are trying to find a way to ladle out more bucks while also negotiating public concerns about soaring deficits and using a prickly relationship with the teacher unions as evidence of the president's reform bona fides. It's no big surprise that many Hill Dems reportedly regard the administration's resulting maneuvers as too cute by half.
I can't speak directly to whether Rogers and Hess have the story right.  And yet...

A few months ago, I was wondering why the Race to the Top rules were so rigid on charters, considering that even the most positive study results on charters find a limited impact.  A thought I considered was very like the analysis above: pushing charters works as a signal that one wants big change. Even if the schools themselves continue to turn in (at best) limited improvement for students, pushing for charters works as a posture.

 I share the Rogers and Hess thinking above because they offered such a similar idea: maybe being seen to challenge "the establishment" is actually the main point of the effort.

Of course, if that is what's happening, it's symbolism endangering substance, and perception at the expense of partnerships that are fairly essential for implementing any education reform that will make a difference for students.


  1. Agreed, Susan. Insightful post, and I especially agree about the posturing with charter schools.

  2. Susan,

    You say even the most positive charter school reports only show limited impact.

    What do you think about Carolyn Hoxby's 2009 report on New York City charters (http://www.nber.org/~schools/charterschoolseval/how_NYC_charter_schools_affect_achievement_sept2009.pdf) or the Boston Foundation's study of Boston charters (http://www.tbf.org/uploadedFiles/tbforg/Utility_Navigation/Multimedia_Library/Reports/InformingTheDebate_Final.pdf)


Updates and data on Kentucky education!