The Michigan Education Association is taking heat even from some of its friends in the media because of the state's failure to qualify for $400 million in competitive "Race to the Top" federal grants. To be eligible, Michigan had to enact a slate of education reforms including expanding the number of charter schools, creating a more rigorous "failed school" takeover process, establishing "merit pay," increasing performance accountability for teachers, and more.
As this process unrolled last December the MEA school employee union and its legislative minions succeeded in watering down the reforms to the maximum extent possible while still allowing the state to check off (most of) the required RTTT grant boxes.
Teacher accountability provides one example. An early reform attempt in the GOP-controlled Senate was defeated, with four Republicans who had received MEA campaign cash joining Democrats in voting "no" on a bill that would allow teachers to be fired for "consistent ineffectiveness."
Sensing that this might elicit just a smidgen of backlash from already-grumbling Republican primary election voters, one of the four came back the next day with a face-saving amendment, which was adopted. It was all for naught in the end, however, because even this thin gruel was never taken up by the Democratic majority in the House, leaving at least one of those RTTT boxes unchecked.
As for merit pay, the best the Legislature could do was add toothless verbiage to School Code provisions related to evaluating teachers — but not a word about compensating them.
Now that Michigan is not among the 16 states to merit $400 million worth of federal loot in the first RTTT round, recriminations and blame-games are afoot. Everyone's picking on the MEA, even Gov. Jennifer Granholm. (If ever so circuitously: MIRS News reports the Governor saying, "I'm concerned about whether we demonstrated enough cohesion on this from all of the players.")
Perhaps the most curious comment comes from the Democratic Speaker of the House, Rep. Andy Dillon, also reported in MIRS:
"The education reforms we enacted are simply the right thing to do for kids across Michigan. House Democrats were fighting for major education reforms long before Race to the Top entered the picture." (Emphasis added.)
Democrats were fighting for reforms?
Please tell us, Mr. Speaker: Who were they fighting against?