Terry Moe: Democrats and Effective Education Reform in the Balance

The best education read of the Thanksgiving week goes to the Hoover Institution’s Terry Moe, writing in the Wall Street Journal:

Democrats are fervent supporters of public education, and the party genuinely wants to help disadvantaged kids stuck in bad schools. But it resists bold action. It is immobilized. Impotent. The explanation lies in its longstanding alliance with the teachers’ unions — which, with more than three million members, tons of money and legions of activists, are among the most powerful groups in American politics. The Democrats benefit enormously from all this firepower, and they know what they need to do to keep it. They need to stay inside the box.

And they have done just that. Democrats favor educational “change” — as long as it doesn’t affect anyone’s job, reallocate resources, or otherwise threaten the occupational interests of the adults running the system. Most changes of real consequence are therefore off the table. The party specializes instead in proposals that involve spending more money and hiring more teachers — such as reductions in class size, across-the-board raises and huge new programs like universal preschool. These efforts probably have some benefits for kids. But they come at an exorbitant price, both in dollars and opportunities foregone, and purposely ignore the fundamentals that need to be addressed.

What should the Democrats be doing? Above all, they should be guided by a single overarching principle: Do what is best for children.

Moe goes on to highlight specific recommendations for the majority Democrats in Washington regarding school accountability, school choice, and union collective bargaining. (Sounds like a few big issues my friends in the Education Policy Center talk a lot about.)

Washington DC, 2005: Education Policy Center staff members share dinner with Terry Moe (2nd from left) and the Education Intelligence Agency‘s Mike Antonucci (center)

Moe also highlights the hope of elements within the Democratic Party willing to challenge the status quo — such as Democrats for Education Reform. Colorado is near the forefront of this important movement, reflected by the changing leadership in the state legislature.

An encouraging national trend to be thankful for is the ever-increasing hope for truly bipartisan effective education reform. But it’s going to take more than hope to get it done.