As Alexander Russo has rightly
noted, many reformers (especially those
of the Democratic persuasion) are struggling to figure out what to say
about Wisconsin (and Illinois and Ohio) and the whole collective-bargaining
muddle. Last week, Joe Williams, our friend at Democrats for Education Reform, offered
a thoughtful, if tortured, take on the issue, ultimately landing at a bizarre
place: that “this attempt to stomp unions out of existence threatens to hurt”
the education-reform movement (check the same link above for more). Andy
the chorus, harping that “overreaching Republicans like Scott Walker may
actually be setting back efforts to make some common-sense changes to teacher
Yet these nonplussed progressives miss two
key points. First, the unions’ collective-bargaining privileges prevent the
expansion of the selfsame reforms—from merit pay and rigorous teacher
evaluations to quality-sensitive layoffs—that these Democratic reformers favor.
Yes, teachers “should have a voice,” but they don’t have a God-given right to
bargain for free health care, unaffordable pensions, or Kafkaesque
evaluation protocols. Second, the unions are only likely to offer concessions—on
wages, benefits, teacher evaluations, and more—under heavy pressure. Remember
the 1990s? Arguably it was the Republican drive for vouchers that gave rise to—and
cover for—the charter-school movement. Something similar is playing out now.
Democratic ed reformers should see Governors Walker, Kasich, Daniels, Christie,
and Scott as blessings from on high, for their “extreme” positions can make
DFER’s many bold ideas taste like plain vanilla.
Perhaps, as Rick
Hess noted, Williams, Rotherham, and others are just “triangulating”
between the unions on one hand and the Republican governors on the other.
Perhaps secretly they are rooting for Governor Walker to hold the line, even if
they can’t say so in public. But if they can’t, we will: Putting the unions on
the defensive is the best thing that’s happened in education reform in a long,
A version of this
appeared on Fordham’s Flypaper blog. Sign up for Flypaper’s
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|Click to listen to commentary on Wisconsin from the Education Gadfly Show podcast