Big names from all corners of Washington’s education reform world turned out Thursday evening to toast journalist and media entrepreneur Steven Brill, whose new book, “Class Warfare,” celebrates the rise of the movement they’ve helped underwrite and sustain--one that supports charter schools, tougher teacher evaluations and policies to weaken the hold of teachers’ unions.
Former education secretary Bill Bennett, D.C Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown (D), philanthropist Mark Ein and charter advocate Mike Peabody were among those who packed the Embassy Row home of Katherine and David Bradley, whose CityBridge Foundation is major supporter of D.C. Public Schools and public charter schools. The gathering was also co-hosted by Washington Post Co. Chairman Donald E. Graham.
They heard Brill tell his story of an education system strangled by archaic tenure rules, creating a 3.2 million-employee workplace “where performance doesn’t count; how long you’ve been breathing counts.”
He spoke evocatively of the experience at Harlem Success Academy, a New York City charter that shares a building with with P.S. 149, a traditional public school. He said he found the environments in the two schools so wrenchingly different (the charter stable, orderly, studious; the public school chaotic and dysfunctional) he wanted to grab kids from one side of the building and carry them to the other.
Brill was preaching to the choir. During a brief Q and A, Peabody, the grandson of Groton School founder Endicott Peabody, asked: “When did the unions get the right to strike, when they could shut down cities without recourse?”
Reprising some of what was in his book, Brill said that unionized teachers were the product of years of underpayment and mistreatment, including mandatory two-year leaves of absence from the classroom for women who became pregnant.
But as their influence grew under union leaders such as Albert Shanker, Brill said, it became “much too much of a good thing.”