I wrote yesterday about the Obama administration's ambitious, yet somehow narrow definition of school reform. Today in the Washington Post, Randi Weingarten, the nation's most influential teachers' union leader, speaks in rather harsh terms about the administration:
"It looks like the only strategies they have are charter schools and measurement. ... That's Bush III." Weingarten, who praises Obama for massive federal aid to help schools through the recession, said her 1.4 million-member union is engaged in "a constructive but tart dialogue" with the administration about reform.
When I profiled Weingarten for the Prospect earlier this year, she was much warmer toward the White House. She even made a point of returning a call to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan during our interview, emphasizing their good relationship. But this was back during the stimulus fight, in which local school districts won big, preventing teacher and support staff layoffs. And it was before the depth of the administration's commitment to a pro-charter school and merit pay agenda emerged. The tone has changed.
Whatever your assessment of Obama's education agenda, there's little doubt that he is racking up successes, as Ruth Marcus noted earlier this week. I think the secret ingredient has been the excitement that the $4.3 billion Race to the Top competition engenders at the state level, particularly among governors. Only eight to 12 states are expected to win the grants, meant to foster school reform with a focus on standards and accountability. Every governor would like to run for reelection with that feather in his or her cap. That's why state legislatures are moving quickly to overturn laws capping charter schools and limiting teacher merit pay, as the Department of Education has asked them to do.