of Teachers (AFT) and the National Education Association (NEA).
Together, these two unions have about 4.7 million members and
“consistently rank among the biggest spenders on politics” (Klein).
Teacher unions have enormous political clout, which they use to their
advantage. The president of the AFT, Randi Weingarten, is perhaps the
most powerful player in the education wars. She is the dealmaker for
teacher unions, and she is not fond of reform initiatives. The second
most powerful member of the “anti-reform” coalition is Diane Ravitch,
an education historian who served in the administrations of both
President George H. W. Bush and President Bill Clinton. Once an avid
supporter of education reform, Ravitch changed her stance on public
school reform, following the implementation of and backlash against
“No Child Left Behind.” She is now a vocal leader in the movement
against school reform.
On the opposite side of the debate, the reform movement is
made up of a broad array of supporters on both sides of the political
spectrum. The reformers are not just staunch conservatives but are both
Republicans and Democrats supporting various efforts to improve
American schools, though their exact ideas about how to reform
schools may vary. A few school reformers include: President Barrack
Obama; Michelle Rhee, the former D.C. school chancellor; Joel Klein,
former NYC superintendent; Jeb Bush; and Michael Bloomberg. Policy
think tanks (like the Hoover Institute at Stanford University) and
foundations (like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the
Walton Foundation) also support reform efforts. Comparatively, school
reform efforts have a much wider base of support, though they are not
as well organized as the reform opposition, and their stances on issues
tend to vary. The “anti-reform” coalition has a narrower, more special-
interest based constituency, yet its superb organization allows
supporters to wield tremendous power.
The true dilemma of the education debate is that the opposing
sides refuse to consider each other’s opinions. There is no open
dialogue between the reform proponents and those who oppose their
ideas, no listening or constructive conversations. The “conversation”
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