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Archive for the ‘Social Policy & Politics Program’ Category

Teachers Deserve More than a Free Burrito

June 27th, 2014

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“Thank you Mrs. Mullinax for recognizing my unique talents and making me feel special.”

Another school year is coming to a close, and thousands of statements just like this are flooding the internet as politicians and school officials remind us to #ThankATeacher. Each year before classes end, Teacher Appreciation Week rolls around with the intent of showering teachers with the praise, acknowledgement, and freebies they rightfully deserve. Chipotle was even offering teachers free burritos.

But the fact that our society has to make a concerted effort once a year to appreciate teachers should be a telling sign that we don’t value teaching as the challenging and demanding profession that it actually is. And even though a feel-good Twitter campaign might raise the profile of teaching for one week each year, it does nothing to address the outdated policies currently keeping our high-achieving Millennials from entering the profession.

In order to truly advance the profession, we need to muster the political will to finally revisit the outdated policies that treat teachers as interchangeable “widgets,” fail to attract top-tier candidates, and push excellent teachers out the door every year. The most significant way we can honor our teachers is to modernize the profession so that it meets the needs and challenges of a 21st century career, through a major revamp to the way we recruit, prepare, and promote teachers.

First, we must make a determined effort to raise the bar of entry into the profession. We know there is a problem when a bulk of our teacher prep programs have such low standards that they accept almost every single applicant and, even worse, are able to churn out hundreds of thousands of teachers each year in part on the taxpayer’s dime without having to show any real measures of accountability in return. Not surprisingly given this backdrop, high-achieving Millennials in a new Third Way poll saw the education major as a joke, with only 9% labeling it “very difficult” (more than a quarter of those who said the same about nursing) and only 37% saying those who pursue it are “smart”—not exactly a strong casting call for our top-performing grads to enter the profession.

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Giving Everyone a Reason to Teach

June 26th, 2014

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The first time I stepped in front of a class of 27 seventh graders—all at different levels, with varying needs and wildly diverse backgrounds and personalities—I knew this job was going to be anything but average. No matter how tired or stressed-out I was about making a particular lesson perfect, my students counted on me every single day to bring my “A game.” This meant figuring out on the fly how to teach mitosis when the light bulb on my projector burned out. Or hitching a ride to school from a tow truck driver after my car broke down so that I wouldn’t be late to my students’ first frog dissection. Or painstakingly figuring out exactly which student still needed help on which standard, unit after unit. Read the rest of this entry »

Obama’s Impossible Choices on Iraq

June 16th, 2014

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Iraq was a bold U.S. experiment in nation-building. It turned out to be a flop.

That’s what we’re learning as we watch what the United States achieved there evaporate after nine years of war, after nearly 4,500 Americans were killed, 32,000 wounded and $800 billion in U.S. taxpayer money spent.

When George W. Bush first ran for president in 2000, he expressed contempt for nation-building. It was a point he made in rally after rally. “I’m worried about the fact I’m running against a man,” Bush said, “who uses ‘military’ and ‘nation-building’ in the same sentence.”

But what were U.S. troops doing in Iraq four years later if not nation-building?

The U.S. military can do many things supremely well. They are all military things — like fighting wars, repelling invasions and providing security. But nation-building — the task that devolved upon them in both Iraq and Afghanistan — is political, not military. And politics is not something the military can do very well. Nor should anyone expect it to.

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Gun Violence Too Close to Home

May 28th, 2014

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Until last weekend, I thought I understood better than most that so long as gun laws remain weak and rife with loopholes and our mental health system continues to let people fall through the cracks, gun violence can happen anywhere. After all, I’ve been to Newtown and met with the Sandy Hook parents in a neighborhood that looks just like the one where I grew up. And the Navy Yard shooting last fall that claimed 12 innocent lives took place only blocks from my Washington, D.C. apartment. But it didn’t really sink in until I woke up Saturday morning to discover that overnight six students at my alma mater were gunned down or stabbed to death in Isla Vista, California, with another 13 injured. It happened in the neighborhood where I lived for years as a college student at the University of California, Santa Barbara; in the neighborhood where my brother lives now as a post-doctoral researcher at that same university. Victims who were targeted for being young college women, just like my little sister—who only decided at the last minute to attend UCLA rather than UCSB.

In two weeks I am flying back to California to watch her graduate—but now six families just like mine will be attending funerals, not graduations. I don’t know what cracks the shooter fell through in our imperfect system that allowed him to pass a background check and purchase guns. But I do know now that current gun laws are not sufficient to keep me and family and friends safe.

Yet many Americans don’t have that knowledge. I envy them, in a way, because it means that senseless and preventable gun violence has never infringed so personally on their lives. But it is precisely that knowledge divide that makes common sense gun laws so hard to pass, despite strong public support in national polls.

Take Third Way’s latest poll, for instance—released less than two weeks before the mass murder at UCSB. On one hand, 84% of moderates—who make up more than a third of the American electorate—and 81% of all Americans supported expanding criminal background checks for gun purchases. But at the same time, 58% of moderates and 60% of all Americans also said that they already think current gun laws are sufficient to protect to them and their communities. Gun violence doesn’t happen in neighborhoods like theirs, they feel, so these laws don’t really affect them.

This tension between generally supporting background checks but believing that they are unnecessary for their families’ protection led to moderates dividing right down the middle when we asked whether the country needs more government ground rules on guns, or whether it should put more trust in individuals. Unlike liberals, who by an overwhelming 58 points said that we need more government ground rules, or conservatives who preferred trusting individuals by more than 40 points, only nine points separated the 53% of moderates who chose more ground rules over the 44% who said to trust individuals. Guns safety advocates and their champions in elected office too often overlook these conflicted moderates. Instead of talking past them, we need to talk to them—recognize that they are torn on this issue and that the half of American homes that own guns want safe neighborhoods just as much as the half that don’t.

