Shouldn't We Be Putting Kids Before Unions?
Democrats are fervent supporters of public education, and the party genuinely wants to help disadvantaged kids stuck in bad schools. But it resists bold action. The explanation lies in its longstanding alliance with the teachers' unions -- which, with more than three million members, tons of money and legions of activists, are among the most powerful groups in American politics. The Democrats benefit enormously from all this firepower, and they know what they need to do to keep it. They need to stay inside the box.
And they have done just that. Democrats favor educational "change" -- as long as it doesn't affect anyone's job, reallocate resources, or otherwise threaten the occupational interests of the adults running the system. Most changes of real consequence are therefore off the table. The party specializes instead in proposals that involve spending more money and hiring more teachers -- such as reductions in class size, across-the-board raises and huge new programs like universal preschool. These efforts probably have some benefits for kids. But they come at an exorbitant price, both in dollars and opportunities foregone, and purposely ignore the fundamentals that need to be addressed.
Democrats have to get serious about school choice. The unions oppose it because they don't want one student or one dollar to leave the regular public schools, where their members teach. So the Democrats have been timid and weak in putting choice to productive use -- even though their constituents are the ones trapped in deplorably bad urban schools, whose futures are being ruined, and who are desperate for new educational opportunities.
If children were their sole concern, Democrats would be the champions of school choice. They would help parents put their kids into whatever good schools are out there, including private schools. They would vastly increase the number of charter schools. They would see competition as healthy and necessary for the regular public schools, which should never be allowed to take kids and money for granted.
It all boils down to a simple question. Will President Obama have the courage to unite with the rebels inside his party, champion the interests of children over the interests of adults, and be a true leader who really means it when he talks about change? We can only stay tuned. And have the audacity of hope.
~Terry Moe, Professor of Political Science at Stanford University, writing in today's WSJ