Whenever Jonathan Chait writes about the education reform movement, he should be required to put a statement at the start of it. It should be something like this: “My wife works in the education reform movement. As a result of this, I have absolutely no objectivity. Unlike most of what I write about, I have no sense whatsoever for nuance. I just hate the teachers unions and what little I will say about them will represent the most extreme factions. So it is really for the best if you don’t even read what follows because I have nothing interesting to add to any discussion on the issue of education reform.” But instead, he pretends as though he were objective and interesting. Meanwhile, his readers get intellectual whiplash from one article to the next as he moves from liberal to conservative and back again.
His article today was a particularly egregious example of this, Obamans, Selling Out, and the Proxy Fight for the Democratic Party’s Future. His complaint in the article is that supporters of teachers unions attack Obama surrogates rather than Obama and this is wrong because… Really, I don’t know why. He says that they don’t attack Obama himself because the President is popular inside the unions. So the union leadership is trying to protect its members in the best way that it can. And this is wrong because… Again, I don’t know.
The whole purpose of the article seems to be to allow him to write, “The splits within the Democratic Party over whether public services should be designed for the benefit of providers or consumers tend to come out at the municipal level.” Ouch! In case you missed it, Chait is saying that teachers unions are a constituency just like the the school kids. And who you gonna support, huh?! Those greedy teachers or those poor kids? Except, there’s another constituency that Chait doesn’t mention: the people employed in the education reform movement. He must know about it, because his wife works in it. It’s a constituency too.
But in the Jonathan Chait world of black and white education reform, people working for “reform” are only looking out for the kids—unlike those dirty teachers unions that would reduce the school day to 25 minutes if they could. It’s just ridiculous. My problem with the education reform movement is that it seems focused on one thing: teachers unions. It doesn’t spend its time trying to combat the very worst thing about our educational system: inequality based upon the widespread use of local property taxes to fund public education.
When it comes to the people who are always ranting about the budget deficit, Chait has no problem seeing that they aren’t interested in what they claim to be. He sees clearly that these people have ulterior motivations like cutting aid to the poor. But when it comes to education reform, Chait couldn’t be more naive. It seems to not even occur to him that some, maybe even most (Look at who funds the movement!), are not quite so pure. And that’s why his writing about education reform is useless.
Update (22 August 2014 10:06 pm)
I want to make clear that this is not about the education reform movement not adopting my favorite issue. I’ve been attacked on this before. People will say that there is no political will to deal with the issue that I am most concerned about and ask if we shouldn’t at least do whatever it is that we can. There are a couple of issues here. One is that education funding inequality is not just any other issue. It is like taxes in the budget deficit debate. If someone isn’t willing to deal with this issue, it shows that they aren’t serious. At best it shows they only want to nibble around the edges of the problem. Another issue is: why is it politically viable to go after teachers unions and to push testing, testing, and more testing? I think a lot of it is that the people who are willing to give millions of dollars for education reform are mostly interested in something else. I’m all for things that work. But at one time, charter schools were what would save us. In fact, to many people, they still are. But it’s turned out that other than moving a lot of teachers out of unions, the charter schools haven’t done that much good. On average, they are about as good as public schools. I think I have plenty of reasons to be skeptical of the motivations of the education reform movement. And so does Jonathan Chait.