Thursday, August 20, 2015

The GOP's Education Problem

Damn you, internet.

I had no intention of watching Campbell Brown's Edfest stream yesterday, but as it turns out, I mostly did. I missed a big chunk of Bobby Jindal and Scott Walker, so I did not follow up my AM post with a PM one. But the day did crystallize for me some of the huge gaping problems with the narrative that Presidential hopefuls are trying to craft. I'm pretty sure it tells us something when one of the most coherent narratives came from Chris Christie and that it was also the one most completely divorced from reality.

The narrative's basic is Wanting To Have It Both Ways, and that principle is applied in several places.


The theory here is that teachers are awesome and wonderful and the most important people in education. The teachers union, however, is the single biggest obstacle to public education in this country. Great teachers should be paid a ton, and we'll be able to afford that because we will fire all of the terrible teachers in schools, because that's an easy call to make, and great teachers can teach as many students as you like? Also lots of teachers are terrible lazy slackers, and that's what the union is for. But teachers are great. Except for the many, many, many, many terrible ones.

Teachers unions are somehow completely disconnected from their members and the interests and concerns of teachers, according to this story (perhaps teachers unions are run by space aliens), and the irony here is that there is some real disconnect but Exhibit A is the degree to which union leaders have supported reformster programs.

But mostly unions are bad because they make us follow all these rules and pay teachers money and keep teacher job securities in place, and our great teachers don't want any of those obstacles to doing their jobs. We teachers apparently love it when we can be paid whatever and lose our jobs at any time for any reasons. Love it.

Local Control & Choice

GOP pols have the message-- local control is great and the American Way and they totally support it except when they have to take it away from places that suck. Parents should be free to choose from an assortment of great schools, or at least from the assortment of charter schools that we say they should have. And parents who want to exert local control by keeping their community school intact (like, say, the hunger strikers of Chicago or the protesters of Newark)-- well, they can't have it. Jindal gave an impassioned explanation of how parent preference and local control are vital and important; then he gave an impassioned explanation of how even though all the parents and students and teachers and community leaders of New Orleans resisted having their system trashed and privatized, he did it anyway because he knew better than they did.

Parents should have choices, but only the choices we think they should have. But they should have choices. But not those choices. Repeat ad infinitum.

Oh-- unless you stop for the new classic "Local control is union control." Can anybody name a school board anywhere that was bought and paid for by the teachers union? But no-- we can't have local control in some places because those damn teachers--er, that damn teachers union. Only by having the state take over can local voices be empowered.

Red Tape

I suppose it's a small thing, but it's a sign of how much they don't understand. They would like to free schools and teachers from red tape and paperwork etc etc etc-- but they would also like to have complete accountability for everything that teachers and schools do. How they imagine such extensive accountability will happen without tons of reports and data entry and paperwork and red tape I do not know. The definition of red tape is, I guess, "reports about things that I don't care about."


I imagine this is frustrating for fans of Common Core because the GOP is totally for the Common Core, as long as you don't call it Common Core. They want higher standards (whatever those are) and test-based accountability for those standards (because lazy teachers need to be pushed). We are back to the old idea that teachers could teach every child awesomely-- we just choose not to for some reason. Of course, the faith in state takeover also suggests that the states know exactly how to make schools successful, so why are they holding out on us-- but I digress.

So it's bad when the standards come from the feds, but we should totally have those kinds of standards. But not a curriculum. Just standards that insure everyone in the country is teaching the Right Thing. But not Common Core.

And the GOP has taken to expressing a broader, deeper idea about what education should be about, including arts and vocational ed and other Good Things-- without any awareness at all that the current college and career ready standards accountability test and punish system is set up exactly counter to all those high aspirations.

Nostalgia & Status Quo

To be fair, this is not exclusively a GOP problem. A lot of pols are out there making strong arguments against continuing to run classrooms the same way we did in 1963. When they talk about things that need to change, like rote learning and teacher lecture, I don't recognize the world they describe. I suppose it's natural to base your picture of school on what you remember from being a student--oh, wait. It's natural to do that if you have no experience with or knowledge of what goes on in schools today. Some folks are more prone to this problem than others (Jeb Bush yesterday admonished reporters to put away their blackberries).

But if you're going to rail against the status quo, you ought to know what it is. The GOP hopefuls keep blasting the status quo, as if the status quo weren't test driven, common core infected, reformster created mess.

Race and Poverty

Crickets. Only a side reference when we talk about all the things that good teachers with high standards and big expectations can overcome. But so far the GOP seems to believe that dealing with issues of race is on par with dealing with Montana's Yeti infestation problem.


When it comes to public schools, we can't leave a student in a bad one for even a single more day. When it comes to charters, we need to be patient while the charter choice system finds its footing.

Cognitive Dissonance

Yesterday confirmed what I have suspected, which is that if a GOP candidate talks about education for more than sixty seconds, the raft of self-contradictions come floating in. Standardization is bad, but students should all do the same thing. Local control is great, except when it should be eliminated. Teachers are great. Teachers suck. No federal overreach, but complete accountability for tax dollars.

