Monday, December 31, 2007

On Merit Pay from The Chief

Most Teachers Who Qualify Opt For Merit Pay;
14% Vote No, Saying Program's Intent Is Misguided

Dec. 28, 2007

About 86 percent of United Federation of Teachers members in roughly 240 schools voted in favor of a school-wide merit-based bonus program that could net members an average of $3,000 each.

RANDI WEINGARTEN: Makes cooperation pay.
At least 55 percent of the entire UFT membership in each school had to approve the pilot program. Members who didn't cast ballots were counted as "no" votes and Principals needed to approve participation. A total of 33 schools decided not to participate.

Test Scores Key Factor

Schools will be awarded the bonuses if they meet the goals outlined in the progress reports issued last month, which based about 85 percent of their evaluation on standardized test scores.

UFT members at McKinney Secondary School of the Arts voted 46 to 4 in favor of participating in the program. "If Teachers are working in a collaborative environment together with parents and students and achieving results," said Jerrick Rutherford, the McKinney chapter leader, "then we support the principle of recognizing that effort."

Mr. Rutherford emphasized that the fact that the program was a joint effort by the Department of Education and the UFT was a significant factor in the school's approval. Before the vote, he met with the Principal to discuss the school's participation, and they jointly presented it to the entire staff. He then met separately with UFT members to answer questions and distributed a fact sheet on the pilot program.

School compensation committees, comprised of two elected UFT members, the Principal and a designee, have been created to determine how the bonuses are awarded. The committee could decide to reward only the Teachers they believe have excelled, or distribute the bonuses evenly among all UFT members. Decisions must be made by consensus or the school forfeits the money.

The schools were chosen randomly from a pool of high-needs, low-performing schools, based on incoming test scores for middle and high schools, and student demographics, poverty level and the number of English Language Learners and Special Education students in elementary schools.

'Insult' to Brandeis

At Brandeis High School, 46 UFT members voted in favor, 41 voted against and about 100 members did not vote, so the measure was defeated. The chapter leader had distributed flyers that encouraged members to vote yes and warned them that failing to cast a ballot would contribute to the no-vote count.

"I kind of took it kind of as an insult," said Kerry Trainor, a social studies Teacher who voted no. "It makes the assumption that we don't already work as hard as we can. I'm doing my absolute best. I'm leaving it all out on the field."

He added that he thought that it was misguided policy to think that paying Teachers extra money would improve students' learning, especially given all of the problems caused by poverty in students' lives. "We're the biggest Teacher union in the country," he said. "If we say yes to this, that's going to set a precedent."

The Brandeis chapter leader saw things somewhat differently. "What we had heard was that in Washington, they're going to pass something related to merit pay, and these are the Democrats who are supposed to be our friends," said Skip Delano, referring to the re-authorization of the No Child Left Behind legislation. "This is a compromise that could prevent the individual merit-pay proposals from going through."

UFT's Change of Heart

The UFT has traditionally opposed individual merit pay, asserting that it would cause detrimental competition inside schools and pit Teacher against Teacher.

Mr. Delano added that there were so many rumors and bad feelings about merit pay in general that he felt that the six weeks given to prepare for the vote, with the Thanksgiving holiday in the middle, did not give members who favored the proposal enough time to dispel the misgivings and misinformation.

"The good thing is that this offered a real opportunity to see how people think," the chapter leader said. "It will come back. Next year most likely we'll get another chance."

The Department of Education plans to expand the program to 400 schools next year, about 30 percent of the system. It is being funded by $20 million in private contributions this year, $15 million of which has been pledged already by the Broad Foundation, The Robertson Foundation, and The Partnership for New York City. Schools will find out in September 2008 whether they made enough progress to receive the bonuses. Next year's program will use public money but cannot supplant funds available for collective bargaining.

Other Staffers Eligible

If schools meet the progress goals, they will receive an average of $3,000 per UFT member, including Teachers, Guidance Counselors, Paraprofessionals, School Nurses and School Secretaries. If they meet 75 percent of the goals, they will receive an average of $1,500 per member.

UFT President Randi Weingarten said that she hoped the program would promote collaboration and motivate Principals to provide the support necessary to all staff members so that students could succeed. "The program provides an opportunity to demonstrate what can be achieved when educators are encouraged to work together," she said.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

The Clinton Referendum

December 23, 2007
The Clinton Referendum

Winter’s first storm punished the White Mountains of New Hampshire on the Friday before Thanksgiving, rendering the terrain all but impassable. And yet in Gorham, a small town 50 miles from the Canadian border, hundreds of people shuddered patiently in the snow, in a line that snaked halfway around Gorham Middle-High School, while Secret Service dogs sniffed the gymnasium for bombs. “I’ve got a lot of people freezing out here,” a campaign aide barked into a phone, as if this might make the agents go any faster. When they finally allowed everyone in, a few of the 500 or so folding chairs remained unfilled, but the place was humming with excitement; a teacher near me was saying that this was the biggest thing to happen here since Dwight Eisenhower visited in the 1950s.

For the first time since that infamous year of 1992 — the year when Gennifer Flowers, “Stand by Your Man” and “the Comeback Kid” entered the political canon — Bill Clinton was coming back to New Hampshire’s North Country, the place where his legend was born. Clinton loves the Granite State. As it happened, I was standing with him earlier that week in South Carolina when an aide told him that he was going to be campaigning for Hillary in New Hampshire, and his eyes lighted up behind his reading glasses. “I am? Where’m I goin’?” Now he strode into the gymnasium through a side door, his face flushed with emotion, accompanied by the nostalgic bars of Fleetwood Mac’s “Don’t Stop.” (They were nostalgic back then, for crying out loud.) Clinton is now lean and regal, his hair an almost metallic white, and he was dressed in a taupe suit with a light green tie, trailing a small entourage and waving warmly. The room erupted in cheers and whistles. Over his head a banner proclaimed: “The Change We Need!”

“When Hillary first announced she was running for president, she came right to the North Country, and I was so jealous,” Clinton said. “I want to thank you for arranging the snow today. It made me feel right at home. I took a nap in the car, and when I woke up I thought it was 1992.” The crowd laughed appreciatively. Many in the audience probably recalled that he had all but lived in these parts for a year before that campaign; after his election, he even gave some of the families he met along the way his special ZIP code at the White House, so they could keep in touch.

Clinton began his speech, as he always does now, with a disclaimer, saying that if he wanted to, he could certainly give a big “whoop-dee-do” speech that would get everybody riled up, but that this was a serious time in America, and it deserved a serious speech. Clinton doesn’t like to play an overtly political role anymore; he enjoys the statesmanlike aura that surrounds any ex-president, and he is not about to undermine it, even for his wife’s campaign. Instead, he spoke to the Gorham audience in somber tones, telling them that a lot of the crises now confronting the North Country brought to mind 1992 as well. The paper mill in nearby Groveton had just announced it would close a few days after Christmas, kicking 300 workers to the street.

“You’re hurtin’ up here because of this mill closing,” he said. “But you should know just how close millions upon millions of your fellow Americans are to your experience.” He went on to quietly castigate the Bush administration for running up foreign debt and straining the military to its limits in Iraq, and he talked about Hillary’s plans to bring health-care coverage to all Americans, build a new jobs program around alternative energy and revamp the education system, beginning with early-childhood programs. “A lot of you already know this,” he said of his wife’s work on education issues in Arkansas, “because I talked about it when I was running.”

Even without the allusions to the old days, his speech seemed strangely reminiscent of that first campaign, and not necessarily in a good way. Listening to him talk, I found it hard not to wonder why so many of the challenges facing the next president were almost identical to those he vowed to address in 1992. Why, after Clinton’s two terms in office, were we still thinking about tomorrow? In some areas, most notably health care, Clinton tried gamely to leave behind lasting change, and he failed. In many more areas, though, the progress that was made under Clinton — almost 23 million new jobs, reductions in poverty, lower crime and higher wages — had been reversed or wiped away entirely in a remarkably short time. Clinton’s presidency seems now to have been oddly ephemeral, his record etched in chalk and left out in the rain.

Supporters of the Clintons see an obvious reason for this, of course — that George W. Bush and his Republican Party have, for the past seven years, undertaken a ferocious and unbending assault on Clinton’s progressive legacy. As Clinton points out in his speeches, Bush and the Republicans abandoned balanced budgets to fight the war in Iraq, widened income inequality by cutting taxes on the wealthy and scaled back social programs. “We’ve had now seven years of a radical experiment in extremism in domestic policy,” Clinton said in New Hampshire.

Some Democrats, though, and especially those who are apt to call themselves “progressives,” offer a more complicated and less charitable explanation. In their view, Clinton failed to seize his moment and create a more enduring, more progressive legacy — not just because of the personal travails and Republican attacks that hobbled his presidency, but because his centrist, “third way” political strategy, his strategy of “triangulating” to find some middle point in every argument, sapped the party of its core principles. By this thinking, Clinton and his friends at the Democratic Leadership Council, the centrist think tank that served as a platform for his bid for national office, were so desperate to woo back moderate Southern voters that they accepted conservative assertions about government (that it was too big and unwieldy, that what was good for business was good for workers) and thus opened the door wide for Bush to come along and enact his extremist agenda with only token opposition. In other words, they say, he was less a victim of Bush’s radicalism than he was its enabler.

“His budget policies were pretty much an extension of Bush I, and his economic policies were largely an extension of Wall Street,” says Robert Borosage, co-director of the left-wing Campaign for America’s Future. Ideologically, Borosage told me, Clinton’s presidency fit snugly into the era of Reagan and Bush. Faced with ascendant conservatism, he says, “Clinton saw his job, in a sense, as getting the Democratic Party to adjust to it, rather than to resist it.”

Aside from a few partisans on each end of the spectrum, there aren’t neatly delineated camps on this question, with Clinton lovers on one side and critics on the other. Rather, a lot of Democrats seem genuinely conflicted, on practically an existential level, when it comes to Clinton. They almost uniformly admire the former president; 82 percent of Democrats polled by Fox News in November had a favorable opinion of Clinton, and, in a New York Times poll released earlier this month, 44 percent of Democratic voters said they were more inclined to support Hillary’s candidacy because of him. And yet, they regard with suspicion, if not outright resentment, the centrist forces he helped unleash on the party. They might love Bill Clinton, but they loathe Clintonism. And it is this conflict that has, in recent weeks, become a subtle but important theme of the 2008 campaign, as Hillary Clinton’s rivals try to portray her as the Return of the Great Triangulator. Whatever else these Democratic primaries may be about — health-care plans, global warming, timetables for withdrawal from Iraq — they are, on some more philosophical and even emotional level, a judgment on the ’90s and all that those tumultuous years represent.

