Sunday, March 7, 2010

Administration Support for " No Teacher Left Standing" in Rhode Island Demonstrates Statism more Important than Principle

In School's Shake-Up Is Embraced by the President, the New York Times reports of a surprising rift between President Obama and one of his staunchest allies in the campaign, namely teachers. From the article:

A Rhode Island school board’s decision to fire the entire faculty of a poorly performing school, and President Obama’s endorsement of the action, has stirred a storm of reaction nationwide, with teachers condemning it as an insult and conservatives hailing it as a watershed moment of school accountability.

The decision by school authorities in Central Falls to fire the 93 teachers and staff members has assumed special significance because hundreds of other school districts across the nation could face similarly hard choices in coming weeks, as a $3.5 billion federal school turnaround program kicks into gear.

Let's understand the set-up here. The reason for Federal interest in this matter is a relatively small program. There is a creeping Federalization of education in the same manner as in healthcare. This began long ago, continued under the prior administration, and as usual serves to aggrandize D. C.

The surprise twist here is that perhaps the otherwise most pro-labor administration in decades has taken this stance. From the article:

Mr. Obama’s endorsement of the Rhode Island board’s tough action infuriated many of the four million members of the two national teachers’ unions, thousands of whom campaigned vigorously for him in 2008.

“I ripped the Obama sticker off of my truck,” said Zeph Capo, a midlevel official at the Houston Federation of Teachers who trains classroom teachers. “We worked hard for this man, we talked to our neighbors and our fellow teachers about why we should support him, and we’re having to dig the knife out of our back.”

Officials at the two unions, the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, were so angry in the hours after Mr. Obama first endorsed the firings that an irreconcilable break with the administration seemed possible, perhaps bruising Democrats’ electoral chances in November.

The President somehow has concluded that rather than students or their families not being up to the task, somehow blame for student underperformance falls on the educators:

“If a school continues to fail its students year after year after year, if it doesn’t show signs of improvement, then there’s got to be a sense of accountability,” Mr. Obama said. “And that’s what happened in Rhode Island last week.”

Unsurprisingly, pinning the blame on the allegedly uncaring, incompetent teachers was not popular amongst them:

National union officials were shocked.

“Teachers were taken aback — and profoundly disappointed,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers. “Teachers will watch carefully whether Washington, the states and local districts will be partners that help us do our job or whether they’ll be scapegoating and demonizing.”
. . .

Union officials said the administration’s stance on the Rhode Island firings seemed to put it on the side of management in what unions see as basically a labor dispute.

My quick conclusion is consistent with my prediction in December 2008, when I joined the ranks of financial bloggers, that the administration would be one of continuity with G W Bush's regarding the bailouts and attendant horrors, notwithstanding differences on abortion and other social issues.

In other words, there is one permanent statist Establishment in Washington, dedicated to its own growth and self-preservation. Thus, the allegedly conservative G W Bush administration grew the Federal role in local education by partnering with Ted Kennedy and other Dems with "No Child Left Behind" and then fought hard for the centrist position of expansion of Medicare with the Part D drug bill. Similarly, Barack Obama has once against allied with the prior administration in favoring greater Federal power over alleged pro-labor principle.

Who would have thought that Barack Obama would favor a "No Teacher Left Standing" position?

As has happened before, Bill Clinton's words have been proven untrue or at least overly slick. The era of
big government is not over.

Whether it involves raining death from the air upon citizens of Pakistan (and foreign fighters and their families, to be sure), with which we are not at war and who are not threatening us or using a "Great Recession" to vastly expand Federal spending (with plans for taxes to follow), the labor dispute in a small part of the smallest state is but one example of the Bushbama Continuity's essence, namely that of greater and greater power for the army of pols and bureaucrats in Washington and whichever allies are of greatest value for the nonce. The tilt toward Big Finance will end when and if it is politically inconvenient. The current tilt against labor will end soon, as well, as the Democratic Party cannot afford another 1984 when pro-labor Macomb County voters became Reagan Democrats. Ultimately this tiff between natural allies will be solved the way Washington usually solves things, which is by printing money and rewarding the aggrieved ally with taxpayer money.

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