Call for Reformers and Unions to Get Along
By Ben Wieder, Staff Writer
A former top aide to President Bill Clinton says so-called “education reform” leaders need to work with unions if they hope to succeed.
Speaking in Washington, D.C. at the fifth annual Excellence in Action National Summit on Education Reform Tuesday (November 27) , John Podesta said that major electoral defeats in Indiana, Idaho and South Dakota showed the folly of painting unions as the enemy.
“We have to let that go if we’re going to go forward,” Podesta told reformers at the conference, organized by former Florida Governor Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education. “If you go to war on your workforce, sooner or later you’re going to lose.”
While voters in Georgia and Washington approved charter school measures this November over union opposition, the repeal of education laws in South Dakota and Idaho and, especially, the defeat of Indiana State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett have forced the education reform community to re-evaluate its political approach.
“The bottom line of these elections is that reform is not a foregone conclusion,” said Podesta, who founded the left-leaning Center for American Progress after his time in the White House.
He and others at the conference Tuesday also called for more campaign support for legislators, particularly Democrats, who support education changes such as allowing for more charter schools and private school vouchers, tying teacher evaluations and pay to student performance and embracing online learning, among other changes.
In a panel discussion later about various state-supported alternatives to traditional public schools, Alisha Morgan, a Democratic representative from Georgia, said that she had been targeted in primaries because she has supported expanding charter schools in the state and other education changes and that Democrats have been afraid of political retribution for supporting similar measures.
“When politicians take courageous actions,” she said, “they need to know that they have support.”