Hillary Clinton’s combative advisers say they welcome that dynamic. “If our opponents want to make this a referendum on Bill Clinton’s presidency, they are making a mistake,” Howard Wolfson, Clinton’s communications director, said in an e-mail message, “both because it’s a referendum they would lose on the merits and because Democrats are focused on the future and the change that needs to be made going forward.” And yet Clinton’s team often seems perplexed by a political quandary unlike any that has come before: how to exploit all the good will that Democrats have for Bill Clinton without allowing Hillary Clinton to become a constant reminder of the things they didn’t like about his presidency. Generally, the campaign’s preferred solution is simply not to talk about it. When I asked Bill Clinton about this issue, during an informal meeting in South Carolina, he readily agreed to sit down for a longer interview on his legacy’s role in the campaign. A few weeks later, however, and at the last minute, Hillary’s aides canceled the interview. Famously controlling, they would not even allow the former president to talk about his record.

Listening to Bill Clinton that day in New Hampshire, however, it was clear that whether or not he talks about it, his wife’s fortunes are bound up with his, and vice versa. Near the end of his speech in Gorham, he went off on an engaging tangent, as he sometimes does, about the trees he saw from his car window that morning, and how at one time New Hampshire was almost devoid of trees, and how Teddy Roosevelt led a national effort to replenish the forests. “But Theodore Roosevelt proposed a lot of ideas that fell flat on their face until Franklin Roosevelt passed them,” Clinton went on. “The important thing for us to do is to fight for the right thing and keep fighting for it until we finally get it done.” I had heard Clinton compare himself with T.R. before, but this was the first time I heard him do so publicly, and it struck me as an aside that would have made his wife’s advisers wince, if they noticed it. He seemed to be suggesting that Hillary’s job as president would be to cement his own unfinished legacy — provided, of course, that his legacy, or at least a widely held perception of it, didn’t end up derailing her first.

A little over a year ago, while working on a book about the Democratic Party’s divisions, I discussed that legacy with Bill Clinton in his Harlem office. Hillary Clinton had just begun running for the White House, and her husband was already trying to help neutralize her critics on the left; when I arrived at the office, Clinton was meeting with about 20 influential bloggers, who were gnawing on barbecued chicken and enjoying their first-ever audience with a former president. When I entered his office a while later, Clinton had his back to me and was busy rearranging the photos on his shelves, as if trying to get the visual narrative of his presidency exactly right. He recited a litany of his accomplishments — the first sustained rise in real wages since 1973, the biggest land-protection measure in the lower 48 since Teddy Roosevelt, victories against the tobacco and gun lobbies — and told me he couldn’t understand the allegation that his administration wasn’t really progressive.

“I think that if ‘progressive’ is defined by results, whether it’s in health care, education, incomes, the environment or the advancement of peace, then we had a very progressive administration,” Clinton said. “I think we changed the methods — that we tried also to reflect basic American values, that we tried to do it in a way that appealed to the broad middle class in America. We sure did, and I don’t apologize for that. The question is: Were the policies right or not? And I think in terms of the political success I enjoyed, people have given more credit to my political skills than they deserve and less credit to the weight, the body of the ideas.”

At the end of that interview, as he walked me to the lobby, Clinton mentioned a favorite quote from Machiavelli’s book “The Prince” and told me to look it up. When I got back to Washington, I thumbed through the book until I found the rambling passage, and this is what it said:

It must be considered that there is nothing more difficult to carry out, nor
more doubtful of success, nor more dangerous to handle, than to initiate a
new order of things. For the reformer has enemies in all those who profit by
the old order, and only lukewarm defenders in all those who would profit by
the new order, this lukewarmness arriving partly from fear of their adversaries,
who have the laws in their favor; and partly from the incredulity of
mankind, who do not truly believe in anything new until they have had an
actual experience of it. Thus it arises that on every opportunity for attacking
the reformer, the opponents do so with the zeal of partisans, the others only
defend him halfheartedly, so that between them he runs great danger.

It’s not hard to see why the postpresidential Bill Clinton sees himself in this quotation, and it says a lot about how he views his own place in American politics. In Clinton’s mind, the New Democrats of the late ’80s and early ’90s and their “third way” approach represented a call for fundamental reform, not just of the Democratic Party but also of the country’s industrial-age government. For that, he has been pilloried by Republican business interests, who were doing just fine under the old system, and “lukewarmly” defended by Democrats who resist any real break with the past.

There are, among Democrats, dueling interpretations of what Clintonism means and how it came into being. The most popular version now, by far, is that Clintonism was chiefly an electoral strategy, a way of making Democrats sound more acceptable to conservative voters by softening the party’s stances on “values” issues like guns, welfare and abortion and introducing pallid, focus-grouped phrases like “work hard and play by the rules” and making abortion “safe, legal and rare.” In other words, Clinton was basically as liberal at heart as any other Democrat who marched for civil rights and protested the Vietnam War, but he was a brilliant political strategist who instinctively understood the need to rebrand the party.

Even some of Clinton’s friends from the old days — those lukewarm defenders of the faith — accept this basic version of history. “Clintonism was about winning,” says Susan Estrich, the longtime Democratic strategist and pundit. “It was about grabbing victory from the jaws of defeat. If you were a Democrat of a certain age, it was like being a Red Sox fan — you never won. And even when you won, you lost, because you got Jimmy Carter. Clinton led us out of the desert when no one else could.”

On the other hand, Clinton’s more ardent supporters, those few who were there at the beginning, argue that Democrats have badly miscast him as an expedient strategist, when in fact he was a visionary and a modernizer. “He used to tell me all the time, ‘One of these days, people are going to figure out that I actually believe in this stuff,’ ” Al From told me recently. From and the Democratic Leadership Council that he founded in the 1980s have in recent years become a kind of convenient stand-in for Clinton, the main object of acid derision from liberal bloggers who prefer to savage someone other than the former president himself for the evils of Clintonism. Clinton was the chairman of the D.L.C. when he ran for president, and much of his campaign rhetoric came from its work.

“I don’t want to see what I think is his greatest achievement diminished,” From told me. “Just as Franklin Roosevelt saved capitalism by dealing with its excesses, Clinton saved progressive governance, and he saved progressive governance all over the world.”

Clinton’s critics on the left may scoff at this idea, but it’s fair to say that the discussion of Clintonism among party activists and especially online often displays a stunning lack of historical perspective. For a lot of younger Democrats, in particular, whose political consciousness dates back only as far as 1994 or even to the more recent days of Clinton’s impeachment, the origins of Clintonism have become not only murky but also irrelevant. “Clintonism” is, in much of the Democratic activist universe, a synonym for spinelessly appeasing Republicans in order to win, an establishment philosophy assumed to comprise no inherent principles of its own.

Lost in all this is the fact that, back in the day, Clinton and his New Democrats were themselves the outsiders taking on the ruling interest groups of the Democratic establishment the analog to bloggers and activists, albeit from a different ideological direction. And it took no small amount of courage, at the end of the Reagan era, to argue inside the Democratic Party that the liberal orthodoxies of the New Deal and the Great Society, as well as the culture of the antiwar and civil rights movements, had become excessive and inflexible. Not only were Democratic attitudes toward government electorally problematic, Clinton argued; they were just plain wrong for the time.

Immediately after assuming the chairmanship of the D.L.C. in 1990, Clinton issued something called the New Orleans Declaration, which laid out the D.L.C.’s attack on old liberalism in a series of 15 core principles. By today’s standards, these principles don’t amount to much more than typical Clintonian rhetoric, but at the time, they seemed like a good way for a young Democratic governor to permanently marginalize himself in a party dominated by Big Labor, civil rights leaders and Northeastern liberals. Among the stated principles in the manifesto:

“We believe that economic growth is the prerequisite to expanding opportunity for everyone. The free market, regulated in the public interest, is the best engine of general prosperity.”

“We believe in preventing crime and punishing criminals, not in explaining away their behavior.”

“We believe the purpose of social welfare is to bring the poor into the nation’s economic mainstream, not to maintain them in dependence.”

In 1991, as Clinton prepared for what was then considered a quixotic run for president against a popular incumbent, he expanded on his governing philosophy in a series of speeches that, revisited now, are striking both for their confrontational approach toward expansive liberal government — especially coming from a candidate who needed party regulars to win — and for their ideological consistency with what would later come to pass during the Clinton era. He laid out a forceful case for improving and decentralizing decades-old institutions, from public schools to welfare, and modeling government after corporate America. He talked about revamping a Democratic Party that for 30 years was closely identified with the problems of the poor and retooling it to address the anxieties of a distressed middle class.

“There is an idea abroad in the land that if you abandon your children, the government will raise them,” Clinton said at a D.L.C. gathering in Cleveland in 1991, referring to fathers in the inner city. “I will let you in on a secret. Governments do not raise children — people do. And it’s time they were asked to assume their responsibilities and forced to do so if they refuse.”

In the same speech, Clinton outlined a new Democratic ethos based on the idea of consumer choice. “In the information age, monopoly decisions handed down on high by government bureaucracies are not always the best way to go,” he said. “With appropriate protections against discrimination based on race or income, we can provide our people more choices: child-care vouchers, public-school choice options, job training programs, choices for the elderly. ...

“Is what I just said to you liberal or conservative?” he went on to ask. “The truth is, it is both, and it is different. It rejects the Republicans’ attacks and the Democrats’ previous unwillingness to consider new alternatives.”

This, in a few lines, was the essence of Clintonism. Was it an innovative governing vision or a cynical strategy? The truth is, it was both. There is little doubt that as governor of Arkansas, Clinton believed passionately in the need to modernize liberalism and overhaul industrial-age programs, including popular entitlements and “welfare as we know it.” He grew up in hard circumstances and was raising his own child in a household with two working parents; his concern for the middle class was real, and it reflected a changed reality for a lot of baby-boomer families that older Democrats simply didn’t comprehend. But Clinton also believed his centrist message was the only way for a Democrat to win in the era after McGovern and Mondale, when running as a liberal candidate seemed only slightly more practical than running as a Marxist. And in order to get his party’s nomination, Clinton had to convince beleaguered liberals not so much that he was right about the party’s philosophical irrelevance — this probably wasn’t possible, in any event — but that his was the only way to regain the White House. He sold Clintonism as a matter of conviction and a promising electoral strategy, and both were sincere propositions.

Once in the White House, however, for some reasons within his control and many that were not, Clinton seemed to list inexorably toward the tactical side. He can claim some genuine advances in keeping with the spirit of his fundamental argument about government: the crime bill; welfare reform; the Family and Medical Leave Act; expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit, which pulled millions of working Americans out of poverty. These weren’t small achievements, and Clinton has received less credit for them than he deserves. And whether you attribute to him any part of the technology boom that created a vast amount of American wealth or believe instead that he simply had the good fortune to happen upon it it’s only fair to acknowledge, as historians almost certainly will, that Clinton presided more than ably over a historic economic expansion, leaving the nation in far better fiscal shape than he found it.

