As Alexander Russo has rightly noted, many reformers (especially those of the Democratic persuasion) are struggling to figure out what to say about Wisconsin (and Illinois and Ohio) and the whole collective-bargaining muddle. Last week, Joe Williams, our friend at Democrats for Education Reform, offered a thoughtful, if tortured, take on the issue, ultimately landing at a bizarre place: that “this attempt to stomp unions out of existence threatens to hurt” the education-reform movement (check the same link above for more). Andy Rotherham joined the chorus, harping that “overreaching Republicans like Scott Walker may actually be setting back efforts to make some common-sense changes to teacher contracts.”
Yet these nonplussed progressives miss two key points. First, the unions’ collective-bargaining privileges prevent the expansion of the selfsame reforms—from merit pay and rigorous teacher evaluations to quality-sensitive layoffs—that these Democratic reformers favor. Yes, teachers “should have a voice,” but they don’t have a God-given right to bargain for free health care, unaffordable pensions, or Kafkaesque evaluation protocols. Second, the unions are only likely to offer concessions—on wages, benefits, teacher evaluations, and more—under heavy pressure. Remember the 1990s? Arguably it was the Republican drive for vouchers that gave rise to—and cover for—the charter-school movement. Something similar is playing out now. Democratic ed reformers should see Governors Walker, Kasich, Daniels, Christie, and Scott as blessings from on high, for their “extreme” positions can make DFER’s many bold ideas taste like plain vanilla.
Perhaps, as Rick Hess noted, Williams, Rotherham, and others are just “triangulating” between the unions on one hand and the Republican governors on the other. Perhaps secretly they are rooting for Governor Walker to hold the line, even if they can’t say so in public. But if they can’t, we will: Putting the unions on the defensive is the best thing that’s happened in education reform in a long, long time.
|Click to listen to commentary on Wisconsin from the Education Gadfly Show podcast|
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