(Guest post by Greg Forster)
Terry Moe has a great article in today’s Journal about how entrepreneurial innovation taking advantage of new technology is putting the teacher’s unions on the road to oblivion. It’s a great article, except that it draws one false dichotomy.
Fans of JPGB know that we do love us some high-tech transformation of schooling around here. Matt has been on this beat for a long time, and hardly a week goes by that he doesn’t update us on the latest victory of “the cool kids” over “edu-reactionaries” in the reinvention of the school. But he doesn’t own that turf entirely; I made this the theme of my contribution to Freedom and School Choice (as did Matt, of course).
The problem is that Moe insists high-tech transformation of schooling, and the destruction of union control it entails, is absolutely, positively a separate phenomenon from the wave of school reform victories this year:
This has been a horrible year for teachers unions…But the unions’ hegemony is not going to end soon. All of their big political losses have come at the hands of oversized Republican majorities. Eventually Democrats will regain control, and many of the recent reforms may be undone. The financial crisis will pass, too, taking pressure off states and giving Republicans less political cover…
Over the long haul, however, the unions are in grave trouble—for reasons that have little to do with the tribulations of this year…The first is that they are losing their grip on the Democratic base…Then there’s a crucial dynamic outside of politics: the revolution in information technology.
Really? The victories of 2011 – “the year of school choice” – aren’t in the same category with the long-term path to oblivion the unions are on? On the contrary, 2011 is the year of school choice precisely because it has become obvious that the unions are on track for oblivion, for the reasons Moe identifies.
Moe’s argument relies on the assumption that when Republicans are in power, they always make dramatic and innovative school reform policies their #1 priority.
Sorry . . . lost my train of thought I was laughing so hard . . . let me pick myself up off the floor . . . there, now where was I? Oh, yes.
The GOP hasn’t touched real school reforms with a hundred-foot pole in years. Why did it all of a sudden embrace real reform this year?
Could it be because…
…the unions are losing their grip on the Democratic base, meaning squishy Republicans don’t have to worry about being demonized as right-wing loonies simply for embracing real reform, and…
…the revolution in information technology has made it obvious to MSM and other key cultural gatekeepers that the unions are the reactionaries, once again reassuring squishy Republicans they won’t be demonized for embracing real reform?
Obviously the financial crisis was also a factor here, as Moe rightly points out. But is that really an immediate-term phenomenon, bound to disappear next week? What really counts is whether the nation feels so rich it can afford to ignore ballooning school costs. Technically the recession ended two years ago and we’ve been in “recovery” for two years. How’s that feeling? Do we feel rich and luxurious again? Are we on track to restore a widespread national sense of inevitable prosperity by 2012? By 2014? By 2020?
Bottom line, the unions losing Democratic support and taking their stand in opposition to entrepreneurial change was the crucial, indispensable precondition for this year’s wave of school reform success.
Oh, and guess what? Sustaining those policies, especially school choice, will be the only way this wave of advancing technology will produce the results Moe is expecting. Only school choice can prevent the blob from neutralizing any reform you throw at it. If the techno-innovators turn their back on choice and competition, they’ll be dead meat. (For more on that topic, see the aforementioned chapter by your humble servant in Freedom and School Choice.)