Still, a combination of events — first the collapse of Hillary Clinton’s health-care plan, then the Republican Congressional takeover of 1994 and later, of course, the debilitating sex scandal that led to his impeachment — seemed to drain the administration of its capital and ambition. Clinton’s presidency seemed, at least from the outside, to devolve into an exercise in deflection and survival, a string of near-death experiences that left little space or energy for whatever sweeping agenda Clinton (and his wife) envisioned back in 1992. As the transformational governing vision of earlier years receded, bland, poll-tested rhetoric and endless scandals rushed in to fill the void — and became, in the minds of many Democrats, the hallmarks of Clintonism.

For a lot of liberals (those who now call themselves progressives), the ’90s were a conflicted time. They never really bought the ideological premise of Clintonism, and they quietly seethed as the president moved his party to the center — enacting free-trade agreements over the objections of union leaders; embracing balanced budgets and telling Americans that “the era of big government is over”; striking a deal to give Republicans a long-sought overhaul of the welfare system. (In fact, Clinton had been talking about welfare reform for at least a decade before his presidency, but few Democrats believed his eventual support for the bill was anything other than a craven attempt to bolster his re-election prospects.) They felt embarrassed by the Lewinsky affair and the sordid controversy that devoured Clinton’s second term like flesh-eating bacteria.

There were five syllables that for these Democrats summed up all the failures of Clintonism: “triangulation.” The word was originally popularized by Dick Morris, who advised Clinton in the dark days of the mid-’90s (and who, not incidentally, was brought in to the White House by the first lady). Triangulation, as Morris intended it, is probably best described as the strategy of co-opting the issues that attract voters to your opponents by substituting centrist solutions for the ideological ones they propose, thus depriving them of victory. (In other words, if your opponents are getting traction with their demands to dismantle a broken welfare system, you acknowledge the problem but propose a middle-ground way of restructuring it instead.) To a lot of avid Democrats, however, triangulation became shorthand for gutless compromise, for saying and doing whatever you think you must in order to win.

No doubt Clinton’s style of leadership contributed to this impression as much as the substance did. There were moments, little remembered or appreciated by his critics, when Clinton demonstrated icy resolve and an indifference to polls: the budget showdown with Newt Gingrich and Congressional Republicans in 1995; the bombing of Serbia in 1999 to stop its aggression in Kosovo. More often, though, Clinton seemed determined to confirm his reputation as an agonized, late-night decision maker, a leader heavily influenced by the last guy to leave the room. Classic half-a-loaf policies like the “don’t ask, don’t tell” rule for gays in the military, along with frequent paralysis over crises like the genocide in Rwanda, created what would become an enduring impression that Clintonism was code for fecklessness.

Even so, such resentments were tempered by the fact that Clinton managed to deliver the White House not once but twice; among Democrats in the 20th century, only Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt had done the same. He almost single-handedly pulled the Democratic Party back from its slide into irrelevance. Liberals swallowed hard and endured Clinton’s pragmatic brand of politics because they assumed that Clinton’s success would beget more success and, ultimately, a more progressive government.

Of course, it didn’t work out that way. First came the election of 2000, which Democrats believed was swiped from their grasp with little protest from the party’s Washington leaders. Next came compromises with George W. Bush on tax cuts and education reform. Then came the back-breaker: in the vote on the Iraq war resolution in 2002, many Democrats in Washington — including, most conspicuously, Hillary Clinton, then an unannounced presidential candidate — sided with President Bush in a move that antiwar liberals could only interpret as a Clintonian calculation to look tough on terror. If so, a lot of good it did; Congressional Democrats were demolished at the polls a few weeks later.

After that defeat, many longtime liberals, often coming together in the new online political space, began to voice a different thought: What if they had gone along with Clintonism for nothing? What if the path to victory lay not in compromising with Republicans but in having the fortitude to fight ruthlessly and to defend your own convictions, no matter how unpopular they might be? This was the moment in which Howard Dean’s explosive presidential campaign — and the grass-roots progressive movement it spawned — began to flourish. It was grounded in the idea that Clintonism, far from representing the postindustrial evolution of Democratic thought, had corrupted the party of the New Deal and the Great Society — and, taken to its logical end, had led Democrats and the country into a catastrophic war.

Even before they knew for sure that she was running for the presidency, Hillary Clinton’s top aides had to figure out how best to handle the growing tumult inside their own party. As a senator, Clinton had been, if anything, more centrist than her husband; she worked across the aisle with the likes of Bill Frist and Lindsey Graham, and her voting record on foreign policy placed her among the most conservative Democrats, only a few paces to the left of Joe Lieberman. There is no reason to think such stances on the issues didn’t accurately reflect Hillary’s convictions, but they had the added bonus of positioning her as eminently moderate and “electable” — both in New York State, where she won 67 percent of the vote in her 2006 re-election, and in the rest of the country.

The party, however, seemed to be moving in a different direction. Liberal activists online and in the states, in the wake of Dean’s losing campaign, were noisily demanding more confrontation and less Clintonian compromise from their Washington leaders. By the time Hillary Clinton formally announced her candidacy for president, a group of these activists — money guys, bloggers, — had just combined forces to knock off Lieberman in a stunning primary upset (although Lieberman did manage to retain his seat in the general election), and these same grass-roots Democrats were lashing out at Clinton for her vote to authorize the invasion of Iraq. Some Clinton supporters in Washington thought they could see an ominous train coming down the track, and they wondered if the candidate didn’t need to get some distance between herself and her husband’s legacy, to position herself as a more partisan Democrat before it was too late.

Mark Penn steadfastly disagreed. Penn, who was Bill Clinton’s chief pollster during the ’90s, also emerged as Hillary’s most influential strategist. Penn had argued for years, going back to the Clinton White House, that Democrats won when they occupied the bipartisan, common-sense center of the political spectrum. And even in a primary campaign, Penn said he believed that Democrats had such personal loyalty toward the Clintons that they would forgive a few ideological differences they might have with the senator, especially if they thought those differences made her palatable to a wide swath of independent voters. When I suggested to Penn, back in 2005, that there might be a strong backlash emerging against the notion of Clintonism, he waved me away. “Strong backlash?” Penn scoffed, reminding me that the former president had a 70 percent approval rating in the country as a whole. “In this environment, that is a notion I would have to laugh at.”

In the end, Hillary Clinton tried to straddle the line. She broke with her husband in small but significant ways. She criticized the free-trade policies that he had long championed but that were now anathema to much of the Democratic base. She promised to abandon “don’t ask, don’t tell” and to amend the Defense of Marriage Act, which Bill Clinton signed. At the same time, Hillary Clinton has, from the start, reminded voters that she was a crucial member of her husband’s White House. (“I was deeply involved in being part of the Clinton team,” she said at a recent debate, in response to a question about foreign policy.) Vowing to be a pragmatic, bipartisan president, she signed on to lead an initiative with the D.L.C. and welcomed the endorsement of such figures as Robert Rubin, the Clinton Treasury secretary whose push for deficit reduction in the early ’90s has made him a lasting figure of revulsion for anti-corporate liberals. Despite intense pressure from John Edwards and Barack Obama, she publicly refused to swear off donations from industry lobbyists, and she spoke out in favor of a House vote to approve a new free-trade agreement with Peru. At the YouTube/CNN debate in July, she pointedly refused to describe herself as a liberal.

When Clinton, alone among the party’s presidential hopefuls, voted in September for a Senate resolution labeling the Iranian Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist group, a resolution the other Democrats charged would empower Bush to pursue yet another military strike, it looked to a lot of Democrats like an all-too-familiar Clintonian dash toward the center. Clinton seemed to be feeling secure as the front-runner and already looking ahead to the general election, where she planned to occupy the same moderate space her husband had. By then, though, voters in Iowa and New Hampshire had begun to pay closer attention to the race, and the attacks on Clintonism were beginning to resonate.

There are at least three different angles from which Edwards and Obama have tried, often subtly, to trash Clintonism without criticizing the former president himself. The first might be called the triangulation story line. Edwards unsheathed the word like a poison-tipped arrow at the same

YouTube debate where Hillary Clinton declined to be called a liberal. “Do you believe that compromise, triangulation, will bring about big change?” he asked the audience. “I don’t.” Thwang. Since then, Edwards has at every opportunity tried to encourage liberal voters in their view that the Clinton era was a time of craven calculation and surrender to the conservative movement. In October, after Clinton was asked in a debate if she supported a New York State plan to give driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants — and after she tried to twist her way out of answering with such tenacity that she nearly invented a new yoga position — the Edwards campaign released a video titled “The Politics of Parsing,” which showed Clinton contradicting herself on other issues too. The subtext was clear: Do you really want to go through all that again?

Obama, who once vowed to adhere to the “new politics” of genial campaigning, has picked up on this same triangulation theme with evident enthusiasm in recent months. In Spartanburg, S.C., last month, he said that Clinton had been running a “textbook” campaign — whose textbook wasn’t hard to discern — that “encourages vague, calculated answers to suit the politics of the moment, instead of clear, consistent principles about how you would lead America.” Later in the month, at a dinner for leading Iowa Democrats, Obama used the dreaded epithet itself. “Triangulating and poll-driven positions because we’re worried about what Mitt or Rudy might say about us just won’t do,” he said, as Hillary Clinton sat a few feet away.

The second narrative aimed at the Clinton years, pursued mostly by Edwards, is the one about corporate corruption. This one argues that Bill Clinton turned the Democratic Party into a holding company for Wall Street financiers, pursuing a series of economic policies that were bad for workers but kept the party flush with cash. By this theory, balanced budgets and free trade were more about winning elections at any cost than they were about creating an expansive economy, and they led directly to the Bush epoch and its alarming inequality. This is why Edwards spent weeks hammering at Clinton over her continued acceptance of lobbyists’ money (despite his own reliance on donations from trial lawyers, who do plenty of lobbying themselves). The point was to remind voters that when Bill Clinton rented out the Lincoln Bedroom, Hillary was sleeping down the hall.

Obama, meanwhile, has been going after the Clinton legacy with a third story line: Boomer fatigue. Never mind whether Bill Clinton or Newt Gingrich was to blame, Obama says — the point is that the two parties had each other in a death grip throughout the ’90s, and vital business went unfinished as a result. If you really want things to stay that way, he says, then vote for another Clinton and watch these self-obsessed baby boomers go at it all over again. When Obama leaned on Hillary Clinton for not pushing to declassify all of her papers from the Clinton White House, he was offering voters a reminder of all the lawyers and investigations, the missing billing records, the constant subpoenas for cabinet members that never seemed to go away.

