In the late 1800s, Otto von Bismarck is famously quoted as saying, “Laws are like sausages, it is better not to see them made.” While those in the policy world are quick to quote (or misquote) the former German politician, sometimes we just can’t resist letting folks know what happens behind closed doors or in those previously smoke-filled rooms.
The latest example? An “unauthorized” PowerPoint deck prepared by the AFT (and bedecked with all of the necessary AFT branding and iconography) detailing how the Connecticut affiliate of the teachers’ union scuttled a push to bring a parent trigger to the Nutmeg State. The presentation was originally offered at last month’s AFT TEACH 2011 Conference, as a learning tool for AFT members. It was then posted on the AFT website, drawing quite the bit of attention from the edu-blogosphere (starting with a major typo on the title page). Earlier this week the AFT took the PPT down, saying it didn’t represent the AFT. RiShawn Biddle has the PDF of the original deck available on his Dropout Nation blog. Alexander Russo has the AFT response over at This Week in Education.
Some of the choice highlights from the PPT deck? Superintendents, administrators, board of education, municipalities, state department of education, and the Connecticut Education Association all decided not to get involved in the fight. Connecticut AFT failed to kill the bill. AFT calls out the House Education Co-Chair for “courting” members of the Black and Puerto Rican Caucus. AFT branded parent groups as “the opposition” in Connecticut. AFT convinced the Legislature to adopt a solution that was “advisory,” giving those concerned parents no “true governing authority” for the solution they sought.
As part of the deck, AFT laid out what helped them in the process (including keeping charter and parents groups from the negotiating table), what hurt (including the CEA), and lessons learned (such as AFT now being the “go-to teachers’ union, despite our size.”) It also relished a little “karma,” noting that some of the legislative leaders who did not agree with AFT were defeated in the November 2010 elections.
These AFT revelations, of course, follow on the heels of the Stand for Children’s Jonah Edelman’s apology last month for the “arrogance” in his tone when he went into great detail, at the Aspen Ideas Festival, on how he successfully strong-armed the Illinois legislature to advance reform efforts in the Land of Lincoln.
Don’t get me wrong, legislative victories, particularly on topics such as education policy, are something of which to be proud. It is a long process with multiple players at multiple stages, requiring a delicate balance of mission, vision, budget priorities, and constituencies. And real change often means taking from the existing to fund the improvement.
But once one figures out the secret sauce, it isn’t it far more productive to keep it under lock and key than to post the recipe on the Internet? With so many competing interests trying to break through the white noise, why give a helping hand to a competing interest or even to the “opposition?” Why not take satisfaction in the victory itself, knowing that you are better prepared to fight the next battle and advocate for the next reform? Why put that target on your back, boldly declaring your superiority this year, knowing next year you’ll be the top target in a future year? And in the case of AFT, why call out your supposed friends (like the CEA and other educator groups and the state department of education), while calling legislators’ motivations into question? There is nothing to be gained, and everything to lose.
Perhaps we need a little more Otto con Bismarck discretion in talking about “how” education policy is developed, and a little less Jay-Z bravado. After all, it takes a village to improve our K-12 system, doesn’t it?