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unions versus the public
Hillary Doubles Down on K-12 Status Quo

Reform-oriented Democrats had once hoped that Hillary Clinton might follow in the tradition of Democratic centrists like Arne Duncan, distancing herself from teachers’ unions and championing modest efforts to shake up America’s underperforming schools. But at last night’s Democratic debate, Hillary Clinton reinforced the surprisingly anti-reform posture she has been taking for most of the 2016 campaign. U.S. News summarizes her disappointing exchange with CNN debate moderator Anderson Cooper on education reform:

Cooper said that union rules often make it impossible to fire bad teachers, meaning disadvantaged kids are sometimes taught by the least qualified educators.

But Clinton, who has won powerful endorsements from both the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, danced around the question.

“A lot of what has happened and honestly it really pains me, a lot of people have [been] blaming and scapegoating teachers because they don’t want to put the money into the schools system that deserve the support that comes from the government doing its job,” she said.

If Clinton were facing competition for the Democratic nomination from someone other than a Democratic socialist, her opponent could have pointed out that America’s per-pupil spending on education has been steadily increasing for decades, that it already exceeds that of most other developed democracies, that Americans are spending more years in school than ever before—and that, nonetheless, the productivity of our workforce is stagnating. He or she could also have pointed out that there is abundant evidence that firing bad teachers—who have more job security than any other comparably situated professionals—has dramatically improved outcomes for students, and that teachers unions have a history of resisting educational experiments that have worked wonders for the most vulnerable students. Finally, if Clinton’s rival were feeling especially ambitious, he or she could have reminded viewers that teachers’ unions have essentially captured many cash-strapped state governments, demanding huge pensions that suck resources away from public services that serve Democratic constituencies.

Maybe this would have been too much to expect in a Democratic primary, where unions have major clout (and students and low-performing schools have none). But on the off-chance that the Republicans nominate a candidate who is actually fluent in such pressing policy issues, Clinton will be sure to face such critiques in the general.

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  • Pete

    Democrats are corrupt beyond reform.

    Why blacks still support the likes of HRC does not speak well for their ability to assess reality.

  • Andrew Allison

    I’m shocked, SHOCKED to learn that Hillary is defending teachers’ unions! Oh, wait. How much money does she expect from unions and how many votes from union members? Screw the kids, they don’t vote and I want the Presidency.

  • Beauceron

    Why would Democrats want to reform education?

    It works for them– the unions vote in their candidates without fail and, increasingly, education in this country includes an awful lot of left-wing indoctrination.

    You mean you want education to be cost-effective and actually, you know, teach students to function and succeed in the real world? I’m afraid you’re missing the point here.

    • Blackbeard

      I was going to make a comment but you’ve said it so well I can only second your comment. Well said.

  • Pait

    There is no doubt that in individual cases unions create obstacles to firing underperforming teachers and also to rewarding successful teachers.

    On the other hand, and perhaps more important for educational policy, there is a strong correlation across states between teacher union strength and measures of academic performance by students. So it might be appropriate to focus less on anecdotes of bad teachers defended by unions – I’m sure there are many, this is a big country – and more on how union strength might contribute to better educational values, or is caused by them, or if the factors have a common causation.

    Whichever way, to write about education issues in an article subtitled “unions x public” reveals lack of knowledge about education – I might add lack of interest to lack of knowledge, or at least interest only insofar as education serves as a Trojan horse to promote unrelated causes.

    • Tom

      Common causation, if there’s a correlation. Next.

      • Pait

        The correlation is visible in a map. Probably has to do with history and culture.

        Whichever way, an article about education subtitled “UNIONS VERSUS THE PUBLIC” is trash talk.

        • Tom

          Not really. Unions are like any other special interest group–prone to putting their interest above that of the public. Pretending otherwise is willful blindness.

          • Pait

            As I wrote, unions may be part of the problem in some cases. They may be part of the answer in others. Whichever way, other issues are much more important in education, too many to list.

            Making a discussion into education into a anti-union rant and ignoring so many more important issues cannot be done in good faith, and indicates a lack of understanding and interest in education altogether.

          • Pait

            In a piece about unions, arguing about the problemas that unions can create, of course it would be reasonable to give as an example the effect that unions have on education – which would be weighed against conceivable pro-union arguments concerning possible benefits that union membership gives to education.

            In a discussion about education, it’s just ideological claptrap.

          • Tom

            Or it could be that he thinks the unions are the primary problem that is fixable from a policy standpoint. A virtuous people would be able to educate their children even with worse unions than we have. However, one does not make people more virtuous via policy.

          • Pait

            Yes, one could give the benefit of the doubt and conclude that the author is completely ignorant about education, rather than being ignorant and deceitful. in some combination. I stand corrected.

            It’s not really a question of virtue – there are a large number of best practices that improve education mightily, as adopted in successful schools; and an equally vast number of poor practices that are not abandoned despite the bad results.

            Yes, keeping bad teachers is one of them, but by no means the most common or damaging. (And individual virtue would help case by case of course.)

          • Tom

            Of course, did you miss the part where the author mentioned the opposition of teacher’s unions to those practices’ implementation? Of course you did.

          • Pait

            Some part of an error is always right.

            Focusing an article on education on a anti-union creed is wrong headed, as would be thinking that unions are the salvation of education. Ideologues think alike, which is why they mirror each other’s errors.

  • William Dalrymple

    Public education in America has been in the toilet for a Biblical generation. Virtually all of those teachers who really know how to teach and retained some semblance of standards have now quit or are retired. The singular most devastating effect of the dumbing down of America has been the disregard for those students with some potential for excellence. Forget the dummies. There will always be losers who refuse to participate. Put them aside and consider those kids with undeveloped skills that can be motivated most especially the really exceptional ones with unique abilities. They and America are the great losers as these kids are systematically disregarded..

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