“You have to be careful to be honest, and being honest means giving President Clinton his full due,” David Axelrod, Obama’s main strategist, told me not long ago. “I don’t think Obama is arguing that Bill Clinton is a bad person or a bad president, or that Hillary Clinton is a bad person or a bad senator. That’s not what we’re saying. We’re saying that we have to move forward and get beyond these old battles.”

By taking on the Clinton legacy through imagery and innuendo, Hillary’s rivals seem to have brought to the surface feelings of profound ambivalence, among many voters, about what that era really meant. She still holds a substantial lead in national polling, but in Iowa a flurry of recent polls have shown Clinton tied with Obama, and her lead among women there — a critical piece of her formula for victory — has eroded precipitously. According to a Washington Post-ABC News poll earlier this month, only half the voters thought Clinton was “willing enough” to say what she “really thinks about the issues,” compared with three-quarters for her two main rivals. Perhaps more troubling for the Clinton camp, the race in New Hampshire, where the Clintons are essentially family, appeared to have tightened considerably. While polls from New Hampshire have varied widely, making their reliability something of a guessing game, a poll jointly conducted a few weeks ago by WMUR in Manchester and CNN found that Clinton’s 20-point lead there had completely evaporated.

Clinton’s aides described all this as the inevitable dynamic of a race in its later stages, when voters really focus on their choices for the first time. But as Iowa edges closer, their campaign has seemed on the edge of panic. Earlier this month, Clinton, who had always tried to appear vaguely amused at her opponents’ antics, started flailing away at Obama. First she assailed him for saying he hadn’t always wanted to be president when, in fact, he wrote an essay in kindergarten saying that he did intend to one day occupy the Oval Office. (She shrewdly left out the fact that every other 5-year-old in America says the exact same thing.) On that same day, Wolfson, her communications director, appearing on “Face the Nation,” charged that Obama had been operating a “slush fund” through his political action committee. Then one of Clinton’s national campaign co-chairmen in New Hampshire pointedly suggested that Obama, who has admitted to using drugs when he was younger, would be vulnerable, as the nominee, to questions about whether he gave drugs to others or even sold them. That was too much for the candidate herself, who felt compelled to apologize personally.

For his part, Bill Clinton has tried to restrain himself. In his later years, the Big Dog, as bloggers sometimes refer to him, has transcended politics and even ordinary celebrity; like Paul McCartney or Muhammad Ali, Clinton is now a historical figure who remains a breathing, walking presence, and when he enters a room of strangers, even those who didn’t vote for him react as if witnessing a small miracle. On Veterans Day, as I trailed Clinton through South Carolina, he dropped in on Jack’s Cosmic Dogs, where he ordered up a chili dog with fries — now that his foundation was on a crusade against childhood obesity, Clinton told me with mock gravity, it was vital that he sample the offending food every so often — and made his way to all the tables so the customers could swoon and take pictures.

“Oh, these iPhones take good pictures!” he exclaimed to one young mother as she looked around for a volunteer photographer to snap her portrait with the former president. A few minutes later, I heard him talking into another woman’s cellphone while she looked on nervously. “Hi, there, this is Bill Clinton! No, seriously! It is!”

As he doused his fries in ketchup, Clinton told me that he was generally more inclined to want to “pop back” at Edwards or Obama than his wife was, but he had to remind himself that Hillary was plenty capable of defending herself. There have been reports in the last few weeks about Clinton’s lashing out at strategists and meddling in his wife’s campaign; insiders say this has been exaggerated, but some of Clinton’s friends and former advisers told me that the attacks from rivals irritate Clinton a lot more now, when they are directed at his wife, than they did when he was running. (“As a candidate, he was absolutely bulletproof — it never bothered him,” says Paul Begala, one of Clinton’s 1992 advisers.) What he takes even more personally — and should, really — is the unmistakable premise that underlies the sniping, that somehow his own presidency was bad for the country and the party.

On those rare occasions when the former president hasn’t been able to resist defending his wife or burnishing his own record, the results haven’t been especially helpful. Unlike Hillary Clinton and her team of advisers, who are relentlessly on message and disciplined, Bill Clinton is a more instinctual politician, given to improvisational moments that must torment his wife’s obsessive-compulsive aides. In November, Clinton suddenly asserted during a campaign appearance in Iowa that he opposed the invasion of Iraq from the beginning — an aside that he needn’t have offered and that clearly contradicted not only his wife’s Congressional vote but his own statements in the build-up to the war. Aides told me that he had simply misspoken, and that seemed plausible enough, but the minor incident only served to reinforce the image that Edwards and Obama were doing their best to conjure. In trying, perhaps unconsciously, to exonerate himself among his persistent liberal critics, Clinton reminded even sympathetic voters of the qualities that had made him seem maddeningly incapable of standing on principle or admitting fault. Here was the statesman Bill Clinton, wizened and mature, telling us once again that he didn’t inhale.

There is, however, a rich paradox in the strategy that Obama and Edwards are employing in their quest to dislodge Clinton from her perch atop the field. The plain fact is that, for all their condemnation of Bill Clinton’s governing philosophy, both Obama and Edwards — and just about every other Democratic candidate in the field, with the possible exception of Dennis Kucinich, who seems to have been teleported straight from 1972 — spend a fair amount of time imitating him. So thorough was Clinton’s influence on Democratic politics, so transformative were his rhetoric and his theory of the electorate, that Democrats don’t even seem to realize anymore the extent to which they owe him their political identities.

Obama can rail about poll-tested positions and partisanship if he wants, but some of his most memorable speeches since being elected to the Senate have baldly echoed Clintonian themes and language. He has repeatedly called on poor African-Americans to take more responsibility for their parenting and their children’s education, and he has been skeptical of centralized federal programs for the poor, advocating a partnership between government and new kinds of community-based nonprofits. He has railed against “a mass-media culture that saturates our airwaves with a steady stream of sex, violence and materialism.” Such “values” stances were far outside the mainstream of the party before Bill Clinton expressed them.

In an impressive 2005 commencement speech at Knox College, Obama talked about economic transformation. “Instead of doing nothing or simply defending 20th-century solutions, let’s imagine together what we could do to give every American a fighting chance in the 21st century,” he said. “What if we prepared every child in America with the education and skills they need to compete in the new economy? If we made sure that college was affordable for everyone who wanted to go? If we walked up to those Maytag workers and said, Your old job is not coming back, but a new job will be there because we’re going to seriously retrain you and there’s a lifelong education waiting for you?

“Republicans will have to recognize our collective responsibilities,” he went on, “even as Democrats recognize that we have to do more than just defend old programs.” Bill Clinton could have spoken those exact words in 1991. In fact, it would be hard to find a better summation of the substance behind Clintonism.

Similarly, Edwards, doing his best William Jennings Bryan impression, lashes out at the policy priorities of the ’90s and at poverty deepened by corporate venality, but his arsenal of specific proposals includes expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit and accelerating the process of moving people out of public housing and into mixed-income neighborhoods. These new ideas are actually extensions of Clinton-era programs; they may be notable for their boldness but not for their originality. And even Edwards, in criticizing the lack of aid for poor Americans, has constructed his ambitious agenda on the central premise that people should get assistance only if they’re willing to work for it. In today’s environment, this hardly qualifies as noteworthy — there’s no serious Democratic candidate who would propose anything else — but it represents a marked shift from the party’s stance on welfare programs before Clinton started talking about those who “work hard and play by the rules.”

“Despite all the protestations, Clinton’s third-way politics and governing philosophy have as much of a hold on these Democratic candidates as the New Deal mind-set did on generations before,” says Jonathan Cowan, whose think tank, Third Way, has emerged as the next iteration of the D.L.C. “Clinton’s politics have basically become the DNA of Democrats seeking the White House, and it’s almost certain that they would all govern from that Clintonian center if they actually became president.” Even the party’s leaders in Congress, newly empowered by an uprising against Republican hegemony, continue to speak in the measured tones of Clintonian centrism.

Clinton’s rhetorical influence, in fact, spans not just the Democratic Party but really the entire spectrum of American politics. Today politicians throw around phrases like “the new economy” or “the information age” as if they have always been part of the political lexicon, and yet most ordinary voters didn’t really grasp that America was undergoing a profound upheaval — moving from an industrial economy to one centered on intellectual and service industries — until Clinton showed up to masterfully explain it. Few American politicians talked about “globalization” before Clinton, as a candidate, stood on factory floors and argued that the next era’s economy would be nothing like the last, and that for workers, the transition would be painful but also full of promise. Clinton wasn’t the first candidate to grasp this change and to put it into words, but he was by far the most persuasive. He also articulated a philosophy of how to deal with these challenges that transcended the binary ideological struggle between outright entitlement and Darwinian self-reliance. When you go into a hospital now and see a placard on the wall that lists a patient’s “rights” directly opposite his “responsibilities” as a citizen, that’s Clinton’s influence. At its best, Clintonism represented a more modern relationship between government and individuals, one that demanded responsibilities of both.

Words aren’t the same thing as achievements, of course, but at critical points in history, they can move a country forward by modernizing the debate, and in this way, Clinton’s comparing himself with Theodore Roosevelt, the president who dragged politics into the industrial age, is apt. Perhaps it’s true that Clinton’s presidency will be remembered as a series of lost opportunities — “the Great Squandering,” as the historian David Kennedy recently described it to me. But it’s also possible that history will record Bill Clinton as the first president of the 21st century, the man who synthesized the economic and international challenges of the next American moment, even if he didn’t make a world of progress in solving them.

This may be the defining difference between the candidacies of Bill Clinton and his wife, between Clintonism and Hillaryism, if such a thing can be said to exist. Like most successful outsiders, Bill Clinton directly challenged the status quo of both his party and the country, arguing that such a tumultuous moment demanded more than two stark ideologies better suited to the past. By contrast, Hillary Clinton’s campaign to this point has been mostly about restoring an old status quo; she holds herself up as the best chance Democrats have to end eight years of Bush’s “radical experiment” and to return to the point where her husband left off. It has been a strong but safe campaign, full of nondescript slogans (“I’m In to Win!” “The Change We Need!”) and familiar, if worthy, policy prescriptions. That might be a shrewd primary strategy, but winning a general election could well require a more inspiring rationale. Nonincumbents who go on to win the White House almost always take some greater risk along the way, promising changes more profound — if potentially more divisive — than a return to normalcy. The reformer runs great danger. The more cautious candidate merely runs.