This is going to be a long primary season. Let's hope the Democrats can do better.


  1. Brilliant summary. I especially love your description of the Republicans version of "choice." Yes, parents should have choices but only those that the policymakers deem suitable. You want your good old local community schools? Well, it's test scores sucked see we fired its teachers, handed control to private management organizations, reduced their accountability, gave them some control over their student body, splintered their community and did all of this on the off-chance that test scores (not necessarily actual education) might improve. Aren't those community members happy that you made all of those choice limitations for them?

  2. I don't think the Republicans (and most Democrats for that matter) personally are conflicted one bit. They know perfectly well what they want. The contradictions come because they know they can't sell their vision directly, so they have to hem and haw and, well, flat out lie.

  3. One of the keys to understanding the mindset of these candidates comes at the 20:30 point in Chris Christie's comments. He is talking about how, as a parent, no one cares more about his child's education. His child is crying because he can't understand something, he's struggling. Christie then says " He's frustrated because HE can't ..". He pauses, then changes the statement to " the TEACHER can't get through to him". The fault is instantly that of the teacher - the student and his parents have no responsibility or personal "accountability" for the issue. The first response is not "what do I need to do to help him understand the problem", rather it is "I need to hold someone else (the teacher) accountable for it".

    His assertion that any parent can tell if they have a good or a bad teacher after one 10 min encounter on back-to-school night is so sad you have to laugh to keep from crying. I'd like to see his reaction if the teacher said she could tell the same thing about the parents after the same encounter.

  4. I watched almost the whole miserable thing and, Peter, you are spot on. Every single one of these candidates expressed the exact same self-contradictory nonsense.

    Their handlers have apparently figured out that the only thing you can take a definite stand on is more "choice". Everyone is apparently OK with that word.

    But any other issue was addressed by doing exactly what you describe--vaguely describe two ideas that are exact opposites:

    Teachers are great/but organizations of teachers are the biggest problem.

    Local control is great/but we can't rely on the union-controlled local boards of ed.

    CCSS is bad/but we need high standards.

    Got to change the structure of education to keep up with the times/but we have to take away job protection for teachers, so they can be fired for taking the risk of doing anything innovative.

    The other thing that stood out to me was the blatant lying by my governor (Walker) in touting his education record. If he was doing it, there's no reason to believe the others weren't just as bad. This is not surprising, of course--they are politicians, after all. But where were Campbell Brown's follow up questions? Walker's and Jindahl's lies would have been so easy to expose with a little bit of advance research on her part. I guess that wasn't her purpose.

  5. Kasich seems to have done himself a great deal of damage with his comment that if he were king, he would abolish teacher's lounges. The comments section to the article on this in HuffPost is full of more pro-teacher comments than I've ever seen. There were also snarky comments about "King Kasich." People who said they had been leaning toward him because they thought he was the most sane of the lot said they'd never vote for him now, and even people who don't know much about what we do seemed to think it was ridiculous and made no sense. Also, a lot of people know he's given tons of money to for-profit charters that are some of the worst in the nation, then lied about how bad they are.

  6. "I’ll tell you what the unions do, unfortunately too much of the time. There’s a constant negative comment, ‘They’re going to take your benefits, they’re going to take your pay,'" Kasich said. "So if I were, not president, but if I were king in America, I would abolish all teachers' lounges, where they sit together and worry about, 'Woe is us.'"

    So, Mr. Kasich, I'm just imagining the 4% pay cut this year? The fact that I've had no pay incease in 6 years even though I've been evaluated as "effective" or "highly effective" my entire 19 year career is just a teacher's lounge rumor started by the union?

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  8. This is almost hilarious. Over the last 9 years, I've worked in schools where there is no "teacher's lounge". We do have a teacher workroom, where we make copies and a few other things we do (serving as our own administrative assistants, as we do, unlike every other professional / college graduate employee). Sit around and talk ? How many other professionals can get their lunch, eat it, bus their table and be back to their own classroom on-the-job in 20-25 minutes (having used the restroom once and made a few copies, to boot) ?
    None of these GOP candidates has any idea what any real teachers do -- at all.

  9. In his discussion with Campbell Brown, New Jersey Governor Christie let this one go regarding how easy it is to decide which teachers should be fired, and separated from their students.

    Why it takes all of ten minutes!
    (21:13 - 21:54)
    (21:13 - 21:54)
    CHRISTIE (to the parents):
    "Let me ask you a question, 'cause there's a lot of people out here who care about education. When you go to 'Back To School Night', is there ever a doubt in your mind within ten minutes of getting in that classroom, whether that's a good teacher or a bad teacher? Ever?

    "You're either in there going, 'It's gonna be a good year,'

    " ... or you're... 'Oh God. This is going to be a problem.'

    "You don't need a PhD in education to understand this (i.e. decide which teachers should be fired). If we (parents) can figure it out in ten minutes, then why can't we have a tenure system that holds teacher to account, and that has parents understanding that they (parents) can have an impact on that, too."

