Rhetoric: Welfare Queens, Turncoats, Birthers

image from graphics8.nytimes.comThe NYT's Matt Bai describes how NJ governor Chris Christie (pictured) has turned public employee unions into a convenient scapegoat:  "Ronald Reagan had his 'welfare queens,'  Rudy Giuliana had his criminals and 'squeegee men,' and now Chris Christie has his sprawling and powerful public-sector unions."  Union historian Rick Kahlenberg has taken to the pages of the Washington Post to lay blame for union-bashing squarely at the feet of so-called school reformers: "In a profound sense, Democrats like Michelle Rhee have paved the way for Scott Walker." At roughly the same time, Rhee biographer Richard Whitmire appears on EdWeek to denounce Rhee critics as lefty birthers threatened at a level that is visceral and somewhat deraged: "The birther-like rhetoric is... not likely to abate unless Rhee and her organization make no headway and therefore present no threat."  What to make of all of this?  Click below or forget all that and head straight to comments.

Whitmire needs to get some smidgen of distance between himself and the Rhee PR machine.  Kahlenberg might have overstated the case just a little bit though there is a clear line between most reformers and anti-unionism. Debate-wise, we're getting closer and closer to Godwin's Law -- I'm not sure I can stand the anticipation of waiting to see whether Ravitch or Rhee allies there first.   Meanwhile, union leaders obviously to get out of their bunkers and make some contributions to the debate (even if they run the risk of getting unseated in the next election).  Reformers need to figure out how to keep up the pressure without becoming co-opted by political interests who probably don't share their passion for educating poor kids. (Their current obsession with last in first out makes no sense to me, politically or substantively.) From TWIE.

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  • Washington Post and MSNBC have both commented on President Obama's lack of leadership on the union busting issue. Finally, yesterday, the new W.H. spokesman, Jay Carney, stumbled through a tepid version of something like 'the President doesn't support union busting,' but the President himself still refuses to comment. The President has the perfect issue to energize the Democratic party throughout the US -- and use it to resist the craziest reactionary ideas of the tea partiers, like cutting $50 million form nutrition programs for women, infants and children. But he won't fight.

    So, who is he listening to?

    To Arne and Rhee, and Rahm is right in the middle of the pack.

    Busting the teachers' union is the first step for these school reformers. They tried to make the teachers an easy target. Teachers were bashed relentlessly by the huge "Waiting for Superman" p.r. machine, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The p.r. cost millions more than the documentary! Oprah was a keystone of the P.R. campaign. Arne even appeared by video link! She announced on her show that she was against lotteries -- heartbreaking -- but she turned around and gave $1 million dollars each to 2 Chicago charter schools in the last 30 seconds. NOT HER MONEY, by the way, she gave Angel Network money! Imagine if you are a Chicago teacher who donated to the Angel Network and find that Oprah is supporting the charter which is taking your best students, classrooms and gym time and taxpayer resources from the neighborhood school you work at!!!

    It would be hard not to be cynical about the way this effort is being spun out, in order to position EDUCATION REFORM as working right here in Chicago, just in time for President Obama's re-election campaign.

    Wrong-headed, short-sighted, won't work.

    Here' the problem for Rahm. CPS is the largest employer on the south side of Chicago. He busts this union, and the exodus from Chicago of blacks (11% over the past 10 years) speeds up.

    We've all heard that Chicago lost 200,000 over the last 10 years, and that pace was slowed only by the housing bust. To put this in perspective, (remember the federal consent decree desegregating schools was implemented in 1977) -- 300,000 left Chicago in the 1970s.

    CPS has a lot of problems, but union busting will hasten emigration of the middle class from Chiccago -- blacks, whites, Hispanics. The major changes CPS made to the selective enrollment high school admissions also hurts the middle class and adds to the problem.

    Busting teacher's unions paves the way for the "reforms" advocated by Arne, who is listening a lot these days to Rhee and Andreas Schleicher. This past week Andreas said to the National Governors Association winter meeting (C-Span): 'Smaller class size is the most expensive and lest effective way to improve outcomes."
    Then, in the next breath, he said that "Poor discipline is the main reason people leave the profession or don't enter it at all."
    No connection there?

  • Paul Krugman (NYT) writing on his blog about the shortfal in pensions. We're not getting the real story.

    February 27, 2011, 6:22 pm
    The Truth About Pensions

    Dean Baker has a deeply enlightening analysis of state pension shortfalls (pdf), containing a lot of stuff I didn

  • Excerpt from (NYT) David Brooks (Feb 28, 2011) who really, really likes Arne Duncan.

    "Education Secretary Arne Duncan gave a superb speech in November called the New Normal. He observed that this era of austerity should be an occasion to increase productivity and cut the things that are ineffective. Duncan is a fountain of ideas to make more with less.

    "For example, he says, if we have to increase class sizes, we should put more kids in with the best teachers and then we should pay those teachers more to compensate for the extra load. Most of us parents would rather see our kids in a class of 30 with a great teacher than a class of 25 with an average one."

    How about a reality check? We already have class sizes of 30 and sometimes more in Chicago. Crank up the numbers and cut teachers and let's all spell b-u-r-n-o-u-t!

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