Ballyhoo at Bighorn

Steven Brill thinks that Race to the Top era will be the teachers’ unions’ undoing. It’s a combination of forces, he explains—five to be exact: a cadre of hard-hitting reformers; a new crop of ed-reform friendly Democratic pols; high-powered foundations giving billions to ed reform initiatives; a charter-school movement providing a stark backdrop to the incompetency of many traditional schools (sometimes in the same building); and RTT itself, which, Brill explains, “before Duncan had dispensed a nickel” had set off “more school reform than [the country] had seen in decades.” But the battle certainly is not over. In perhaps the most piquant theme of Brill’s NYT Mag exposé is the structural and procedural problems with RTT—game-playing if you will. For example, not a trivial number of states checked all the boxes for “stakeholder support,” only to include the final language of their memoranda of understanding in their application appendix with this gem: “Nothing in this M.O.U. shall be construed to override any applicable state or local collective-bargaining requirements.” Then there’s the huge variation in the grading standards of the so-called neutral and well-trained competition judges (explained more fully in Brill’s recent Ed Week piece). So while movement in state capitals has been encouraging, we can’t help but wonder if most of the promised—or even legislated—reforms are like NYC Chancellor Joel Klein says: “telling a woman you’ll marry her in the morning.”

The Teachers’ Unions’ Last Stand,” by Steven Brill, New York Times Magazine, May 17, 2010

Scoring Race to the Top: A Look Behind the Curtain,” by Steven Brill, Education Week, May 18, 2010