In this week's New Republic, Robert Gordon, a former Kerry education advisor, indicts his own party for straying from its egalitarian ideals and losing credibility on education policy. America's education system is obviously flawed, Gordon alleges, yet Democrats can only defend the failing status quo or attack any plans that don't involve more blank checks to the current system. Those whom Democrats claim to help (the lower class, minorities, etc.) have to wonder why they continue to vote blue. Many Democrats oppose standards and accountability (which have proven to narrow racial and economic achievement gaps); they oppose combat pay, which would encourage the best teachers to work in the worst schools by providing bonuses (where they are the most desperately needed and have the largest impact); they oppose NCLB as an unfunded mandate on grounds that it requires states to spend more money (or simply because the President supports it, though many Democrats before Bush supported accountability); they oppose choice options that would allow poor students to escape terrible schools - the list goes on. Gordon urges Democrats to offer their own plans for reform or risk losing their last shred of credibility. Improving teacher quality, he suggests, could be the rallying cry, but it "requires changes to the pay system and school culture that abet mediocrity. Standing alone, the usual liberal solution - across-the-board pay hikes - perpetuates the maldistribution of good teachers and reinforces the irrelevance of achievement." But these changes are resisted by powerful teacher unions, to which Democrats seem blindingly beholden. Gordon provides the much-needed progressive analysis of NCLB that has so far been drowned out by union dogma. As he notes, NCLB is legislation that Lyndon Johnson Democrats could only dream of. Perhaps liberals would be wise to reexamine their stance and rediscover their ideals.
"What Democrats need to say about education," by Robert Gordon, New Republic, June 6, 2005 (registration required)