Last week had two red-letter days for the National Education Association, as Gov. Charlie Crist of Florida and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan opted, at crucial moments, to forsake reform and preen for easy applause from the cheap seats.
The result: two substantial setbacks for those who believe we need to rethink teacher tenure, evaluation, and pay, and who believe K–12 schooling needs to stop mortgaging the future of the kids it’s supposed to serve.
The big news from Florida was Crist’s decision to veto Senate Bill 6, which would have abolished teacher tenure and shifted teacher pay from a seniority-driven industrial model to one centered on student performance. While there were reasonable concerns about the test-based rigidity of the ambitious legislation, it represented a crucial opportunity to reimagine teacher tenure and pay. The right move would have been for Crist to sign it, and then work with legislators to fix it.
Unfortunately, faced with fierce pressure from the Florida Education Association, Crist folded like a cheap suit. NEA president Dennis Van Roekel crowed, “I commend Governor Crist for vetoing SB6 and ensuring that this harmful and disruptive legislation did not become law.”
Last week’s second setback was the secretary of education’s craven decision to curry favor with Sen. Tom Harkin (D., Iowa) by endorsing Harkin’s $23-billion scheme to ladle out new, borrowed dollars to educators. Because the dollars would be “emergency” spending, Harkin sees no need to pay for or offset the cost of his “Keep Our Educators Working Act.”
Harkin explained, “If there’s one legitimate area where we can borrow from the future, it’s education, because what sort of jobs will we have for my grandkids and great-grandkids in the future if we don’t have a well-educated group of young people today?” Harkin imagines, I presume, that our kids and grandkids will one day thank us profusely for putting them even deeper in debt so that school districts can avoid trimming unaffordable benefits or shuttering underutilized facilities.
Duncan didn’t just grimace and grudgingly go along. Instead, he gave Harkin his full, moony-eyed encouragement. He declared, “We absolutely need a jobs bill. It’s the right thing for our country; it’s the right thing for our economy; it’s the right thing for our children.” He added, “We are gravely concerned that the kind of state and local budget threats our schools face today will put our hard-earned reforms at risk.” Yeah, that’s the problem. Districts are so busy taking a scalpel to budgets and redirecting dollars based on cost-effectiveness that every nickel they cut comes from the marrow. Not so much.