On the bulletin board above my desk at home I have a faded photograph taken in 1960. It’s me on my dad’s shoulders, welcoming John F. Kennedy to a campaign stop in Queens, holding a sign that says “Kennedy is the remedy.” My dad’s lovely wit, an abridged version of the rush of emotion so many people were feeling about the young Kennedy. Sure, he made mistakes, and in retrospect did things that today would likely have gotten him in big trouble. But there’s no doubt he was an amazing, maybe unique, figure: an optimist’s optimist, a patriot’s patriot, an American hero, the stuff of myth and dreams and desires. That he listened to “Camelot” in the Oval Office says a lot about what was going on in this town in those early days of a decade whose massive social changes are now remembered simply as “the 60’s.” What changes? Oh, little things like the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, the Elementary And Secondary Education Act, the beginning of desegregation (in the north as well as the south), not to mention the Beatles and Joan Baez and Simon and Garfunkel and…I could go on.
Our colleague who directs the GW Graduate School of Political Management, Mark Kennedy (no relation as far as I know), an accomplished politician in his own right and a distinguished teacher and statesman, wrote an extremely moving reminiscence of JFK and the assassination. It brought back all kinds of memories (I was in 6th grade).
And I couldn’t agree more with Mark’s assessment: if I may paraphrase, we need to hit the pause button in these frenzied times and figure out how to restore some respect for government and some civility of discourse even (especially) among people who disagree about the details but who share a basic love of what our country was and can still be. Maybe that’s the best way to remember JFK.
November 21, 2013
Regardless of your ideological or political preferences, this year’s election results were a powerful reminder of what’s special and perhaps unique about the American system. Just over the bridge from here, “swing-state” Virginians swung toward President Obama and elected Democrat Tim Kaine to be their Senator, while in the Richmond area they overwhelmingly voted for Republican (majority leader) Eric Cantor. Up the road, our friends in Maryland approved gay marriage, rights for immigrant children – and casino gambling. Californians, seemingly fed up with years of education cuts, supported Governor Brown’s plan to raise taxes to support needed reinvestment in what was once among the best university systems in the world; and they rejected the proposal to abolish capital punishment. In Florida, where we still are waiting to see where the state’s swing will land when the final votes are counted, an initiative to overturn the prohibition on public funding of religious organizations failed; as did a proposed amendment that would have banned use of state funds for abortion. (Maybe I’m out of touch, but I don’t think I would have predicted these outcomes from Floridians!) Voters in DC expressed their concerns for good government by approving draconian measures authorizing the Council to expel members for “gross misconduct,” requiring the mayor or a council member to resign immediately if convicted of a felony, and prohibiting elected officials convicted of felonies from ever holding office again.
There are enough smart people expressing their strong views about the causes and effects of the Chicago strike that I hesitate to clutter the blogosphere with additional commentary. But I do want to share a few thoughts:
1) My sense is that the strike was symptomatic of a deep problem in American education, which I would summarize as the demise of trust brought on by the accountability movement that may have run amok. For a slightly longer discussion, see my Education Week commentary, due out in next week’s edition and available online probably by Monday or Tuesday. It was written before the strike began, and will appear after the strike was settled; nevertheless, I think the issues I discuss there are relevant – not just to Chicago but to the ongoing debate about evaluation and accountability.
2) With somewhat uncanny coincidence, just as the strike was ending, the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching was convening a group of education policy cognoscenti for a two-day conversation about teacher evaluation. In Tony Bryk’s opening to the conference he presented some fascinating data, drawn from the work of Richard Ingersoll and colleagues at Penn and included in recent reports of National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future (NCTAF). It seems that the modal number of years teachers remain in their jobs dropped from 15 in 1987-88 to 1 in 2007-08. That’s the national statistic; here in D.C., for example, that translates to meaning that roughly 10 percent of teachers leave teaching after one year on the job and that fewer than 5 percent have more than five or six years of experience. For more on this issue, see the NCTAF report, “Who Will Teach? Experience Matters.”
Today the Supreme Court has upheld the Affordable Care Act, which means that what was probably the signature domestic policy priority of the Obama administration will remain in law unless it is changed or repealed by Congress in the future. I’m not a lawyer, or a speed reader, so I won’t comment on the full decision of the Court. But I will share a few quick reactions.
SCOTUS, as it has become fashionable to call the Supreme Court of the United States, is one remarkable institution, fully willing and capable of issuing rulings that surprise even the wisest of constitutional scholars and other pundits. In this case the big surprise was the role of Chief Justice Roberts, who sided with the majority and wrote the main opinion defending the “individual mandate” as a tax allowable by the constitution. Justice Roberts may have longer-term constitutional or political goals, but on the surface his decision may put him in the category of Chief Justices who surprised – and probably annoyed – the Presidents who appointed them. I’m thinking here of Earl Warren, for example, and his role in the landmark Brown v Board of Education case that ended the legality of “separate but equal.” That case had such a huge impact on our national consciousness about the historical stain of discrimination, and set us on a path (which we are still on) to correct social and historical inequities in the provision of education for all children.