What’s the Republican state agenda for *reforming* our public schools? The 49er listens in…
By *The 49er*
Today’s high-stakes trivia question: which state has a non-partisan, unicameral legislature? The answer: *Nebraska,* or one of the 69 of the nation’s 99 statehouses now controlled by Republicans. Another high-stakes question: What does this mean for the future of public education in this country? Will the Republicans out reform the Democrats for Education Reform? We’ll get an early glimpse this spring as legislators in many states meet to determine the future direction of education policy and funding.
My job requires me to meet with new legislators after each election cycle. Alas, I can’t tell you who I’ve been talking to without losing that job. But the conversations I’ve been having are too entertaining—and at times, alarming—not to share with the world. What follows is a sample conversation, based on actual exchanges, with a newly elected conservative legislator in my state. My translations appear in italics.
49er: Congratulations on getting elected! We’re excited to work with you in the legislature. We had written you off as a crazy lunatic who had no chance at winning until no Democrats showed up to vote.
NL (New Legislator): Thanks. I hear you guys work in education reform. I am so excited to improve education, unlike my union-bought Democrat opponent. The union only wrote a check to your opponent, they didn’t even knock on doors for him/her.
49er: So what changes to improve education are you going to propose this session?
NL: Well, you know that public education is a failing government-run monopoly. We have to introduce more choices into the system, so parents can send their kids to whatever school they want.
49er: Um. Are you including vouchers here for private schools, or just talking about expanding more charter schools?
NL: Well, I just got back from JebFest, and I was so excited to hear their panels on Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) and private school choice accountability. The ESAs are cheaper than our current per-pupil (which is already too low) and they give parents choices of how to spend their dollars. My family can homeschool our kids, so we don’t have our kids learn about evolution and Common Core. They can even spend the money on college tuition and online classes. It’s a win for everyone.
49er: Won’t this plan take money out of both our district and our charter schools by giving it to kids that are already in private schools? That doesn’t seem like it would help kids who are poor and struggling.
NL: Well, you and I both know that the districts are bloated. They have more administration buildings than schools, and they have consultants who are double dipping. They need less money. Parents, who want to be able to send their kids to better schools, elected me to office. I need to represent them. How does reducing a school’s funding make it better? It’s clear that you represent the suburbs and have never thought about poor kids/families that don’t vote for your party.
49er: Well, we all know districts have problems, but aren’t there ways to fix the districts? We could pass a law that requires them to keep the best teachers in the building, pay them accordingly, so they don’t have to go into the bloated administration? We could pass a law evaluating their professional development. There are ways that some reformers, including myself, want to genuinely improve district schools. I’m serious.
NL: Those changes sound all well and good, but the union won’t implement them. Therefore, we need to end collective bargaining and be like Scott Walker. I think 2015 will be the year that we can finally crush the union. How is this action actually going to improve schools? Are Wisconsin schools actually doing better after Act 10 passed?
49er: Interesting. That will be an epic battle. In any case, unionized or non-unionized, we are still having a hard time finding enough effective teachers. How should we increase the pool of effective teachers? Let’s not forget that policies like the one you are suggesting drive more teachers out of the profession.
NL: Well, I visited a Teach for America classroom a few weeks ago, and the young teacher in that classroom was doing an amazing job. We should just hire more of them to ensure we have quality teachers. The snark is too obvious here.
49er: Well, Teach for America can’t scale up to become all of our educators in our state. We have to focus on improving the entire system of teacher prep working with both our public and private institutions along with groups like Teach for America. By private, I mean sub-par online providers like the University of Phoenix.
NL: I just don’t trust any of our public schools to produce the teachers we need. We have to get more mid-career professionals, like myself, to become teachers. Are most professionals really ready to deal with the reality of an urban classroom?
49er: Just curious, have you ever thought of becoming a teacher, outside of homeschooling?
NL: No, I couldn’t raise my family on a salary like that.
You get the point… As legislatures convene across this country, we must remember to ensure that legislators think about the true consequences of their actions. If they start to realize the full effects of the decisions they are making, they may choose to make decisions that will actually improve schools instead of punishing groups of people they don’t like. Many of them are rigid ideologues like NL, but others can be convinced. In my conversations, I find about half of the new Republicans in my neck of the woods are like NL while the other half seem like sane, reasonable people.
At the same time, we have to respect democracy and realize that many people who want to see the end of public education in America are now in office. If I were in charge (which I am not), and coordinating an opposition effort (which I am not), I would focus on building local grassroots efforts, separate from the teachers unions or a national brand like the Badass Teachers. (The name alone scares off your true target audience). We’re in for an interesting year ahead…