Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Cameron Smith: Alabama's unlikely allies in education reform

  The winds of change are blowing through America’s education system for the first time in a generation, and Alabama would be wise to catch the breeze coming from some unexpected directions.

  For the last several decades, teachers unions have been staunch allies of the Democrats, serving as both a source of funding and as boots on the ground during elections. According to the National Institute on Money in State Politics, in 2010 teachers unions nationwide gave more than $33 million to Democrats and slightly less than $3 million to Republicans.

  Alabama has been no exception to this trend. Republicans have responded accordingly, frequently attacking the Alabama Education Association (AEA) for forcing stagnation in education and using the state as a taxpayer-funded mechanism to collect membership dues for their political activities.

  But somewhere along the line, the national political focus in education began to shift from education unions to improving educational outcomes for students. This change in focus has begun to produce meaningful reforms in the historical bedrock of teachers unions: Chicago and New York.

  In Chicago, Democrat city officials pushing for merit-based teacher evaluations and the elimination or reduction of automatic pay increases for seniority and additional education were met with an eight-day strike that kept 350,000 Chicago kids out of the classroom.

  In New York, Mayor Michael Bloomberg has made major strides toward ending the traditional concept of teacher tenure. According to The New York Times, “only 55 percent of eligible teachers, having worked for at least three years, earned tenure in 2012, compared with 97 percent in 2007.” Rather than teacher tenure persisting as an automatic right, New York City is choosing to reward teachers who have demonstrated excellent performance over time.

  Even President Obama has called for the increased innovation in education that comes from effective charter schools and pushed for greater educational accountability.

  But so far, Alabama has been unable to create additional education options for the students who need them most because many of its citizens and politicians alike fail to understand that neither political party has cornered the market of good ideas. The very notion that Republicans would pass educational reforms already taking place in Chicago and New York or authorize charter schools consistent with the recommendation of President Obama is simply unacceptable. Such reforms fail to comply with conventional wisdom and they run against the grain of Alabama’s entrenched political teams, but they are the creative education solutions that Alabama desperately needs. 

  Alabama’s education bureaucracy could not be happier with the confusion. In the same breath, opponents of education reform tell Republicans that charter schools are a Democrat idea and tell Democrats that charter schools are a Republican effort to attack teachers and education. As Alabamians saw in the last legislative session, the double-speak worked and Alabama’s disappointing education status quo was again preserved.

  If Alabama is to overcome educational hurdles that have endured for decades, the state’s political leaders must not let party allegiance or political traditions become wedges that ultimately divide the effort for meaningful education reform and prevent a brighter future for Alabama’s children.
  About the author: Cameron Smith is General Counsel and Policy Director for the Alabama Policy Institute, a non-partisan, non-profit research and education organization dedicated to the preservation of free markets, limited government and strong families, which are indispensable to a prosperous society.

  This article was published by the Alabama Policy Institute.

No comments:

Post a Comment