In Montgomery, the elephants are fighting and it looks like residents who are concerned with education in Alabama may end up being the grass.
The elephants are the Alabama Education Association and the Alabama Republican Party, two sides personified by AEA's Executive Secretary Paul Hubbert and Gov. Bob Riley.
Although it would seem that the tussle is over who was to blame for Alabama's failure to make the cut in the first round of competition for a Race to the Top (RTTT) grant, what this really comes down to is a fight to determine whether the GOP or AEA will chart the course for the future of education in the state.
(A disclaimer is needed. Clearly, people who are neither Republicans nor supporters of AEA feel they have a stake in this contest and have taken sides, but the elephants doing the fighting are Riley — and those who aspire to succeed him — and Hubbert.)
Alabama's RTTT failure has many fathers. Not having charter schools was one, though both sides admit that was not the only, or even the main reason. (Despite this, AEA continued to run anti-charter school TV commercials long after our grant application was rejected).
An even greater factor was the letter of "support" that AEA included in the application packet.
That letter, which was cited as a problem by four of the five reviewers who judged Alabama's submission, implied that "key areas of the plan" had been eliminated or likely would be once the grant was accepted. Without the teachers union behind it, little wonder the application did so poorly.
And what were the areas that AEA had either gotten removed from the plan or anticipated would be dropped?
• Regularly administered criterion-reference test.
• Including student achievement scores in tenure and compensation decisions.
• A plan to tie performance to career decisions.
• Dropping a proposed teacher evaluation system.
• Peer evaluations
• Paying teachers in fields like science, technology, engineering and math more than others.
• Getting involved in Teach For America, which offers alternative teaching certificates for people with skills and degrees other than in education.
The Republican Party has frequently cited this laundry list as ways of improving education. In most cases, AEA has opposed them. (The irony of the GOP supporting a plan advanced by a Democratic president and AEA coming out against it, is not lost on us).
So the fight is on. And if cooler and wiser heads do not prevail, the fight will continue until one side wins, one side loses, or both give up, exhausted, and nothing gets done.
The time has come for Paul Hubbert to sit down with GOP leaders and work out a compromise. If the fighting continues, the rest of us, the grass, will be the ones to feel the effects.