I’ve been thinking about this post for quite some time, though yesterday’s defeat of Adrian Fenty in DC may provide a timely example, as part of Alan’s concern about “backlash.”
In a nutshell: How concerned are DFER-types about how a split on education issues affects the Democratic party’s chances in close elections, if the teachers unions don’t strongly support Democratic candidates with DFER leanings? If so, what can/should be done?
In some ways, this issue really first popped up at the pre-DNC event at the Denver Art Museum, when Al Sharpton and an array of reform minded superintendents and mayors, largely from the east coast, started to publicly state that the teachers unions were a big part of the problem in education. This opened up what had previously been a quiet, but growing, internal fissure in the Democratic party.
Since then, in my view, the DFER agenda has rested uneasily next to the Broader, Bolder (BB) agenda for ed reform in the Democratic party. (And, EdNews‘ opinion and commentary section has largely followed the DFER line, though certainly with diverse specific opinions). And, the Obama administration has largely followed the DFER approach, through R2T, and other programs, while also trying to not alienate the BB and union agenda.
I view the DFER agenda as being pro-charter and pro-choice, a focus upon measurable student achievement gains, more accountability for schools and leaders based upon this evidence, more rigorous teacher evaluation, and probably greater autonomy at the school level. Apart from public vouchers for private schools, it doesn’t differ greatly with the mainstream Republican party agenda for ed reform of the past decade.
The BB perspective – schools can’t truly improve until a range of wider societal conditions improve – would focus more government resources on combating concentrated urban poverty, poor health services for lower income families, limited pre-school opportunities, pre-natal care, etc., in addition to more resources in schools.
My sense is that most DFERs believe that the BB agenda too easily excuses the schools, since some, especially charters, have demonstrated success even in the face of these societal challenges, and that fixing the BB agenda may be even harder than fixing our schools, though most DFERs would probably also support more government programs in health, nutrition, early childhood, housing integration, etc.
What I wonder about is I what I’ll call the Democratic SABE (Shared Agenda Beyond Education) – do DFER’s think the Democratic party can win enough elections to implement these government programs beyond education, if the teachers unions support is not strong ?
While unionized workers in America’s private sector have decline from 25-30 percent post-WWII to less than 10 percent today, public sector unions, and especially teachers unions remain strong political forces. They can raise money (as per the $600,000 from CEA against Prop 60, 61, 101), put lots of boots on the ground for ground campaigns, mobilize members who vote, etc. Can the Democrats do well electorally without strong union support?
Wherever ones comes down on this divide, it creates a fascinating political dynamic in the Democratic party. It may be true that the teachers unions have “nowhere to go” in a spatial electoral sense – they seem unlikely to become more Republican in their leanings. But, they can decide to not turn out, not build campaigns for candidates, promote primary challenges from the left, etc.
Republicans should like this, and could hope to gain politically from these fissures.
Perhaps the SABE can still pull DFERs and BBs together in most elections. Perhaps the unions can change, internally, and adapt more of a DFER like agenda.
Where do people think this is heading?
Popularity: 2% [?]