This weekend, yet another community was forced to come to the terrible realization that without stronger guns laws and a better mental health system, nowhere is truly safe—even a beach town full of college students on a holiday weekend. I was lucky. It’s been five years since I graduated, or I might have been out with friends getting fro-yo at 9:30 on a Friday. My brother was out of town, ironically enough visiting my sister at her college campus for the weekend. But six kids weren’t, and now they aren’t coming home. Passing gun laws isn’t easy, especially given the disconnect many Americans feel exists between gun laws and their own lives. But it’s so much less painful than the alternative, as we saw again last weekend.

Elites focus on inequality; real people just want growth

May 6th, 2014

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The economic debate is now sharply focused on the issue of income inequality. That may not be the debate Democrats want to have, however. It’s negative and divisive. Democrats would be better off talking about growth — a hopeful and unifying agenda.

Democrats believe income inequality is a populist cause. But it may be less of a populist issue than an issue promoted by the cultural elite: well-educated professionals who are economically comfortable but not rich. There’s new evidence that ordinary voters care more about growth.

Growth and inequality are not separate issues. Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph E. Stiglitz wrote, “Politicians typically talk about rising inequality and the sluggish recovery as separate phenomena when they are in fact intertwined.  Inequality restrains and holds back our economic growth

The question is whether Democrats want to talk about punitive and confiscatory policies aimed at curbing the power of the wealthy and special interests or an agenda aimed at growing the economy for everyone.

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An Election Democrats Can Win

April 11th, 2014

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Obamacare versus Ryanomics. That’s the battle line for 2014. It’s also a battle Democrats can win.

Why? Because most Americans are pragmatists. Pragmatists believe that whatever works is right. Ideologues believe that if something is wrong, it can’t possibly work — even if it does work. That’s the Republican view of Obamacare: It’s wrong, so it can’t possibly work.

But it now looks like Obamacare may work. More than 7 million people signed up for health insurance by the March 31 deadline, meeting the Obama administration’s original goal. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said, “The Affordable Care Act, whether my Republican friends want to admit it or not, is working.”

Republicans admit nothing. “Even though the Democrats are trying to take some victory lap, it’s very short term,” Senator John Thune (R-S.D.) told the New York Times. “The bad news continues. The hits keep coming.”

Do they? The Affordable Care Act continues to be unpopular, though some polls show a slight uptick in public support. “House Republicans will continue to work to repeal this law,” House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) promised last week. (They have already voted to repeal all or parts of the law 55 times.) The Republican view is simple: It’s wrong, therefore it can’t possibly work.

It will be difficult, if not impossible, to repeal a law that gives health insurance to so many Americans. A recent Rand study estimates that 9.3 million American adults were added to the insurance rolls as of March, a figure that includes those who signed up in the new marketplace, received new employer coverage or enrolled in Medicaid. They are all being helped by Obamacare.

Still, it’s too early to conclude that the law will work. There are many challenges coming. The employer mandate goes into effect next year, and some employers may use the requirement to cover their employees’ health insurance as a pretext to reduce workers’ hours and wages.

Moreover, insurers will announce new premiums for 2015 this fall. If the risk pools do not include enough young and healthy people, premiums could skyrocket.  That would set off a backlash among those currently insured — just in time for the midterm elections.

In the public’s view, the Affordable Care Act should be mended but not ended. What people don’t want to lose are the two most popular provisions of the act — requiring insurers to cover people with pre-existing conditions and allowing young adults to stay on their parents’ policies until age 26.

Representative Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), chairman of the House Budget Committee, said those provisions would be too expensive to include in any Republican replacement measure.

The least popular component is the individual mandate requiring every American to purchase health insurance or pay a penalty. If you do away with the mandate, however, the entire plan falls apart. So mending the law won’t be easy.

Then, seemingly out of nowhere, Democrats had a stroke of luck.  On April 1, Ryan came out with a 10-year budget plan involving massive cuts in popular federal programs like Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, education, student loans and environmental protection. Ryan’s proposal would eventually change Medicare — the most popular of all federal programs — from an insurance policy to a “premium support” program, where seniors would be given subsidies to purchase private insurance. GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney proposed doing that in 2012. Look where it got him

“Thank you, thank you, Congressman Paul Ryan for reminding us what Republicans would do if they had control,” Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) remarked. Representative Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), the House Democratic whip, called it “a bad April Fool’s joke.”

Ryan’s proposal, which includes repeal of Obamacare, is a severe austerity plan aimed at achieving a balanced budget by 2024. There is no evidence that most Americans are willing to make the kinds of sacrifices necessary to get a balanced budget. Nor is Ryanomics likely to be signed into law.

What it does is give Democrats something to run against. “The choice is stark,” Reid said, as he stood on the Senate steps flanked by more than 30 Democratic senators. “The American people are watching.”

Democrats will run against Ryanomics. Republicans will run against Obamacare. Remember the rule of pragmatism: Whatever works is right.

If Americans come to believe Obamacare works, they will be reluctant to throw it out.  Especially the millions who will already have a stake in Obamacare. On the other hand, Ryan is threatening to do away with programs like Medicare that people know are working. Why? Because he and his fellow Republicans think those programs are wrong. Attacking programs that work is pure ideological bloodlust. And a losing battle for sure.

This piece was originally published via Reuters.