It’s de rigueur to blame the teachers’ unions for the constipation gumming up the works of school reform. Andrew Rotherham of Eduwonk says in US News and World Report that“special interest groups” are, indeed, largely responsible for the plodding pace of progress, though lack of civil right law and toothy-policy is also a factor. Proponents of No Child Left Behind had assumed that schools would improve once all the data was out there on failing schools, but “seven years later the political resistance to education reform is as potent as ever and former Bush aides now acknowledge placing too much faith in the power of information.”
Still, parents and students lose in the policy battles more often than they win because that information alone does not force change on powerful stakeholders or the formidable array of special-interest groups resisting reforms with costs for the groups they represent. In that way, education reform is an old story in a representative democracy like ours: The unorganized general interest is often trumped by organized special interests.
So, the problem’s not a lack of market forces driving competition through charters and vouchers. The problem’s not a lack of information (though, as he points out, it’s easier for parents to get documentation on new appliances than schools). Until we wrest away the power from special interest groups and hand it over to unorganized general interest groups (parents, students), school reform will remain a flaccid enterprise.
In New Jersey, though, it’s not fair to blame it all on NJEA. Justice demands that we also place culpability on the fumbling D.O.E., on our mechanisms for school funding, on our home rule-driven inefficiencies and inequities. There’s plenty of candidates, which makes school reform in Jersey that much more intractable.