I note that former Labor Secretary and current Berkeley professor Robert Reich, in his Twitter feed (@RBReich) today, backs up a point I made about these proposed tax cuts being a precursor to Republican efforts to launch an assault on domestic spending and entitlements -- using the federal budget deficit made so much worse by these tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires as their rationale.
I said: "I recognize that this issue isn't specifically about education, but it is inexorably linked. Given President Obama's apparent unwillingness to go to the mat for Democratic principles (and his own campaign pledge!), Republicans have succeeded in extending the Bush tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires -- not just for the first $250,000 or $1,000,000 of their income, but all of it up to infinity. The total cost of all the proposal's tax cuts is $900 billion. Republicans' likely next step is too take off their "tax cutter" hat and don their "deficit hawk" cap, saying that the federal government is living beyond its means, and will fire away at domestic spending. You don't think education will avoid being in their crosshairs at that time, do you? You know that this is more than simply a ploy to line the pockets of rich Americans, right? It's part of a plan to bleed government dry and then argue that government programs need to be reduced, eliminated or privatized."
Reich wrote: "$900 b tax cut w/ lion's share for rich explodes deficit and makes future domestic discretionary spending sitting duck for R cuts."
Yes, folks. This isn't just about tax cuts for the richest Americans. This is but a front in the war to reduce the size of government regardless of its collateral damage to Americans who need government the most.
Economic inequality is already at an all-time high in this country -- even higher than prior to the start of the Great Depression. Our educational system only has a finite amount of power to overcome such overwhelming inequities. If these forces are left unchecked, it may become an impossible job, especially as education programs themselves may fall victim to all-too-easily-predictable budget cuts.
The rich, on the the other hand, will continue to party like it's 1929. Only the party's even better this time 'round. So much for the national economy being a collective good.
Check out his 13-minute speech on the floor of the U.S. Senate on November 30, 2010 providing a compelling and detailed analysis of historic economic inequality in America and the duplicity of Republicans talking woefully about the national debt and budget deficit one minute and pushing as their top priority tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires that would break the bank the next. Sanders is one of the few national leaders making any sense today and putting economic inequality and proposed tax breaks into historical context. It's probably because he is one of the few that actually cares.
On Saturday, we watched as Republicans voted in lockstep against two alternatives to extending the Bush-era tax cuts to all Americans regardless of income. One proposal would have extended tax cuts to all families first $250,000; another to all families' first million. Even millionaires and billionaires would have continued to enjoy lower taxes on some of their income. Alas, why should the rich settle for half a loaf?
Who else thinks that the current policy debate over tax policy in Washington is absolutely insane? Not enough of us. One who does is Noble Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman, who in the New York Times on December 3, 2010, laid much of the blame on President Obama:
It’s hard to escape the impression that Republicans have taken Mr. Obama’s measure — that they’re calling his bluff in the belief that he can be counted on to fold. And it’s also hard to escape the impression that they’re right.Sad, but true.
I recognize that this issue isn't specifically about education, but it is inexorably linked. Given President Obama's apparent unwillingness to go to the mat for Democratic principles (and his own campaign pledge!), Republicans have succeeded in extending the Bush tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires -- not just for the first $250,000 or $1,000,000 of their income, but all of it up to infinity. The total cost of all the proposal's tax cuts is $900 billion. Republicans' likely next step is too take off their "tax cutter" hat and don their "deficit hawk" cap, saying that the federal government is living beyond its means, and will fire away at domestic spending. You don't think education will avoid being in their crosshairs at that time, do you? You know that this is more than simply a ploy to line the pockets of rich Americans, right? It's part of a plan to bleed government dry and then argue that government programs need to be reduced, eliminated or privatized. [UPDATE: The deal is a "budget buster." (The Atlantic)]
Now, there are would-be Democrats who are in denial and are not considering this likely outcome at all. Rather than reserving their scorn for Republican tax policy, they are attacking progressive Democrats and the likes of Bernie Sanders. Shame on them.
Over Thanksgiving weekend, the President suffered a split lip in a pick-up basketball game. How I wish he were as willing to put his body on the line for economic fairness as he was for a rebound!
I am encouraged that Senator Sanders has expressed a willingness to use the filibuster to put the breaks on extending tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans. God knows that Republicans have used the filibuster -- or the threat of one -- for dozens of nefarious purposes, including preventing extensions of unemployment insurance, regulation of Wall Street, and recently more rationale tax cut extension proposals. Imagine! A progressive willing to stand up for what's right and not "punt on third down," to use the words of New York Congressman Anthony Weiner.
At this time, I couldn't be more disappointed in President Obama. I have always been a political realist, voting for the "least bad" candidate when necessary, and a life-long Democrat. I honestly don't know what I might do in 2012. I literally couldn't sleep the other night, I was so angry. Maybe it's time to follow Robert Reich's lead and form a "Peoples' Party."
Rhetorically, President Obama is making the same mistake over and over again, putting bipartisanship ahead of smart public policy. I am not criticizing the President because I wrongly fancied him a liberal. Rolling back the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy was one of his chief campaign pledges for Chrissakes! I'm criticizing him on the substance of the issue, for walking away from a campaign promise (without fighting for it), and for making the same tactical mistake he made during the health care battle: working feverishly to assemble a bipartisan coalition for health care reform when there was no real willingness among Republicans to meet in the middle. In the current case, he horse-traded away a key campaign plank and agreed to an extension of the Bush tax cuts for two years plus deeper estate tax cuts, while only receiving a 13-month extension of unemployment benefits and one year of payroll tax cuts.
