Usually I can count on The Economist magazine to offer a bemused but pragmatic analysis (albeit from a European viewpoint) of events and issues in the U.S. Not this time! A brief article on California’s education woes is pure conservative party line (with a halfhearted dig at Prop. 13 tacked on at the end for balance). It’s almost as if the writer just phoned in the commentary from a comfy perch in the magazine’s Washington bureau (there is a Los Angeles dateline, so maybe the writer phoned in the piece while relaxing poolside at the Chateau Marmont). But really, when you look at who is quoted, it’s not surprising the article takes the slant it does:
Eli Broad, a Los Angeles philanthropist who is trying to reform education, blames a combination of California’s dysfunctional governance, with “elected school boards made up of wannabes and unions”, and the fact that the state’s teachers’ union is both more powerful and “more regressive” than elsewhere. The California Teachers Association (CTA) is the biggest lobby in the state, having spent some $210m in the past decade—more than any other group— to intervene in California’s politics.
The CTA has used its money to defeat almost any reform that might have turned the standards into reality. It helped to defeat ballot measures that, for example, would have given California a school-voucher system and changed the probation period for teachers. It ensured that the state has “laughably easy teacher tests”, as [Mike Petrilli of the D.C.-based Thomas B. Fordham Institute] puts it. It is also the biggest donor to the state’s Democratic Party.
Ah. I see. A controversial promoter of charter schools (not a big fan of elected school boards he) and a researcher from an organization that is considered by many to promote a conservative agenda of privatizing public education. That explains it.
I’ve certainly read other criticisms of CTA and the amount of money it spends to influence elections, but I think we owe them a debt of gratitude for their work in passing education-friendly legislation and for crushing multiple attempts to introduce vouchers here in California (most of the time, the state PTA and CTA are on the same side in supporting or opposing legislation – and lucky for us PTA members, CTA has a bankroll to actually get the message out). And if I were making a list of the biggest causes of the crisis we face here in California’s educational system, I’d put outdated, inequitable funding formulas and inadequate funding altogether at the very top of my list: not CTA.