Matt Bai, who covers national politics for the magazine, is the author of “The Argument: Billionaires, Bloggers and the Battle to Remake Democratic Politics.”

Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company

Shanker Blows Up the World

Shanker Blows Up the World
This article can be found on the web at


[from the November 12, 2007 issue]

By the early 1990s, it had become axiomatic among mainstream Democratic pundits and politicians that liberalism had collapsed as the result of the supposed excesses of the 1960s. A slew of influential pundits--among them Jim Sleeper, Stanley Greenberg, Fred Siegel and Thomas and Mary Edsall, along with others who found themselves in the orbit of Bill Clinton--looked back wistfully to the days when the Democrats held electoral majorities by fashioning a big-tent politics that included working-class Catholics and Jews, blacks, Southern whites and even establishment intellectuals. In their telling, so oft-repeated that it became conventional wisdom, the big tent's ropes and stays began to give way in the mid-1960s. Democrats, the story goes, alienated their core voters--white working-class men--by pandering to race-conscious minorities, defending the out-of-control welfare state that enabled them and giving the reins of power to so-called "limousine liberals" who condescended to blue-collar whites and forced an agenda of acid, amnesty, abortion, gay rights and multiculturalism to the center of Democratic Party politics.

Like all jeremiads--calls for redemption in the form of narratives of decline--the story of the unraveling of liberalism contained within it the prescription for a Democratic revival. A new breed of Democratic operatives set their sights on a small band of the electorate--the so-called Reagan Democrats and their latter-day descendants, NASCAR dads. Winning back these defectors required a new manly, nationalistic liberalism, one that offered "tough love" toward the indigent, weaned the poor from welfare "dependency" and reinvigorated the Democratic Party's commitment to the "traditional values" of hard work and self-discipline. Above all, it required the rejection of "identity politics" and its pernicious spawn--affirmative action, minority set-asides, bilingual education and multiculturalism. In this zero-sum approach to politics, any program that benefited minorities was inherently suspect: aid to cities alienated suburbanites; racial "quotas" took jobs and admissions slots from deserving whites and gave them to undeserving minorities; weak-kneed liberals squandered hard-earned tax dollars to subsidize illegitimate mothers, coddle criminals and engage in social engineering like "forced busing" to desegregate schools.

And like all jeremiads, the new Democratic orthodoxy evoked a wholly fictitious American past. The Democrats needed to turn the clock back to the antediluvian moment--that is, before 1968--and restore the economic opportunity, colorblindness, family values, law and order, and personal responsibility that supposedly reigned before hippies, rioters, anti-American activists and multiculturalists took over. In so doing they tapped an unacknowledged white-identity politics, one that celebrated such virtues as discipline and self-sufficiency while ignoring the fact that for most of the twentieth century, whites were the prime beneficiaries of government largesse--supposedly universalistic government programs like Social Security, the GI Bill and federal homeownership initiatives, which systematically excluded minorities for much of their history.

Over the past decade, a whole generation of historians and political scientists have systematically dismantled the myth of a liberal consensus. The notion that there was a Democratic "big tent" that included Southern whites, Northern urban ethnics and black workers has come apart in a slew of case studies of grassroots politics in the post-New Deal years. Political scientists like Rogers Smith, Philip Klinkner and Ira Katznelson, and historians (I count myself among them) such as Arnold Hirsch, Robert Self, David Freund and Kim Phillips-Fein have found that antiliberalism was deeply rooted, even among nominal Democrats in the supposed heyday of the New Deal order. Whites--both Northern and Southern--punished Democratic officials who were too "pro-Negro" well before the civil rights and black power struggles of the 1960s. White suburbanites long embraced the antitax politics that would be a defining issue for the right. And anticommunist politics drove many voters away from pink-tainted liberals toward the right.

New York's liberal coalition was arguably the strongest in the country, but as Joshua Zeitz shows in White Ethnic New York, his fine new book on Catholic and Jewish politics in New York City, that coalition was fragile, even in its postwar heyday. Jews, blacks and Puerto Ricans filled the city's big tent, but New York's archetypal Democrats, the city's blue-collar and lower-middle-class Italian and Irish Catholics, were not very comfortable in their company. Drawing on obscure Catholic and Jewish newspapers, tracts and correspondence with elected officials, Zeitz shows that even before the tumult of the 1960s, white Catholics were at best weakly attached to liberalism. Urban Catholics fretted that the Democrats were soft on communism. They were suspicious of Jews as freethinking and prone to socialism. During the '50s they were attracted to Republicans, especially Joseph McCarthy. Catholics fretted about the erosion of traditional authority and morality and found themselves repelled by the haughty liberalism of establishment figures like Adlai Stevenson. Even those Catholic voters motivated by bread-and-butter labor and economic issues, Zeitz shows, often pulled the lever for Republicans. In New York, as in other Democratic strongholds like Detroit, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Chicago, white voters were fickle supporters of liberalism. They were fragmented, often racist and more than primed to vote Republican, especially on matters of culture, morality and foreign policy.

One figure who fleets across Zeitz's pages--and who is the subject of Tough Liberal, a full-length biography by Richard Kahlenberg--is teacher unionist Albert Shanker, who died in 1997. Shanker is no longer a household name. But he was for a time in the late 1960s and early '70s--at least in New York. The lead character in Woody Allen's 1973 hit Sleeper wakes up from his 200-year slumber to discover that civilization was destroyed when "a man by the name of Albert Shanker got hold of a nuclear warhead." Shanker, a lifelong socialist, leader of the American Federation of Teachers, political gadfly and tireless educational reformer, seemed an unlikely agent of apocalypse. But Sleeper's laugh line contained more than a little radioactive truth. The man named Albert Shanker did not drop the bomb on liberalism. But he was no small part of a political and intellectual Manhattan Project that exploited the fractures of New Deal and Great Society liberalism and empowered the New Right to rebuild from the rubble.

Kahlenberg pines for a Shankerist political order. If only the Democrats had listened to Shanker. If only they had adopted a "tough liberalism" that jettisoned pesky identity politics for the neat politics of class interest; if only they had embraced meritocracy rather than harmful racial "quotas"; if only they had stood up to the dual menaces of communism abroad and rampant crime at home; if only they had rewarded merit and hard work rather than capitulating to the fashions of multiculturalism and "extreme bilingual education," then they could have thwarted the Republican juggernaut.

Much about Shanker's career is admirable--his unstinting commitment to unionism, his dedication to the principle of public education and his sympathy for the downtrodden. Shanker deserves credit for his role in the expansion of public-sector unionism and particularly for his successful efforts to expand the umbrella of teachers' union protections to mostly minority, poorly compensated and often badly treated teachers' aides. But in his rush to canonize Shanker as the visionary who could have saved the Democrats from themselves, Kahlenberg all too often sacrifices critical distance for hagiography. Halfway into his public career, which lasted more than four decades, Shanker had often discredited liberalism in the name of saving it. Shanker was no bystander in the rise of market populism, social conservatism and neo-imperialism. He was present at liberalism's destruction.

Albert Shanker came of age in a distinctive political and social milieu--one that profoundly shaped his career. Born in 1928 to working-class Jewish immigrants, he grew up in rough-and-tumble, mostly Catholic Long Island City. His Queens neighborhood was a tough place to be an awkward, bookish Jewish boy. Shanker suffered the slings and arrows of everyday anti-Semitism. He was ostracized and regularly beaten up by his non-Jewish classmates; and he attended a school where one teacher offered encomiums to Hitler and where others mocked his Jewish identity. Shanker was wounded by the deep political and cultural divisions between Catholics and Jews that Zeitz documents so well. But like many New York Jews during the first half of the twentieth century, Shanker also came of age in a place where socialists really did see themselves as the left wing of the possible and often allied with Democrats, even if the party of FDR and Truman was a little too far to the right for their taste. The young Shanker found his calling in the tracts of socialist intellectuals and found it reinforced in the circles of young idealists who gathered around sectarian gurus like Max Shachtman. For the rest of his life, Shanker believed in speaking his mind, regardless of the cost; he embraced the values of freethinking, hard work and merit. And he never wholly jettisoned his socialism.

By the time he was in his 20s--having grown disillusioned with graduate study in philosophy--Shanker followed the time-honored path of well-educated New York Jews, who still faced barriers in the professions. He became a schoolteacher in a district whose teaching staff was disproportionately Jewish (by 1940, 56 percent of new teachers in New York City were Jewish women). It was admirable work but difficult and often demoralizing, and he was abysmally paid. In 1953 Shanker joined the tiny socialist-led New York Teachers Guild and began to push for collective bargaining rights for teachers, an uphill battle even in union-friendly New York City, which did not recognize the bargaining rights of public employees until 1958. By 1962, taking advantage of New York's new collective-bargaining law--and organizing tirelessly among teachers--Shanker and his predecessor Charles Cogen had succeeded in winning a generous contract for New York schoolteachers. Over the course of the 1960s, Shanker took the message of teacher unionism nationwide. By the end of his career, teaching was the second most unionized profession in the United States (behind only the postal system)--in no small part because of the galvanic effect of Shanker's widely heralded victory in New York City.

Shanker's rise to power coincided with the dramatic racial transformation of urban schools. Since his days as a student, Shanker had supported the civil rights movement. He had been a member of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and later collaborated with A. Philip Randolph, Bayard Rustin and Martin Luther King Jr., who saw a labor-civil rights alliance as essential to the goals of racial equality. But the battles over race and education unleashed a political whirlwind that eventually proved to be Shanker's undoing. In a story that gets short shrift in Kahlenberg's book, civil rights activists targeted Northern schools every bit as intensely as they did their Jim Crow counterparts in the South. Shanker supported the principle of integrated schooling, but his position was unpopular. New York whites fled the public schools in record numbers; black parents led school boycotts and massive demonstrations, and educational politics became a flashpoint of racial conflict. As districts like New York grew blacker, more Hispanic and poorer, the city's tax base dwindled. Minority parents grew increasingly disillusioned, both with the unmet promises of racial equality and the reality of overcrowding and inferior education in their schools. By the mid-1960s, influenced by black power, a vocal minority of black parents (joined by some white leftists and liberal foundations) began to support experiments in school decentralization and community control.

Shanker--along with many leftists and civil rights activists, both black and white--was skeptical of community control. That skepticism was well founded: the notion that a shift in school governance would magically transform classrooms was dubious. And as Michael Harrington and other leftist critics of decentralization pointed out at the time, white racists had long used local control as a way of keeping schools segregated. The issue came to a head in Ocean Hill-Brownsville in 1968, where a community-control experiment put local schools in the hands of black militants who, in an act that outraged unionists, violated union rules and fired a group of mostly Jewish white teachers en masse. Shanker defiantly led three lengthy strikes, paralyzing New York's public schools. He insisted that the strike was a defense of hard-won work rules--which it was.

