Who Owns Washington?

In Washington State the answer is clear--the Washington Education Association. They dragged their feet in hundreds of districts and called strikes in a couple districts last night just to screw up the first day of school.

In Kent, a Seattle suburb, the WEA welcomed a great new superintendent, Dr. Vargas, to town with a strike. Kent is a well run district where the previous superintendent served with distinction for a decade. Unfortunately, Vargas is receiving familiar treatment; it happened on my first day as superintendent 15 years ago. My kids asked me why they weren't going to school and why there were people with signs in our driveway.

Even though strikes by public employees are illegal, the WEA picks a few districts in key media markets and runs strikes every year just to remind local and state officials who's really in charge. The Kent strike is supposedly because teachers don't want to meet with their principal more than once a week; they're trying to spin this as 'more time with the children'--please. They also mention class size, but that's a red herring in a state with equalized funding and big budget deficits. This isn't about issues; it's about power.

It's a little less clear who owns Washington, DC this week. The Republicans beat back the health care plan with a good dose of targeted demagoguery. We may get a weaker bill, but it's clear that most of the 46 million people without insurance are still screwed.

Without Kennedy's leadership, it's not at all clear who will lead Senate education efforts. EdWeek speculates about Dodd and Harkin as possible leaders, but both would need to give up coveted chairs to do it. They mention Michael Bennet--the best Senator on education--but he's not even on the committee and needs to worry about getting elected first time after serving out Salazar's term.

However, it is clear that the NEA has far less influence in DC than under any previous democratic administration in recent history. Even left leaning publications like the New York Times and the Washington Post are supporting the president's efforts to expand school choice and use data to improve instruction. These are common sense reforms; it's time for the NEA and AFT to play a constructive role rather than launching political strikes.

Washington State has avoided charter schools and will skip participation in federal grant programs, but at least pragmatic leadership has come to DC. In the mean time, there are thousands of parents wondering when their kids will go back to school.