Education Insiders Call Romney, Union Winners in Report

Whiteboard Advisors is a consulting practice that uses its connections with the “education influentals” to get insight into current events and how they might influence education policy. This time around, WA harnesses that insight to look at the impact of the recently concluded Chicago teachers strike and the first debate between Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and Democratic President Barack Obama.

It seems like on both the strike and the debate, education policy insiders interviewed by Whiteboard are in agreement. More than two-thirds believe that union that came away a winner from the strike and about an equal percentage also thought that Romney presented a more effective and coherent view of his educational policy than did Obama.

Nearly a third of those interviewed pointed to students and the parents as the true losers of the strike, while 62% felt that the union clearly won the strike that shut down Chicago’s schools for more than a week. One of the insiders said that it was clear that the union came out ahead when CTU sent out representatives to other cities and towns to offer bargaining tips. Another praised the union for being able to “hold their line locally,” which put it in a strong position to win concessions from the city. Among the thirty people polled for the report – including current and former White House and U.S. Department of Education leaders – there were some who characterized the Chicago city government’s performance as “embarrassing,” saying that other than on the issue of layoffs, they gave away the farm.

Some offered a more measured assessment, saying that the CTU win was mainly a matter of public perception, and praised Mayor Rahm Emanuel for getting most of what he wanted in union concessions. Surprisingly, especially in light of how they evaluated the union’s performance during the strike, many of the insiders don’t see the victory as a good omen for the future of teachers unions. It was called a “negative for the teacher unions” by one interviewee, while another said that more teachers strikes anywhere in the country were unlikely.

Still, this advice was offered for how to handle similar situations in the future:

“The biggest lesson is the simplest: don’t introduce major changes to performance based teacher evaluation in the same year as the promise to close 40 schools in a place where good teachers do not have any better shot at a job than the worst ones because of Chicago’s decentralized hiring practices. Especially after threatening to make people work much longer for a little extra pay—and then backing down. It is a recipe for a strike.”

On the relative performance of both presidential candidates at the first presidential debate, the majority of insiders gave their vote to Romney — assigning him a B grade — while awarding Obama no better than a C. In all, the report found that most believed the education policies of the candidates didn’t differ all that much.

There was, however, some disbelief that Romney will be able to keep the promise he made during the debate to keep education funding at the same level in light of the current fiscal situation in the US.