But the Ocean Hill-Brownsville conflict was much more. It became a shouting match between black radicals (who accused the white teachers of racism and occasionally resorted to anti-Semitic sloganeering) and white teachers and their supporters (who were more often than not condescending, if not usually the racists that their critics charged). The results were explosive. And Shanker, whom Kahlenberg tries mightily to defend, poured gasoline onto the fire of racial conflict by reprinting and widely distributing an anti-Semitic brochure that appeared during the crisis.

The community-control experiment continued after 1968, but in a weakened form. The teachers union successfully defended its members from politically motivated firings. But Ocean Hill-Brownsville was poisonous to race relations in New York and nationwide. Kahlenberg describes the aftermath in Manichean terms: it was, he argues, the beginning of a struggle between "two forms of liberalism--one pro-labor, pro-integration, and color blind, the other anti-labor, pro-community control, and race conscious." That's not quite right. Many labor activists supported integration--but also the use of race-sensitive programs like affirmative action. Many advocates of colorblindness were blind to the ways that race profoundly shaped the life chances of blacks and other minorities; and many members of the most vocal and effective unions, especially the skilled trades, fought to protect their white power and privilege against encroachments by women and minorities.

It was a '70s cliché that a conservative was a liberal who had been mugged by reality. To a great extent, Shanker--like many white liberal men of his generation--was mugged by the '60s. To overcome the trauma, he lashed out at dissenters of all varieties. While Ocean Hill-Brownsville was smoldering, Shanker denounced the antiwar movement as soft on communism. By the '70s he had joined the hyperbolic outcry against "limousine liberals" who supposedly allied with minorities against the white working class. In the process, he lost sight of those limousine-riding conservatives whose promarket and antiunion politics were far more damaging to the working class and public education. At the same time, he forged alliances with conservative Democrats like Washington Senator Henry "Scoop" Jackson (who voted with Republicans on many foreign policy issues) and began seriously flirting with the right.

Shanker never veered as far rightward as did many of his allies, like Sidney Hook, Midge Decter, Elliot Abrams and Linda Chavez, all of whom sprinted into the ranks of the neocons. He was more of an egalitarian than they were--and remained a staunch and committed unionist while they cast their lot with corporate America and the antilabor Republican Party. But Shanker remained a socialist in name only. In 1983 he invited President Reagan to address the American Federation of Teachers, despite Reagan's staunch antiunionism. And in 1984 Shanker warmly welcomed culture warrior William Bennett, then head of the National Endowment for the Humanities, to headline the AFT annual convention. Shanker joined Bennett in his crusade for "traditional values" and against the scourge of "moral relativism." Not surprisingly, Reagan (engaging in his own unacknowledged act of affirmative action) tapped Chavez for his Cabinet. Over the course of the 1980s, Shanker also supported Reagan's massive defense buildup and praised the Nicaraguan contras, even if he distanced himself from such Reagan allies as South Africa's apartheid regime and Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet.

Shanker's march rightward was echoed in his shift in educational priorities. He railed against affirmative action (or what Kahlenberg shrilly and inaccurately brands as "quotas"). By the 1990s, Shanker's egalitarianism was so narrow that, like his neoliberal and neoconservative fellow travelers, his civil rights politics rested on the dubious distinction between equality of opportunity (which he supported) and equality of results (which he believed was a matter of individual initiative, merit and skill, ignoring the fact that so many people get jobs on the basis of their networks, not solely or even primarily their skills). He also staunchly opposed bilingual education, in large part because of his belief in inculcating students in a single national cultural tradition. And while he sensibly held out against curriculums that had as their primary goal enhancing the "self-esteem" of students (the best research shows that self-esteem and academic success are not correlated), he also led an increasingly influential band of school reformers who fetishized standardized testing as the solution to academic woes. Shanker became a vocal advocate of charter schools as well--succumbing to the folly that administrative reorganization would serve as a panacea for educational inequality. Kahlenberg points out that Shanker did not approve of the 1990s free-market variants on charter schools: he opposed the privatization of a public good. But by then, Shanker's longtime socialism was so thin that he could not see that proposals to bring competitiveness to public education would inevitably open the door to profit-seeking educational firms.

More than a half-century after Albert Shanker's public career began, our public education system is still riddled with inequalities. Our schools are reverting to a pre-Brown v. Board of Education racial order, separate and unequal, but only a remnant band of civil rights activists even cares. Mainstream Democrats--eager to win over long-lost Republicans--have spent most of the past fifteen years shoring up the market revolution and slouching rightward on matters of culture and values. And the Bush Administration's neoconservatives have embarked on a foreign policy to "democratize" the Middle East in ways that resonate with Shanker's own zealous foreign policy. Even though Shanker continued to cling to an increasingly unfashionable trade unionism, we live under a regime that his "tough liberalism" helped more than hindered.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Problem Teacher List Made Public

Problem Teacher List Made Public

By ROBERT TANNER - Dec. 21, 2007

A confidential, nationwide list of 24,500 teachers who have been punished for a wide array of offenses was made available to the public Friday by a Florida newspaper.

The Sarasota Herald-Tribune created a searchable database of the teachers' names after waiting for years to gain access to the list. The paper began seeking the material as part of its earlier reporting on teacher sexual misconduct in Florida. It obtained the list from the Florida Department of Education.

The list, gathered and maintained by the National Association of State Directors of Teacher Education and Certification, does not provide any information on why any of the teachers were disciplined. Sexual misconduct, financial misconduct, criminal convictions and other misbehavior all can bring disciplinary actions against teacher licenses.

A nationwide Associated Press investigation earlier this year sought five years of state disciplinary actions against teachers and the reasons behind them. In the years the AP studied, 2001 to 2005, roughly one-quarter of all disciplinary actions against teachers involved sexual misconduct.

The AP's seven-month investigation found 2,570 educators whose teaching credentials were revoked, denied, surrendered or sanctioned following allegations of sexual misconduct.

The association's list is the only nationwide effort by school systems to track teachers who get into trouble, but the association does not make the information available to the public. The group is a voluntary, nonprofit organization of state education agencies.

The database is made available to other state education agencies to provide a warning to states about teachers with past problems. NASDTEC has no ability to force education officials to list all the teachers who have gotten in trouble in their states. The list also does not provide details on what teachers got in trouble for, and leaves it to states or hiring school districts to dig for more information.

Roy Einreinhofer, NASDTEC's executive director, said the agreement with states that allows for the collection of the names of disciplined teachers is based on a promise that the list will be kept confidential. He opposed the newspaper's decision to publish the names.

"We've heard from some states that this violates their state law," he said. "It could very well cause the end of it. That's why we're so vitally concerned about it."

The list made available to the newspaper was incomplete, Einreinhofer said. The complete database includes roughly 37,000 names. About 4,000 Florida teachers were not included because of the way the state agency saves the data, the newspaper said. Einreinhofer said he couldn't explain why the other 8,500 were missing.

The list goes back 20 years and states could have included disciplinary actions dating farther back.

Robert Shoop, a Kansas State University professor who has studied teacher sexual misconduct and has called for tougher oversight and more openness by administrators, said a current list of problem teachers should be gathered by each state and made public to better protect students.

"Clearly the public does have a right to know and they should have access," he said.

The newspaper's Web site allows readers to type in a name and state to determine whether a person is in the database. The list provides no other information than a date of birth to confirm an identity.

Jeff followed up with:
There has been a lot of discussion about the list including inaccuracy and privacy concerns. The list is obviously incomplete (it has less than 900 New York teachers on it) but it demonstrates the potential for how this information can be used or abused.

The link is

Friday, December 21, 2007

Bush Profiteers collect billions from NCLB - Part 1

This is the first piece of a 23 part (so far) series. Kathy Emory attended the high stakes testing conference John Lawhead and I attended in Birmingham. Al. in 2003.

All parts accessible here:


