The Great Teachers Union-Republican Alliance of 2015?

Yesterday, I wrote about the latest developments in what I have begun to simply call “The Testing Mess.” It’s sticky, sticky stuff, and I find that it’s often difficult to decipher which piece of the puzzle I’m going to be talking about when someone brings up “testing” in conversation these days. But being the insatiable nerd that I am, I feel compelled to complicate things even further by taking a look at some of the more interesting—and bizarre—political wrinkles behind the scenes of the debate.

I pointed you last time to an article written by Alyson Klein at Education Week. The article neatly sums up newly revealed Republican efforts to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act as No Child Left Behind, the Act’s current iteration, increasingly finds itself on the wrong end of the testing discussion.

In order to achieve a reauthorization, our trusty (not really) politicians in Washington will need to navigate a political environment that I believe I accurately described yesterday as a “sausage-making process.” And just as you can never be quite sure which bits will be included in your sausage, politics can make strange bedfellows. Nowhere is that more clear than in the nascent (and highly irregular) developing relationship between the national teachers unions and Republicans over the issue of ESEA reauthorization. As Klein puts it:

Getting the unions on board, even if it’s just behind the scenes, could help a GOP bill get to 60 votes in the Senate.

Well, this is awkward—especially after the National Education Association and American Federation spent more than $60 million dollars attempting to turn back the GOP tidal wave that swept over the country last month (including quite a bit of “non-partisan” spending right here in Colorado) . As I pointed out some time ago, that record spending didn’t buy much outside of a few small victories for the unions. Meanwhile, declining membership numbers are putting a small but growing dent in the unions’ power, and the organizations seem to be struggling with a strange sort of internal-external identity crisis.

Still, the teachers unions seem to be on the same practical track as conservatives when it comes to issues of testing and accountability, albeit for very different reasons. Republicans find themselves in need of union support to roll back what many see as overly intrusive federal mandates. The unions see that those Republicans are now their only real vehicle for effecting timely change in testing requirements that they see as a threat to their members’ productivity and employment. That’s a highly simplified version of the situation, of course, but you get the picture.

Given the situation, we may very well see a type of (very) fragile Republican-union alliance emerge on the issue of ESEA reauthorization. Such an alliance wouldn’t be totally unprecedented, but it would be highly unusual. It would also be a more than a little entertaining.

Kind of like watching two people, one of whom just attempted to strangle the other, be involuntarily tied together at the ankle and forced to run a three-legged race through a minefield.

And on that note, I leave you to enjoy your weekend!