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Last modified: Tuesday, April 10, 2007

State of the Unions: Teachers and change in U.S. schools

Former Clinton education advisor speaks at IU Thursday

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
April 10, 2007

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- While he says it's clear some teachers groups are resistant to altering education methods, a former White House education advisor says teachers unions aren't the major holdup on changing how schools operate.

Andy Rotherham

Andy Rotherham

Print-Quality Photo

Andrew Rotherham will speak on Thursday (April 12) at 3:30 p.m. in the Georgian Room of the Indiana Memorial Union as part of the Center for Evaluation and Education Policy (CEEP) Policy Chat Series. The title of his speech is "Collective Bargaining in Education: Negotiating Change in Today's Schools," which also is the title of a recent book he co-edited.

Rotherham is the co-founder and co-director of Education Sector, an independent national education policy think tank. He served as the White House special assistant to the president for domestic policy under President Bill Clinton. A widely published expert on education policy, he's written for numerous national publications and appears regularly on radio and television.

Much of the discussion over school reform, Rotherham said, centers on a debate in which teachers unions are blamed for too much, while teachers union supporters sometimes go too far in attacking reformers.

"What's really important here," Rotherham said, "is to disentangle the extent to which they (teachers unions) are the cause of things in education and the extent to which they are symptoms of larger problems. And I think in a lot of cases, they get blamed for things in education that are institutional or cultural, and they're merely just a symptom, or a byproduct of, rather than the driving force."

The present national debate over school accountability isn't shaping up favorably for President George Bush, according to Rotherham. Last Friday, in a commentary on National Public Radio's All Things Considered, Rotherham said conservatives are making reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind program difficult.

"The sort of more hard core conservatives in Congress are in revolt, the education establishment has never liked the law," he said. "So when you add that together...the president's going have a lot of work to do to build a durable majority to pass the law without sort of significantly undermining it."

Rotherham is the author of the blog Eduwonk.com, and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. He started the 21st Century Schools Project there in 1998 and directed it until 2005. Virginia Governor Mark Warner appointed Rotherham to the Virginia State Board of Education in 2005. While at the White House, Rotherham led the Domestic Policy Council education team while advising the president on a variety of education issues.

The CEEP Policy Chat with Rotherham is free and open to the public.

CEEP, Indiana's leading non-partisan education policy research center, promotes and supports rigorous program evaluation and education policy research primarily, but not exclusively, for educational, human services and nonprofit organizations. Center projects address state and national education questions. CEEP is part of the IU School of Education. To learn more about CEEP, go to http://ceep.indiana.edu.

EDITORS: The following mp3 audio sound bites are available for download on the School of Education website at http://education.indiana.edu/audio.html.

Rotherham suggested in a recent article that more city mayors should have the authority to sponsor charter schools. He praised Indianapolis Mayor Bart Peterson's handling of that power since the state legislature gave him authority in 2001. He says Peterson has been very involved in shaping those schools.

"This doesn't happen by accident. It's the result of sort of very carefully cultivating the policy arrangements you want, and very diligently monitoring what's happening on the ground with schools. And he's excelled at that, and it's why it's been so successful, and other locales who want to try to replicate it are going to have to realize that this is not something that can be done on the cheap or can be done with a minimum effort."

Rotherham on the problems President Bush faces in re-authorizing "No Child Left Behind":

"The sort of more hard core conservatives in Congress are in revolt, the education establishment has never liked the law, so when you add that together...it starts to get...the president's going have a lot of work to do to build a durable majority to pass the law without sort of significantly undermining it."

Rotherham says the blame for holding up school reform shouldn't be totally placed on teachers unions.

"And what's really important here is to disentangle the extent to which they are the cause of things in education and the extent to which they are symptoms of larger problems. And I think in a lot of cases, they get blamed for things in education that are institutional or cultural, and they're merely just a symptom, or a byproduct of, rather than the driving force."