    Could you imagine if a teacher saying the same thing... that a teacher can tell within ten minutes whether a parent is unfit, and thus, should have their child taken away by Child Services?

    TEACHER: (to the teachers):
    "Let me ask you a question, 'cause there's a lot of people out here who care about education. When you go to "Back To School Night", is there ever a doubt in your mind within ten minutes of meeting a parent whether that's a good parent or a bad parent? Ever?

    "You're either in there going, 'It's gonna be a good year,'

    " ... or you're... 'Oh God. This is going to be be a problem.'

    "You don't need a PhD in education to understand this (i.e. decide which parent should have their children taken away). If we (teachers) can figure it out in ten minutes, then why can't we have a child and family services system that holds parents to account, and that has teachers understanding that they (teachers) can have an impact on that, too."

  10. I needed much less than 10 minutes to know that Chris Christie and John Kasich are unfit to govern.

  11. It seems to me that many are for local control except when they are against it as well. Jefferson County and east Rampo come to mind, as well as every school district that is or should be under a court order to desegregate.

  12. Great post Peter! I agree entirely, but about the "Red Tape", have this to add. Let's not forget that the GOP is for accountability unless it comes to for-profit charter and private schools. Then, what they do with our taxpayer dollars is their business, not ours.

  13. Linda,

    Allowing families to choose schools can substitute for some regulation, so it is not unreasonable to have less regulation for a choice school than a school that the government forces a student to attend.

  14. I don't have much hope for the dems either. Here's a quote from Diane Feinstein:
    "I recognize that standardized tests have clear limitations and are not a cure-all for our nation's education challenges; however, I also believe testing is an important tool for measuring student and school performance in order to ensure that every child receives a quality education. Standardized testing makes it possible for parents to see the progress their child is making and teachers to know when to correct course in their instruction."

  15. " Standardized testing makes it possible for parents to see the progress their child is making and teachers to know when to correct course in their instruction."
    Maybe, at 82, Feinstein is repeating the talking points of the "undead" at CAP (courtesy of laMissy in her comment to Peter's first Cap post) because she's one of them.
    I read this and thought, "Do these people not have children? How can they think parents can't know how their children are doing in school without a standardized test? Do they have a working brain at all? They certainly don't delve into the issues they pontificate about. How can they think this helps teachers' instruction when these tests give no specific feedback, it takes forever to get results, and what's on the test is top secret?

    Then I looked at Wikipedia. Diane, although Jewish, went to a Catholic school, one of the oldest private high schools in California, which today charges $36, 500 for one year of tuition. And "In 2003, Feinstein was ranked the fifth-wealthiest senator, with an estimated net worth of $26 million.[10] By 2005 her net worth had increased to between $43 million and $99 million." So I'm guessing her daughter didn't go to a public school. Diane clearly has no first-hand, or even second-hand, knowledge of public schools, how they work, or the "little people" whom they serve.

    I read a comment the other day by someone by the name of Roger Goppelt:
    "People who can't teach, criticize and go into politics. People who care about other people and have a can-do attitude, teach."

  16. TE, just when I think maybe you aren't so dense after all, here you go again with your fairy tale, Ayn Rand statements. You're as bad as Rand Paul. I keep telling myself I'm not going to engage when you do that, then I think, "He's not really a troll, he just doesn't get it, if I talk to him maybe he will."

    Your idea that it's okay to have less regulation for charter schools, because since it's a "choice," the magic of the free market system - even though these are supposedly "public" schools, and are using taxpayer dollars - will mean that bad ones will close because people won't go there, is not grounded in reality.

    Where I live we don't have good choices to begin with. We don't have Waldorf or Montessori charter schools, we have White Hat and K-12 charter schools. In Ohio, we have some of the worst charter schools in the nation, and the worst corruption. David Hansen, the director of school choice and accountability - and whose wife is Kasich's campaign manager - just had to resign because he omitted failing grades for a bunch of charters to ensure they could keep getting taxpayer money. Charters have been closed for failing grades and just open up again under another sponsor. Parents have no clue what's going on in the schools, and the schools aren't required to be subject to audits. It took journalists to discover what was going on in the "choice and accountability" department, and now that Hansen fell on the sword, the administration is stonewalling further investigation. And you think these schools need LESS regulation than traditional public schools?

    1. Rebecca,

      If parents have the ability to choose a school, that does substitute for some regulations. To see this, think about what would happen if you were assigned a plumber by your local government and it would be illegal for you to use a different plumber. Everything that you think makes a good plumber would now need to be a regulation. A standard for how quickly the plumber returns your call, a standard for how quickly the plumber arrives at your home, etc.

      I do think charter schools require some regulation, just not as much as schools where the local government makes the students attend.

    2. It's not the same thing. You just refuse to get it. Try reading Peter's Edureads for the week, especially Sarah Blaine's. But it's probably futile. You'll believe what you believe. I'm not going to try to reason with you anymore.

    3. Rebecca,

      Private schools function with less regulation than public schools. Post secondary schools with less regulation than public schools. Giving students the ability to choose means that they can match themselves to the school, and schools need not try to be all things to all students.