Gordon didn’t explicitly point the finger at teachers unions: the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association.
But they are the ones that systematically fight charter schools, oppose testing and accountability, and insist that salaries, promotions and layoffs be based on seniority, not merit.
There is encouraging evidence that state, local and national leaders, on a bipartisan basis, realize that the schools have to stop being run for the benefit of the adults who work in them and need to prepare children for global competition.
The Obama administration has mounted a “Race to the Top,” and states are responding by instituting reforms.
Bush, a Republican, said, “Spurred on by a race to the top, more states have focused on reform than ever before and, equally important, dozens of states are not waiting for the race to the top to bring about reform.”
He added, “I hope that Republicans in Congress work with the Obama administration to make this the one place to prove to the American people that Democrats and Republicans can put partisanship aside [to] define common ground for a long-term strategy to assure that more children learn.”
But there is a danger that, in the next Congress, an unholy alliance of convenience will develop between the teachers unions, which want to block reform, and tea party Republicans, who want to cut back on domestic spending and get Washington out of education.
Such an alliance was foreshadowed in a recent editorial in the Wall Street Journal by Diane Ravitch, a former reformer in President George H.W. Bush’s administration who has now become a union loyalist.
She wrote, “The question today for Republicans is whether they are a party that endorses top-down reform from Washington, D.C., or ... respects the common sense of the people back home and their commitment to their local public schools.”
At the local level, of course, teachers unions tend to rule. And, as a result, America is 32nd in the world in math and only a third of high school graduates are capable of doing college work.
As Gordon told Congress, America’s “house is on fire.”