I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Bad Reformy Arguments #2: Bipartisanship

Let's go back to the reformiest op-ed ever and look at another argument reformyists use to justify their schemes:
Research over the last two decades has confirmed what most parents already knew: Teacher quality is any public school’s most important asset. Taking that simple and obvious premise seriously means working to identify and remove ineffective teachers. A bipartisan group of lawmakers in New Jersey and nationwide is pursuing this path.
There is growing bipartisan support in favor of using student standardized test scores to improve teacher evaluations. Poor evaluations could then be used to remove the system’s worst teachers. Such “value-added” analyses of teacher quality measure each instructor’s independent contribution to student-learning during the school year.
Policymakers who support using value-added measures to identify and remove ineffective teachers span the political spectrum. Republicans such as Gov. Chris Christie have voiced support, as have Democratic New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and President Obama. [emphases mine]
The logic here is certainly not unique to education reform: if both sides of the political spectrum agree on a policy it must be good.

The first and most obvious problem with this is that it's just plain silly: if Republicans and Democrats agree on a policy, it doesn't automatically make that policy a good one. Duh.

Second, Waters doesn't bother to point out that there are plenty of Democrats who have serious reservations about increasing the emphasis of test scores. Gov. Jerry Brown has called for pulling back testing in California. NJ Senate Majority Leader Steve Sweeney has said his goal, "is to keep standardized testing out of the equation as much as possible." This is hardly an area where there is no dissent.

But here's where Waters's argument really falls apart: he fails to acknowledge a very real effort on the part of the corporate reformers to buy the votes of centrist Democrats. This "bipartisanship" has little to do with the merits of particular education policies; it is mostly about the ability of the wealthy to move the agenda where they want it to be:
Wealthy Democrats, including Los Angeles home developer Eli Broad and New York investment fund managers Whitney Tilson and John Petry, have found common cause with Republicans in a push to apply principles of the corporate world, including free-market competition, to public education. With teachers unions bitterly opposed to such measures, Democrats in the movement say they must break their party's ties to the unions if they're ever to make progress.
So they are offering an alternative to the union dollars, spending freely to back fellow Democrats willing to buck the unions and advance their agenda.
"Education reform is really a fight for the heart and soul of the Democratic Party," said Derrell Bradford, who runs a political group in New Jersey that recently helped elect two union-defying Democrats to the state legislature.
The reform movement's goals include shutting down low-performing public schools; weakening or eliminating teacher tenure; and expanding charter schools, which are publicly funded but often run by private-sector managers, some of them for-profit companies.
Wealthy Democrats have joined Republicans in pouring millions into political campaigns, lobbying and community organizing to try to advance these goals nationwide. They can count on their side several influential Democratic mayors, including Newark's Cory Booker and Chicago's Rahm Emanuel. [emphasis mine]
It appears that Waters's vaunted "bipartisan" embrace of corporate reform has come at a price; a price the wealthy backers of "reform" are more than willing to pay. Here, for example, is mediocre teacher and failed superintendent Michell Rhee pouring $2 million into the California political machine, mostly to support one assembly race. She's done it before; she bought herself some legislators in Missouri who helped eliminate seniority for teachers (remember: even though she claims she's "passionate" about teaching, she only did it for three years herself before moving up to more lucrative pursuits).

Because there's so little transparency, we don't know how exactly she is involved with New Jersey's Democrats, but Bradford's B4K has partnered with Rhee's Students First, so it's reasonable to assume there's a connection there as well. And let's not forget Jonah Edelman's purchase of the Democratic machine in Illinois, which he bragged helped him to screw over the teachers unions in Chicago.

This has always been the plan. The Republicans have always been in the tank for privatizing education and castrating the unions; all the reformyists needed was to get a critical mass of Dems on their side. Whitney Tilson of Democrats for Education Reform has been quite honest about it:
“The real problem, politically, was not the Republican party, it was the Democratic party. So it dawned on us, over the course of six months or a year, that it had to be an inside job. The main obstacle to education reform was moving the Democratic party, and it had to be Democrats who did it, it had to be an inside job. So that was the thesis behind the organization. And the name – and the name was critical – we get a lot of flack for the name. You know, “Why are you Democrats for education reform? That’s very exclusionary. I mean, certainly there are Republicans in favor of education reform.” And we said, “We agree.” In fact, our natural allies, in many cases, are Republicans on this crusade, but the problem is not Republicans. We don’t need to convert the Republican party to our point of view…” [emphasis mine]
And, like a televangelist, Tilson knows what "converts" policiticans: money.

This battle, as Derrell calls it, is hardly over:
Johnson also won the endorsement of Democrats for Education Reform, a national group that steers donations to candidates willing to buck teachers unions.
That drew the ire of the California Democratic Party.
The party's vice chair, Eric Bauman, fired off a cease-and-desist letter demanding that Democrats for Education Reform stop using the word "Democrats" in its name. He accused the group of deceiving voters into thinking its endorsement was an official Democratic Party endorsement. The party has not backed anyone in the race.
Bauman said he was not beholden to the teachers unions and was not acting at their request, though the president of the California Federation of Teachers did applaud his move.
The cease-and-desist letter outraged former state Senator Gloria Romero, who heads the California arm of Democrats for Education Reform. "To me, this is political collusion," she said, accusing her party of kowtowing to the union. "This shows the depths special interests will go to in order to prevent any Democrat from speaking out for education reform."
Then she funneled her anger into a fundraising letter. [emphasis mine]
Yeah, they are very good at channeling their outrage into cash, aren't they?

Again: this isn't an argument about policy, because there really is no argument: all of the evidence shows an agenda of school closing, charters, and stripping teachers of due process won't do a thing to help students. This is, as Derrell rightly says, a battle for the Democratic party. It's the logical outcome of a political system built on mounds of cash rather than research and logic and evidence.

The plutocrats who fund "reform" are no longer satisfied with having an entire political party (Republicans) at their beck and call; they need to quell all dissent, because their arguments will not hold up to the facts. Any notion that "reform" has been honestly debated and vetted by two opposing political sides is sheer nonsense. Don't believe the hype when a pundit like Waters tells you otherwise.

The only question left is whether or not we have enough politicians of good will who are will to turn down piles of money and, instead, listen to the truth.

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