Bush Profiteers collect billions from NCLB

Much was said about George W. Bush’s fundraising prowess in 2000 and 2004, when he created labels like "Bush Pioneers" to identify those who shook down donors and bundled the lucre for his campaigns. But hard on the heels of his inauguration, he might’ve just as appropriately created a new label, "Bush Profiteers," to identify those who first turned his decayed ideologies into law – inventing new spigots through which Bush’s businessmen-backers could suck federal funds – and who then vacated public service to collect their own lucre as lobbyists for those businessmen and their companies.
If you needed a perfect example of this model of lawmaking-turned-moneymaking, you might consider Bush’s vaunted No Child Left Behind. And if you needed a perfect example of the Bush Profiteer, you might consider the first "senior education advisor" he imported from Texas, the architect of NCLB himself.
I offer a simple thesis: Several large corporations and their lobbyists have profited from Bush’s NCLB by tapping billions of dollars in standardized testing and in "supplemental education services" funds since its passage in 2001. They’re lining up now to expand their profit margins for the next six years as NCLB is being re-authorized. And the one man who stands to personally profit the most this year isn’t Bush himself, but advisor-turned-lobbyist Sandy Kress, the architect of Bush’s old high-stakes testing model in Texas and the overhaul of ESEA in 2001.
As Bush himself might put it, "Heck of a job, Sandy." Ahem:
KATHY EMERY KNOWS something about educating kids. Her resume, found here , documents a 30-year career as a history teacher-turned-education researcher. Credentials impeccable. She’s published and presented and given workshops and been interviewed on testing and assessment and good education practices, so she’s got skills. And she writes, "When Ted Kennedy and George Bush agree on something, one needs to worry about who the man behind the curtain is. After doing research for my dissertation (which is now a book) it became clear to me that the men behind the curtain are the members of the Business Roundtable."
In a speech given in January 2005 to the San Francisco State University faculty retreat in Asilomar, California, she detailed the convergence of two heretofore unconjoined worlds: the world of big business, and the world of educating kids. The convergence was given birth in the passage of NCLB, she says, but the pregnancy was more than a decade long. Its unsuspecting mother was the Education and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), first adopted under Lyndon Johnson’s administration in 1965 in partial fulfillment of John Kennedy’s domestic agenda. Its father? "...a bipartisan bandwagon of standards based advocates – a bandwagon built in the summer of 1989 by the top 300 CEOs in our country."
At this meeting, the Business Roundtable CEOs agreed that each state legislature needed to adopt legislation that would impose "outcome-based education," "high expectations for all children," "rewards and penalties for individual schools," "greater school-based decision making" and align staff development with these action items. By 1995, the Business Roundtable had refined their agenda to "nine essential components," the first four being state standards, state tests, sanctions and the transformation of teacher education programs. By 2000, our leading CEOs had managed to create an interlocking network of business associations, corporate foundations, governor’s associations, non-profits and educational institutions that had successfully persuaded 16 state legislatures to adopt the first three components of their high stakes testing agenda. This network includes the Education Trust, Annenberg Center, Harvard Graduate School, Public Agenda, Achieve, Inc., Education Commission of the States, the Broad Foundation, Institute for Educational Leadership, federally funded regionally laboratories and most newspaper editorial boards.
By 2000, many states legislatures, however, were balking at the sheer size and scope of what corporate America was demanding. The Business Roundtable took note of this resistance when publishing, in the spring of 2001, a booklet entitled Assessing and Addressing the "Testing Backlash": Practical Advice and Current Public Opinion Research for Business Coalitions and Standards Advocates. My guess is that the timing of this renewed effort to "turn up the heat" involved getting federal government into the act by aligning the federal educational policy with the Business Roundtable’s state-by-state strategy.
Emery quotes Gene Hickock, the under-secretary of education assigned to implement NCLB, speaking to CEOs at the Milken Institute’s Global Conference in 2003: "One of the virtues of NCLB is leverage, leverage at the state. . . at the local level . . . We don’t mind being the bad guys... I am very concerned that we will . . . underestimate the potential that we have to redefine everything."
And Emery pays special attention to Hickock’s desire to "redefine everything." She sketches briefly the intent of the "corporate business class" to control public education systems beginning the 1890s and continuing through "modern comprehensive schools, an important part of which was the introduction of standardized, norm-reference tests."
Why the interest of the "corporate business class" in standardized tests? Emery tells us: "Since the 1890s, these tests, along with the factory like conditions of public high schools, have been central to fulfilling one of the major purposes of our public schools. In an industrial economy, working class students need to be tracked into vocational education and middle class students into college prep courses. This is one reason why we find standardized tests to be more strongly correlated to socio-economic status than to any other variable."
Emery suggests that the corporate climate in the 1980s – pressure from the emergence of Japan, for example – lit a fire beneath America’s corporate interests to accelerate the education process, she surmises; hence, the Business Roundtable’s meeting in 1989 and its development of a "high-stakes testing" model for schools.
It’s clear to me that the fact that its system fails millions of American kids doesn’t deter the leaders of the Business Roundtable: Its goal of marrying the world of big business with the world of educating children has yielded its primary objective, the profit margin. How so?
Education itself isn’t a profit-making venture; no teacher, lunch lady, janitor, principal or bus driver is getting "rich" from "the system." Any dividends on public investment aren’t realized until a child graduates, matures, and becomes a contributing member of society. But a small cottage industry of education support programs has always existed in the private sector, and it included everything from single-subject tutors to after-school or summertime programs for remedial readers. NCLB, the shotgun marriage of Lyndon Johnson’s ESEA with the Business Roundtable’s "high stakes testing" agenda, created a brand-new spigot through which that cottage industry in the private sector could siphon federal education funds. The result: Instant profit – and instant profiteers. What once was just a cottage industry has become a corporate giant.
Says Emery:
Not only do working class and poor students, especially those of color, not learn to read and write, they don’t learn the kinds of skills that would allow them to challenge the direction the Business Roundtable CEO’s are taking this country. Throughout American educational history, there have been educators and activists who have argued against education as merely legitimizing the sorting of students into job categories. Some have created schools based on the joy of learning, or the need for students to be life-long learners. Others have created schools that taught students how to be active agents of social change, or to be skilled citizens in a democratic society. One effect of high stakes testing, one that I am sure the CEO’s are pleased with, is that the historic public debate over what the goals of education should be, a debate going back 2500 years, has been eliminated. Instead, raising tests scores has become an end in itself...
PRESIDING OVER THE SHOTGUN wedding that Emery describes – the forced marriage of ESEA to the Business Roundtable’s agenda – was none other than Sandy Kress. "Pressure" from not-yet-Secretary Margaret Spellings – then still known as Margaret La Montagne – and Kress, "former head of the Dallas school board, seems to be paying off. Already, the Business Roundtable has pledged to air TV ads promoting testing," wrote Richard Dunham in the March 19, 2001, edition of Business Week magazine here
Dunham’s puff-piece on La Montagne/Spellings said the duo was "counting on business leaders such as Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, AT&T CEO C. Michael Armstrong, and Texas Instruments CEO Thomas J. Engibous to lobby Congress on behalf of Bush's cherished annual performance tests..."
Mere weeks later, columnist Robert Novak credited Kress as half of Bush’s Texan education brain trust, and Bush’s emissary to Congress at a time when the legislative branch was still evaluating its untested executive. "...Who convinced the president to build this bridge for the enemy? Republican House members finger two White House aides brought from Texas: Margaret LaMontagne and Sandy Kress."
"Kress, who was a Democratic activist in Dallas backing Michael Dukakis for president when I first met him, told me Tuesday the White House did not support even Kennedy's version of Straight A's because ‘to have a bloodbath on the House floor is not worth it’," wrote Novak on May 23, 2001, here
But by July, Kress had left La Montagne/Spellings behind and earned a high-profile spread of his own in New Yorker magazine, thanks to writer Nicholas Lemann. In addition to sketching Kress’s history, Lemann cast Kress as Bush’s brain on education. Inscribed in "a flimsy little drugstore notebook, green, maybe four by six inches" was a text by Kress dated 1999 and called ‘A Draft Position for George W. Bush on K-12 Education’." It was this draft, apparently, that led to Kress’s "temporary assignment as the White House's chief lobbyist on education."
Here’s a sample of the guru’s amazing composition: "Unhappily, after spending billions and billions of dollars on education, the federal government has made virtually no meaningful difference in helping educate our children. As a result of this cynical, shameful, and wasteful behavior, other politicians have decided that there should be no federal role in education at all. Our citizenry, which regularly says that education is the nation's most important cause, needs to understand the sharp contrast between Governor Bush's vigor and the utter sloppiness of the keepers of the status quo."
If anyone could lead Bush’s crusade into education, it would be Kress, who, in addition to being "former president of the Dallas School Board and one of the architects of the Texas education reforms, is a Democrat, but he and Bush had been working together successfully for years."
"Sandy Kress's notebook lays out the essentials of the Texas education reform," Lemann writes. It’s not rocket science: State-adopted standards feed into state-adopted tests, with scores "used to rate the performance of schools." The magic, Lemann understates, was in the marketing: "the promise to ‘leave no child behind’ and to eschew ‘the soft bigotry of low expectations’." And Kress was the perfect marketer for the purpose, as Lemann describes here:
In the early stages of the Presidential campaign, I watched Gore, in Dallas, make a speech on education to a group of African-American mayors, in which he tried, without much evident conviction, to cast Bush's record on education in a bad light. Sandy Kress was there to run an after-the-speech spin room for the Bush campaign, which entailed publicly opposing the Presidential candidate of his own party. The intense loyalty of Bush's close aides can be startling -- is there something there that they see and we don't, or do we see Bush more clearly from a distance than they do up close? In one of my conversations with Kress, when he was talking about an early Bush maneuver on behalf of the bill -- nothing terribly unusual, just chatting up some members of Congress -- a wave of emotion came over him and, with a murmured apology, he started to cry.
Kress won his victory, sure enough. Without ever convening a hearing on the bill, the House passed it 384 to 45. "The last thing the White House wanted was a long, slow period of national debate in which the many interest groups involved in education could marshal lobbying campaigns," Lemann explains. In the Senate, progress was slower, getting snagged on the consequences to schools whose scores didn’t measure up. Kress’s solution reflected Kress’s power in Bush’s world: "One Saturday afternoon, word spread instantaneously within this group (while the world slumbered on): Sandy Kress had just rewritten the A.Y.P. formula," Lemann says.
Just like that.
WHEN JOHN DiIULIO DITCHED the White House’s Office of Faith-Based Initiatives, Time magazine’s James Carney wrote that Washington watchers wondered why Kress hadn’t done the same already. But Kress was a different animal altogether, Carney observed here "Not only is Sandy Kress a Democrat, but he's also the lead negotiator and chief policymaker for Bush's education-reform plan. Together with his faith-based initiative, education reform undergirded Bush's claim to be a compassionate conservative. Like DiIulio, Kress was chosen because Bush hoped his Democratic credentials would attract bipartisan support. In Kress's case, it worked. But after the education-reform bill clears Congress, expected next month, Kress will pack his bags. Kress will at least be able to claim victory when he leaves."
And it came to pass, as reporter Diana Jean Schemo wrote here on December 18: "The Senate overwhelmingly approved a bill today that would dramatically extend the federal role in public education, mandating annual testing of children in Grades 3 to 8, providing tutoring for children in persistently failing schools and setting a 12-year timetable for closing chronic gaps in student achievement. The 87-to-10 vote capped a tumultuous year for the bill that began with President Bush's postinaugural unveiling of his education plan, [and] continued through a springtime of wrangling over issues like how student progress would be measured..."
Kress himself, Schemo writes, "watched the vote from the Senate gallery, as did Education Secretary Rod Paige."

Sister Randi Explains It All

Razzle Dazzle:
Sister Randi Explains It All


Randi Weingarten's 50th year was an eventful one.

The United Federation of Teachers leader, who celebrated a landmark birthday Dec. 18, was elected to her fourth full term as president in March with 87 percent of the vote, a mandate that was expected after the early wage contract she negotiated was ratified by 90 percent of her members a year ago.

In April, Mayor Bloomberg compared the UFT to the National Rifle Association while complaining about the disproportionate power it was wielding in thwarting the implementation of another school reorganization plan. Ten days later, the plan had been restructured to win the UFT's blessing, eliminating language that would have reduced Teachers' tenure rights and committing money to reduce class size.

Merit Pay and Pension Gains

In October, Ms. Weingarten reached a deal with the Mayor under which a school-based merit-pay program was agreed to, granting bonuses to every Teacher in struggling schools that showed marked improvement. Not incidentally, the initiative was linked to the city's support for two measures that improved pension rights for union members and retirees, one of which allowed them to qualify for a full pension at age 55 if they had 25 years' service.

The Chief-Leader/Pat Arnow

CUTTING THROUGH THE DISTRACTIONS: 'Kids have more and more distractions, between the Internet and the streets' than those of past generations, Randi Weingarten says. 'The overarching issue of what we do to help children learn, that issue is not different.'

Later that month, the UFT won the right to represent 28,000 home day-care workers, expanding its active membership by nearly 25 percent, to roughly 150,000 - allowing it to surpass District Council 37, which had been the largest municipal-employees union for the previous 40 years.

It was almost enough to overshadow the fact that a couple of weeks earlier, Ms. Weingarten had publicly disclosed that she was gay while accepting an award from Empire State Pride Agenda.

