Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Progressive Educational Reform

Governor Dannel Malloy is attempting valiantly to upgrade Connecticut’s ancient union encrusted educational establishment. Naturally, he ran into problems with those in the state who defend the status quo, Connecticut’s powerful teacher’s union among them. In a politics of narrow interests, settled opinion is king, because those who have secured their interests, sometimes at the expense of the general good, are understandably reluctant to surrender the golden favors showered upon them by a bought government. God help the man who unsettles settled opinion.

Mr. Malloy has proposed to attach teacher tenure to measurable performance, according to Zach Janowski. As in most businesses, including the sports arena, those who do not measure up will be let go. Among those ardently defending the status quo is once radical Big Thinker Jonathan Pelto, whose associations with teacher unions are warm and cordial. These days, whenever Mr. Pelto attempts to throw his two cents into the conversational ring, he is vigorously assaulted by one or another fervid Malloyalist.

Most recently, gubernatorial Senior Advisor Roy Occhigrosso, dubbed by humorist Colin McEnroe “The Hammer”, took off after the inoffensive Mr. Pelto following a critical piece Mr. Pelto had written on his blog, “Wait, What?” Concerning one of Mr. Pelto’s recent productions, Mr. Occhiogrosso responded, “Jonathan’s screeds have become increasingly delusional as time has gone on. He’s an unstable individual, who’s bitter that he didn’t land a job in the Administration. Although I’m hard pressed to see why anyone would hire him to do anything, he does describe himself as a ‘consultant.’ Is someone paying him to peddle information that’s not true?” One detects in Mr. Occhigrosso’s snake spittle the venom of a competitor. Mr. Pelto and his “screeds” have been rattling around in Democratic politics for about thirty years, during which time he has managed to sound like the choral leader of the Chorus of Crying State Unions (CCSU). But if during this time he had exhibited signs of instability, delusion and bitterness, someone other than Mr. Occhiogrosso would have noticed and perhaps had him committed, as Mr. Occhiogrosso evidently is, to the Malloy administration.

Upon joining the Malloy administration as a senior adviser, Mr. Occhiogrosso resigned as partner in charge of the Hartford office of the Global Strategy Group, a national polling and communication strategy group with a stable of political, corporate and non-profit clients.

Mr. McEnroe, unfailingly effervescent, noted that while Mr. Occhiogrosso’s boss, Mr. Malloy, was “an edgy guy himself… Occhiogrosso — and I say this with love — is proof of the maxim that when you're holding a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Roy isn't holding a hammer. He is one. It's as if Newt Gingrich went looking for someone to soften his angry, aggressive side and hired Bill O'Reilly.”

Oddly enough, Mr. Pelto and Mr. Occhigrosso started their political lives on the same side of the progressive barricade. In one of his earlier incarnations, Mr. Occhiogrosso was associated with a UConn Health Center union. His ideological nursemaid was Leo Canty, the Second Vice President of the American Federation of Teachers in Connecticut and a member of AFT Local 3837, University Health Professionals. Mr. Canty, also the Vice President of the Hartford Labor Council, described himself in his campaign literature when he ran for state Representative in the 15th district as “a strong progressive politics activist.”

The real difference between Mr. Pelto and Mr. Occhiogrosso lies in who rather than what they serve. The cleavage apparent between them turns on two questions: Should tenure be used to protect incompetence, and to what extent should some of the functions of public education be privatized?

The partial privatization of a sclerotic public education fiefdom is the great bugaboo of those who would preserve the status quo, however harmful its effects on the public good. In this regard, Mr. Pelto is determined that no progress in this direction should be made. Mr. Occhiogrosso and Mr. Malloy presently appear undecided how they may best exploit the possibility of a partial, carefully controlled privatization of the public education behemoth. Teacher tenure appears to be on the ropes, but Connecticut’s powerful teacher unions have friends inside important General Assembly committees. In the past, it may be recalled, unions have been adept at rope-a-dope feints and surprising recoveries.

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