Tuthill on the Shape of Things to Come in the K-12 debate

November 7, 2014

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Generals are always fighting the last war, and in this must read piece by Doug Tuthill over at RedefinED, Tuthill makes the case that many of our current K-12 debates are already sliding towards irrelevance in an emerging multi-provider K-12 landscape.

Kirtley and Tuthill launch redefinED blog

December 2, 2010

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Great new blog out of Florida by school choice champions Kirtley and Tuthill (that’s JK in the red tie). Check it out.

The Charter/Voucher Extended Dance Remix

March 16, 2009

My post last week on why supporters of charter schools don’t also support vouchers generated a large amount of discussion.  Here are some tidbits on the same topic:

First, Doug Tuthill, the former teacher union leader and now head of Florida’s choice advocacy group, Step Up For Students, emailed me to say:

In Florida we have adopted the same approach to charters and vouchers you advocated in your recent exchange with Andy Rotherham.  Given the idealized status of “public education” in our culture, getting into a public versus private school debate is a losing proposition.  Therefore we argue that  publicly-funded private schools are part of our public education system and the real issue is how best to regulate all publicly-funded education.   Our approach is aided by the reality that public education in Florida is expanding to incorporate a variety of publicly-funded private providers.  Many of the state’s best secondary magnet programs are run by private providers (my favorites are two aeronautic magnet programs run by Embry-Riddle University in Okaloosa County), the K-5 portion of our state online school, the Florida Virtual School, is run by a private provider, the overwhelming majority of our charter schools are run by private providers, and of course all the schools providing services through the McKay and Corporate Tax Credit Scholarships are private providers.  To arbitrarily label some of these public-private partnerships as “voucher” programs and therefore suggest they are bad is nonsensical.  The goodness or badness of any publicly-funded education program should be determined by its effectiveness and efficiency, not by how it is labeled.


Andy and President Obama, among others, are caught in the old “public-versus-private-school” paradigm, which is why they support “charters” but not “vouchers.”    But as you pointed out in your exchange with Andy, this is an illogical distinction unless one is stuck in the “public is good, private is bad” mindset and possesses a myopic view of what constitutes public and private. 


And here is an interesting item about how Orthodox Jewish groups have come out against secular charter schools as a substitute for a Jewish education.  The Ben Gamla Hebrew Charter School in Florida focuses on Hebrew language and Jewish history but has no religious instruction.  And it is drawing students away from Jewish private schools in part because the charter is free to students while the private schools have to charge tuition.  The huge expansion in charter schools may be posing an even greater competitive threat to established private schools than to traditional public schools.


Leaders of the Orthodox movement recognize this threat to their efforts to focus on religious instruction.  A spokesman for the Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America, Rabbi Avi Shafran, commented: “We are not pro-charter schools. They are not replacements for a yeshiva education, and anyone who can imagine they could be are fooling themselves… There is no end around the fact that Jewish education is a Jewish education and that can only happen in a Jewish institution with a Jewish curriculum. And because our nation does not permit religious instruction in public schools, there is no way to avoid the need that Jewish parents have for yeshivas.” 

It’s a Sign, All Right!

September 23, 2008

HT digitalius

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

When former Pinellas County teacher-union head and “national NEA activist” Doug Tuthill became president of the Florida School Choice Fund, Jay announced that dogs and cats were living together. (By coincidence, in the same week The Onion ran this, one of their best ever.)

Not so fast, says America’s Last Education Labor Reporter. “Tuthill has always been something of a union maverick,” notes ALELR in his latest communique. “He was a new unionist well before NEA President Bob Chase took up the call and made it official policy. Tuthill’s essay in the February 1997 NEA Today, headlined ‘Time to Face the Hard Truth,’ could have been written today – which might explain why Tuthill has gone over to the Dark Side.”

ALELR quotes from Tuthill’s article: “The traditional role of education unions has been to protect members from the negative effects of dysfunctional school systems. That’s not enough anymore.” As recently as 2004, Tuthill was calling for new unionism to “rise from the ashes” and was pushing for NEA involvement in charter school management, membership services for private schools, and “supporting” home schoolers.

Well, I read “Time to Face the Hard Truth,” and frankly, other than that one line about how unions should do more than protect teachers from being fired, it all looks like standard NEA boilerplate. “Today’s education unions must take on the task of transforming these systems. Our primary goal must be to create learning systems in which all adults and children achieve at high levels.” Etc. Etc. Etc. These days the NEA just has computers write this stuff for them, switching the words around so we don’t notice (e.g. “Today’s education unions must take on the goal of transforming these learning systems for all adults and children. Our primary task must be to create systems in which all achieve at high levels”). That frees up more time for them to hang out in their member-funded stadium skyboxes and go on those all-important conference trips.

So ALELR is right that the essay “could have been written today,” but not by a reformer. This kind of fluff only passes as deep thought among the “wow, man, kids need so much” crowd.

In the article, Tuthill talks about a teacher who was being fired for incompetence: ” ‘I know I haven’t done a good job,’ she said crying, ‘but I’m doing the best I can. These kids have so many problems, I just don’t know where to begin. What am I going to do?’ “

What happens? The union saves her job, and Tuthill is glad that this incompetent teacher is returned to the classroom. He sees her as a “victim” of “dysfunctional systems.” His only regret is that more effort (read: money) isn’t being spent on teacher training to help ensure that future teachers won’t be incompetent:

I was pleased that our union had helped her, but the episode bothered me. This teacher had been the victim of a series of dysfunctional systems. She was poorly trained, improperly placed, and not adequately supported. Consistent with our traditional advocacy role, we helped her, but we did nothing to change the systems that caused her problems.

Even that line about unions doing more than just protecting teachers from being fired gets it wrong. What does he say the union is protecting teachers from? “The negative effects of dysfunctional school systems.” I guess any school system that wants to fire a teacher is by definition dysfunctional.

Tuthill gets a little maverick cred simply for mentioning the fact that unions do help prevent teachers from being fired, but is that all it takes to render Tuthill’s move to the school choice movement a yawner?

With all due respect to ALELR, if Tuthill has signed on to lead the charge for school choice, it’s clear that he’s made a lot of progress since 1997. Dogs and cats are indeed living together. Now it’s just a question of how many more politicians realize that they can save the educational lives of millions of registered voters.

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