One of the Republicans favorite examples to mark Democrats – and President Obama – as hypocritical and hyperpartisan on education is the DC vouchers program. They have reason to, but not for the reasons they believe. The voucher program had been a successful one in DC, and to end it was wrong. Accusations that ending it was strictly a bow to union pressure are hard to argue with. Writes Jonathan S. Tobin in Contentions:
The reason why the president and other liberals oppose school choice is not based on the evidence of their utility or the Constitution but rather ideology and politics. Giving parents of poor children the ability to choose their child’s school is good for education but undermines the government education monopoly and the teachers unions.
Emphasis mine. But Tobin, like the Washington Post editorial he references, fails to realize that the key element in the success of these children was the presence of parents in their lives. The fact that parents took the initiative to obtain a voucher in the first place is the true mother of these stories. The involvement of parents in the lives of the their children is most important aspect of their growth and development – than anything. It wasn’t the vouchers. It was the parents.
Conservatives like Tobin always emphasize that it’s the choice, you see. It speaks directly to their anti-teacher union meme. Tobin doesn’t realize there’s an involved parent behind every one of these successful DC students. While the involvement of union bosses in suppressing the DC voucher damages the reputations of individual teachers and the goals of education in general, conservative single-mindedness makes them equally extreme as it is driven by displeasure for the teacher-union relationship. Such narrowly focused themes on the part of conservatives begets the “blame teachers” outrage that is drives.
Breakdowns of urban schools like some of those in DC, New York City and New Orleans aren’t because of teacher unions nor are they because of ineffective teachers. It’s the breakdown of the family structure and the burdens of poverty; two more factors market reformers don’t want to consider. In these cities, positive alternatives to dangerous public schools cannot be an enemy of teachers. But accepting this is still too bitter of a pill for union loyalists.
There’s a third way here that the extreme leaders of both sides aren’t allowing to be considered. The victims of the political tug-of-war are children, schools and teachers themselves.