Here is a great New York Times Magazine article, out today, about the political fight that was sparked when President Barack Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan opened up a contest for federal money for state education systems.

You get a very strong sense in this article that the entrepreneurs who want to assist in reforming education have a much better head on their shoulders than the big, bulky entrenched interests like unions, and the politicians who are more accountable to those unions than they are to the students and teachers that make the education system.

Race to the Top was supposed to be a cascade of money flowing into new education solutions, but the article points out that there will still be some legacy issues, even if states like New York are able to effectively bat down some of the long standing union impediments to reform.

Some of the meatier text is towards the back. From page 7 of the online article:

EVEN IF THE UNION still has support in strongholds like Albany, union leaders like Weingarten and Mulgrew seem to have realized that the political pressure the Race has generated means they have to yield in some places and in some ways. In mid-April, Mulgrew agreed with Klein to streamline the teacher-discipline process in a way that, by the end of the year, will close New York’s so-called rubber rooms, the infamous “reassignment centers” where the New York City teachers charged with the most extreme incompetence or misconduct (currently 600 out of 80,000) are sent to do nothing while they await tenure-protected arbitration hearings. Until this agreement, the arbitration process lasted an average of three years, during which the teachers remained on the payroll and accumulated pension entitlements. Only a handful of teachers were ever dismissed at the end of the process. It will now still probably take at least a year to remove these most egregiously incompetent or misbehaving teachers, and there continues to be no broader process in place in New York for evaluating, promoting or removing teachers based on performance. Nonetheless, this is a concession that the union had repeatedly refused to make.

Money will be locked up in these teachers for a long time. Money should be going to tech, new teachers, and better assessment systems.

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