I'll give the New York Times the last word. In this morning's editorial, it writes:
President Obama’s deal with the Republicans to extend all the Bush-era income tax cuts is a win for the Republicans and their strategy of obstructionism and a disappointing retreat by the White House....
The Republicans gave up very little except for their unconscionable stance of holding up all other Congressional action until they ensured that the richest Americans keep their tax cuts.
But this is the Education OPTIMISTS blog, right? I guess I'm a little self-aware in that I recognize that a majority of my posts grouse about something or other and too few are offered in a truly optimistic vein. So here is my attempt at weaving a silk purse from an elephant's(?) ear.
Newly elected Republican governors and state legislators have opportunities to improve education in ways that some of their Democratic counterparts may not. They may be more politically willing and able to take on certain vestiges of the education status quo that may not be research-based, may not be working, and may be not be in service of student outcomes. I'm talking about things like the traditional steps-and-lanes teacher salary schedule, the length of the school day and year, and largely purposeless teacher evaluation systems. They may be able to construct new human capital systems and reform outdated school practices and processes. Certainly, these opportunities will vary depending upon numerous contextual factors, including state systems of educational governance, the intellectual and policy foundations for such work, the existence of non-governmental advocates and thought partners, existing vehicles for collaboration (such as p-16 councils), etc.
A number of past Republican governors emerged as leaders, or so-called "education governors." Some that immediately come to mind are former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld, former Ohio Gov. Bob Taft, outgoing Alabama Gov. Bob Riley, and former Tennessee Gov. (and current U.S. Senator) Lamar Alexander (who also served as U.S Education Secretary under President George H.W. Bush).
That said, here's where my pessimism takes over. There are certainly members of the current Republican gubernatorial circle that are certainly not in the running for such an earned label, such as New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. With less than a year in office, he has moved in a decidedly confrontational direction. His actions and rhetoric makes him better suited for talk radio than as a collaborative education governor who needs to work with a Democratic-controlled state legislature and, yes, with teachers. Christie is casting himself as a modern-day Archie Bunker and is relishing the attention and headlines he is getting. The sad fact is that such rhetoric is what garners attention in today's media rather than the dogged policy work that actually changes the equation for students and teachers.
Christie seems to think that leadership consists of rhetoric rather than results. And that's dangerous if our collective goal is the creation of meaningful reform as opposed to simply talk or threats of it. Christie has attacked his own state's relatively good educational performance in order to further his demonizing of the state teachers' union, which appears to be his primary priority. He fired his first education commissioner who dared to strike a compromise with teachers around New Jersey's aborted Race to the Top application. That former commissioner said that the Governor "placed fighting with the state teachers unions and his persona on talk radio above education reform." Good luck to those who seek to thrust him upon America as a 2012 candidate for President.
My fear is that there those within the ranks of new Republican governors that are more likely to fashion themselves in the style of Christie than as "old school" education governors. Texas Governor Rick Perry's ascension to head the RGA probably doesn't help either.
With the exception of the 12 Race to the Top winners, one challenge that these new office holders of both parties will face is the distinct lack of new resources to inject into the educational system, either from state or federal sources. They won't be able to buy reforms by increasing education funding or refashion teacher pay with a major infusion of cash.
My hope is that governors of both parties will seek to work with educators to accomplish their policy objectives rather than force their desires onto them. There is good evidence to suggest that collaboration leads to more resilient and relevant policies that are likely to trickle down to actually change practices and processes within classrooms and schools. That's where the real work gets done.
I am hopeful that some quiet leaders will emerge.
The fourth installment in the eight-part series, funded by Hechinger, ran this past Sunday and was entitled "Trying to steer strong teachers to weak schools."
My main quibble with this particular article was that it gave short shrift to one of the most effective answers to the question posed: How do we steer strong teachers to weak schools? The answer: Improve the teaching conditions at those schools.
Here's the extent of what the article offered on this issue:
So what else might be done, in hopes of having more impact? A few ideas in nutshells:My suggestion would have been a much more robust treatment and discussion of the issue of teaching conditions. I have extrapolated on its importance in a series of blog posts, and the New Teacher Center (my employer) has unique national expertise in administering statewide Teaching and Learning Conditions surveys. The NTC has a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to administer a Teaching & Learning Conditions Survey as part of the foundation’s Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) project. The Survey is being administered in select schools and districts participating in the MET project across the country.
• Make schools better places to work: This is both the simplest and most complex solution. The New Teacher Project report in 2007 said, "The best way to staff high need schools is to make them attractive to great teachers." But how do you achieve that?
Mike Langyel, president of the Milwaukee teachers union, listed things that would attract teachers: "A competent and fair principal is key not only in getting teachers there but in keeping them.... We're also looking at schools that are safe."
Perhaps Wisconsin and Milwaukee, in particular, should consider administering such an anonymous full population survey to its educators -- teachers, administrators and support staff -- and see what they have to say. Why do they stay or leave a given school or district? What's working and what isn't? States and districts that have administered such surveys have used the data to improve principal preparation, rewrite professional standards for teachers and principals, and strengthen teacher mentoring and professional development. This is not data to be afraid of but data that can empower policymakers, school leaders and teachers alike.
Teaching and learning conditions are highly correlated with issues such as teacher retention and the presence of such conditions explain as much as 15 percent of the variance in student achievement between schools (Helen 'Sunny' Ladd, 2009). This stuff matters greatly in the current policy debates about teaching and student outcomes and it gets far too little attention as compared with value added, teacher evaluation and teacher pay.