All this, and sweating out the serious illness of a close family member who has since taken a turn for the better might have seemed quite enough for one year. But Ms. Weingarten, whose admitted flaw - ''Unless it's perfect, I'm not satisfied" - gives her away as a compulsive overachiever, lived up to type in a less-welcome way when an early birthday roast Dec. 4 nearly turned into the site of a Carpenters' union picket featuring the inflatable rat that strikes terror into the heart of any labor leader at whom it's grinning.

It turned out that another of Ms. Weingarten's activist moves - using $28 million of Teachers' pension funds to build affordable housing for union members - had become a good deed punished because the developer opted not to use union labor - contrary, the UFT leader said during a Dec. 11 interview, to the assurances she received when the deal was announced two months ago. She believed those assurances enough, she said, that trades-union officials were "legitimately" furious about her insistence that the developer intended to honor prevailing-wage regulations for union jobs.

"It was unfortunate that it took so long to realize what was going on," said Ms. Weingarten, who ended the UFT's involvement in the project. "I desperately want affordable housing for our members. But you can't accomplish that at the expense of other union members."

National Union on Her Horizon?

It was one of the rare embarrassments she has endured in the decade since she stepped up on an acting basis to replace the late Sandy Feldman, who left the UFT in mid-1997 to run the American Federation of Teachers following the death of Al Shanker. Ms. Weingarten is the third member of that troika that since 1964 has built the UFT into the model of a local labor union, and for much of the past year there has been speculation that if AFT President Ed McElroy did not seek another term next spring, Ms. Weingarten would follow her predecessors in leading the national union.

"All I've said thus far for the record is I won't rule out anything," she said. "I think my national president has done a fantastic job. His focus has been on organizing and politics - we've been out there doing the work we ought to do. My personal preference is for him to stay on. If and when he makes a different decision, I'll decide what my next steps are."

It is not as if she'll be idling until then. Ms. Weingarten, an avid and longtime backer of Hillary Clinton, will be more than a bit engaged by the Democratic presidential primaries, particularly New York's Feb. 5 vote. And her roller-coaster relationships with Mr. Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Joel Klein almost inevitably will produce some additional dips, curves and shrieks in the coming months.

In mid-November, less than a month after the Mayor lauded the UFT for being intrepid enough to agree to the school-based merit pay program, Mr. Klein resumed his role as the administration's educational Bad Cop by announcing that he had retained a team of lawyers to get rid of Teachers faster. Ms. Weingarten decried the firing squad as inflammatory and overkill, and soon after questioned whether the Department of Education was engaging in age bias by not placing older Teachers from schools that had been closed or contracted into permanent new assignments.

'Infantilizing Teachers'

"The most frustrating and infuriating thing is the infantilizing and disrespecting of Teachers, both in New York City and across America," she said. Her "biggest anger" regarding Mr. Klein was his refusal to create an educational culture "that deeply respects the work that Teachers do. Instead, I think he took the easy way out to be able to say he's the change agent, rather than the Teacher being the change agent, or the school."

Mr. Bloomberg has parried such criticisms in the past by pointing out that during his administration Teacher salaries have risen by 43 percent. Under the current contract, top pay for a Teacher will reach $100,000 in May.

Ms. Weingarten, who began her career with the UFT more than 20 years ago as its outside negotiating counsel, isn't about to deprecate what she's been able to achieve at the bargaining table. She also knows the difference between Mr. Bloomberg's demanding and sometimes mercurial personality and the constant vituperation she faced from Rudy Giuliani, whose rudeness was compounded by a determination during his final year in office not to make a contract deal that would have benefited the city as much as the union. That pact was signed off on by Mr. Bloomberg less than six months after he took office.

'Raised Living Standard'

"On an economic basis," the UFT president said, "we've accomplished a lot with Mayor Bloomberg, even in the context of pattern bargaining, even with my objections to pattern bargaining. We've been able to change the standard of living for Teachers [and] maintain health benefits and improve pension benefits in ways that members needed. One thing I admire about Mayor Bloomberg is that he will take the risk to make a deal. The other thing is, he supports education."

But, she added, the reluctance of the Mayor and Mr. Klein to work more closely with the union on improving education has led to a system that has yet to strike the right balance "between tests and teaching" and a mistrust among her members of the administration's motives as it tries to expand its success in the lower grades to middle and high schools.

"I see some signs of turning corners," Ms. Weingarten said. "The level of Teacher quality these days is huge; walking into classrooms, it's definitely better than it was in the '80s. But I don't see the esprit de corps that ought to be happening. There's still too much looking over people's shoulders. The Mayor constantly cheerleads Teachers, but there's the little ditty, 'Actions speak louder than words.'''

Mr. Bloomberg's success as a businessman has sharpened his belief in concrete results being the definitive proof of whether something works. Ms. Weingarten said she too is a believer in the value of standardized tests, but that they are overrated as a measure of how much students are really learning.

'Test Prep Not Life Prep'

"The focus on outcomes has probably been somewhat of a motivator," she said. "There's not a question that people know they're there to teach; nobody thinks they're just treading water. But the dilemma is that there's more time spent on assessing kids and what they've learned as determined by state standardized tests than on whether we're preparing them for college, whether we're preparing them for life.

"Can Johnny critically think? Can he engage in a debate about search and seizures? Can kids work as a team, and if they lose, come back and rally next time? That's not part of the conversation, at least on a macro level, and that's disheartening to me."

She continued, "I think they're gonna do everything in their power to get the highest test scores they can in the 2008-2009 school year," the final full one of Mr. Bloomberg's term. "But even if they get that, what will happen to the kids three or four years later? I've always been one who believes in incremental but sustainable results. The third-grade Teacher builds on the second-grade Teacher."

The incremental approach has served her well at the bargaining table. Ms. Weingarten's success in improving Teacher salaries at both the entry and upper levels, and doing so with timely and even early contracts, has stood in marked contrast to the city union leader who most shares the struggle to keep pay competitive with what's offered in the suburbs: Patrolmen's Benevolent Association leader Pat Lynch. His contentious relationship with Mr. Bloomberg has not been interrupted by periodic happy endings, and the PBA is currently in arbitration to replace a contract that expired in August 2004.

Mastered Give-and-Take

Both union leaders have demanding rank and files, but Ms. Weingarten has fared better in breaking through members' expectations when they grew too high, and in giving up some rights - on matters ranging from work time to transfer rights to discipline - as the price that had to be paid for better wages without alienating her members. Her 2005 contract, even though it was approved by 70 percent of her members, provoked significant grumbling because of concessions in all those areas. But, she noted pointedly last week, besides the tangible economic gains it produced, there was an agreement in that pact to explore a 25/55 pension bill that came to fruition in the deal reached two months ago.

And the hard feelings expressed two years ago by some delegates and rank-and-file members, she noted, spurred her to create the 300-person negotiating committee that proved a major help in formulating demands and reaching a solid successor contract last fall, nearly a year before the October 2007 expiration date of the previous one.

Reflecting on her 10 years running the union, she said, "What surprised me is how much I've learned since then. It shows the value of experience. I actually take more risks now than I did then."

That has carried over to her personal life, which gets crammed into a schedule that typically features 14-hour workdays. Many of those who deal with her regularly knew that Ms. Weingarten was gay; when she was together with her partner at union events, she would sometimes quietly introduce her to longtime acquaintances.

But until six months ago, she had never spoken openly about it, despite the urging of the rabbi at her synagogue, Sharon Kleinbaum. When she finally did so, during a service at Congregation Beth Simchat Torah in June, Ms. Weingarten said, nearly a dozen attendees profusely thanked her, with several uttering variations on, "You gave me a will to live." "That struck me," the UFT leader said. "It's 2007 and people are still afraid of the ramifications." A New York Times story about gay senior citizens who were "vilified in their assisted living facilities" because of their sexual orientation, she said, pushed her further toward a decision to make a speech in a larger forum.

'Not a Spectator Sport'

"If you want to speak truth to power, you have to make it personal," Ms. Weingarten contended. "Also, I tease about it, but when you reach a marker like 50, and 10 years as president of the UFT, you start thinking about whether you've done the things you want to do when it comes to things like social justice and economic opportunity. If you care about those things, it's not a spectator sport."

And so she made her public declaration while receiving the award from ESPA. After initial, straightforward news coverage, it became clear that she had not triggered a media sensation.

"I had a flurry of reactions [from union members] that were extremely positive," Ms. Weingarten said, "but mostly it was, 'Never mind. Let's talk about my grievance now. Or class size."

As if energized by the response, she completed the deal combining school-based merit pay with the pension gains less than a week later, and the following week won the right to represent the home day-care workers. It proved, she said, that in its middle age the UFT had reinvented itself - ''we tried to undertake this culture of organizing." In recent years, the union has expanded the number of nurses it represents and gained the right to bargain for Administrative Law Judges, and she noted that during her tenure "we started calling ourselves a union of professionals, not just Teachers."

'Salt of the Earth'

The home day-care providers, Ms. Weingarten said, are essentially the first level of education for the children they serve. "They're really the salt of the earth; they work so hard. This is a group of people who are incredibly exploited," referring to their low salaries and lack of benefits - even with the bargaining certificate, the UFT does not have the right to negotiate pensions for them. "They need the collective strength that a union gives them. They get the connection between being in a Teachers union and the professional opportunities that may be created for them." Ms. Weingarten wasn't even a teenager when the UFT under Mr. Shanker won the right to represent Paraprofessionals in 1969, prevailing over DC 37 in a close vote. She is steeped enough in the union's history, however, to know that many Teachers at the time opposed the organizing drive, either because of lingering resentments from the racially charged battle over community control of schools that fueled the lengthy UFT strike a year earlier or because they viewed the Paras as less-qualified intruders in their classrooms.

'Like Night and Day'

This time, she said, there was none of that resistance. Some veteran Teachers got involved in the organizing drive, and "most of them gave us permission to do it. The difference between what happened when Para organizing started and what happened when we started with family day-care was really night and day."

Even as she welcomes a new group of employees to the union, she argues that their needs merely represent a more-acute version of what Teachers face.

"Teachers are more respected than they've been at any time since I've been in education," Ms. Weingarten said. "It's still not enough." Whatever she's been able to achieve for them economically, she said, there remains the challenge of making "every school a school where parents want to send their kids and educators want to work."

Back in her mid-30s, this daughter of a Teacher began reconstructing her career track, spending six years teaching in Brooklyn even as she went from being the UFT's outside attorney to its in-house counsel and later an officer who was groomed by Ms. Feldman to succeed her.

"The one thing that's never gone away is the idealism," Ms. Weingarten said. "I've become more practical and thick-skinned, but what's never gone away is the passion."