WSJ: Dems need to ditch unions, embrace choice


According to Terry Moe, of the Hoover Institution, Democrats need to break the stranglehold that powerful teacher unions hold over the party’s education policy.

This from Moe’s Wall Street Journal op-ed-

“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. It is immobilized. Impotent. 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.”

This is seen all too often here in South Carolina, teachers unions and their local extensions support “change” for public education only when it involves no meaningful change at all. Substantive reforms are not an option, Moe claims, because teacher unions –and the politicians they intimidate- refuse to accept any programs that would significantly affect the jobs or funding of the people in the unions. Instead, all efforts to adjust or improve public education are deliberately reduced to increased funding, and massive new programs.

Moe lists two priorities that Democrats need to make if public education is really going to be about what is best for children, not what is wanted most by bureaucrats and union powerbrokers.

First, Moe attacks one of the concepts that South Carolina education bureaucrats love to give lip service to, even while they work to undermine it: accountability. Whether it is implementing non-normative achievement tests like the insipid-sounding PASS test, or praising graduating students for performing well on an 8th grade “exit exam,” South Carolina bureaucrats do everything possible to avoid being truly accountable to parents for how children are doing in school.

Moe must have done some reading on South Carolina’s excuse-loving State Department of Education.

“Real accountability is about standing up for children. The adults are supposed to be teaching kids something, and accountability demands hard, objective measures -through sophisticated testing and information systems-of how well they are actually doing that. Good performance needs to be rewarded. But poor performance needs to be uprooted: Schools need to be reconstituted, teachers need to be moved out of the classroom, jobs need to be put at risk-because if they aren’t, children continue to be victimized.”

Second, the editorial urges Democrats to show that children are the focus of public education by becoming the “champions of school choice.”

Even with many constituents trapped in failing schools and desperate for options, too many Democrats fear the wrath of teacher unions who worry that money for their members could be threatened by school choice. Of choice, Moe says –

“If children were their sole concern, Democrats would be the champions of school choice…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.”

Democrats and Republicans alike in South Carolina need to start taking seriously their commitment to educating all the children in the state, whether rich or poor, black or white. For too long, lawmakers’ reluctance to cross the nationally recognized incompetence of South Carolina’s education bureaucracy has resulted in a system failing children at a record rate.

Legislators must step up and show they care about seriously educating children. The first step they can take is putting the power to choose the right school in the hands of their constituents. Some lawmakers in South Carolina have already demonstrated their commitment to families, not unions and bureaucracy. Hopefully others will be motivated by the tremendous educational needs in their districts, and work to see those met through school choice.


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