It has been noted in these pages that the major issues of educational policy will now be fought within the democratic party. The unions continue to fight against charter schools, merit pay, standardized testing along the lines prescribed in NCLB, and removal of ineffective teachers. The reformers are for all of these things, and there appears to be little room for agreement.
In 2009, the major fight on education policy isn't between Republicans and unions, or even Republicans and Democrats, but rather within the Democratic coalition. And infighting can be the most vicious kind. On one side are the traditional players in education politics -- the two major teachers' unions, the NEA and the AFT. On the other are union-skeptic education-policy wonks sometimes referred to as "reformers." Union-lobbying efforts focus on greater funding for public schools and social services more generally and on opposition to the punishing mandates of the 2001 No Child Left Behind law. The self-designated "reformers," on the other hand, are often enthusiastic about NCLB and testing and are intent on pursuing new management policies, such as merit pay, public charter schools, and even private-school vouchers. They believe, broadly speaking, that free-market principles applied to public schools will improve student achievement, especially in low-income communities of color.
President Obama, however, is working to foster a more cooperative attitude, and Randi Weingarten, the head of the national AFT and its New York City chapter, sensing the momentum of the reformers, appears to be serving up some conciliatory rhetoric upon which a consensus might be built.
"No issue should be off the table, provided it is good for children and fair for teachers," Weingarten vowed, referencing debates within the Democratic coalition over charter schools and performance pay for teachers -- innovations that teachers' unions traditionally held at arm's length.
I have opined in these pages that there is much for a progressive to dislike in both positions, and I am not overly optimistic that a consensus on educational policy within the democratic party will be a positive development.