School Choice & Charters Opinion

The Politics of Education Are Changing

By Diane Ravitch — September 09, 2008 1 min read
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Dear Deborah,

I read your “advice to the next president” with interest. It would be wonderful if our next president could figure out how to ensure that “schools for the poor…look and feel like the schools the wealthiest send their kids to”? Let’s see, first he would propose a school construction fund to modernize school facilities. Then he might propose class-size reduction to the level that is typical at schools like Phillips Andover or Exeter (12 students per class?). And then there is the list of social programs, like good health care and nutrition.

This tracks fairly well with the recommendations of the manifesto that we both signed, called the “Bolder, Broader Approach.”

But I think you ducked the question I put to you about the rise of a competing ideology within the Democratic party. Customarily, one would associate the BBA with the Democratic party (school improvement, plus more resources), and the Education Equality Project with the Republican party (choice, accountability, and incentives). But EEP’s members are now well-represented within the Democratic party as the “reformers.”

As I write, I notice an article in USA Today that makes the point. The Democratic platform this fall will “stake out a few positions that unions have long opposed.” These include “paying teachers more if they raise test scores, teach in ‘underserved areas’ or take on new responsibilities such as mentoring new teachers.” Actually, I don’t think that unions oppose paying teachers for taking on new responsibilities, but I know that they have usually fought the idea that teacher pay should rise or fall with student test scores. The article cited two mayors—Cory Booker of Newark and Adrian Fenty of Washington, D.C.—who criticized unions for blocking their plans for choice (charters and vouchers) and for their “insane work rules.”

So the politics are changing. Is this the future? Is this the new face of the Democratic party? Will it be a future in which schools are run like businesses, in which unions are ousted from the workplace (as they have been in most of the private sector), and in which pay-for-performance is the rule for teachers, principals, and students?


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