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Posted at 5:00 AM ET, 11/ 3/2010

Education policy: What will happen now

By Valerie Strauss

My colleague Jay Mathews, in this column on his Class Struggle blog, asked what would happen to federal education policy if the Republicans take back control of Congress, and then said:

“The answer seems to be not much, other than slowing down even further what has been a sluggish effort to rewrite the No Child Left Behind law into something that better fits what we have learned about federal involvement in local schools.”

I don’t like to disagree with my inimitable colleague, but Republicans, who retook control of the House in Tuesday's elections, have had an extraordinary taste for federal intervention in local school decisions in the past decade. It was Republican president George W. Bush who championed the No Child Left Behind law, which changed the daily life of millions of schoolchildren.

Bush’s successor, President Obama, instead of turning back NCLB as many of his supporters had hoped, has taken some of the most damaging elements and made them worse.

NCLB ushered in an era of high-stakes standardized tests as a way to judge schools. Obama’s policies give them even more importance; now student test scores are being used to evaluate and pay teachers, a method that assessment experts say is invalid and inappropriate.

The Obama administration’s support of an expansion of charter schools is at least as powerful as Bush’s, and a belief that “data” is the salvation of public education seems only to be getting stronger.

The public education system is now awash in private funding provided by billionaires -- supported by Obama’s Education Department -- who invest in school “reforms” that they like, whether or not there is any basis in research for them, and, most of the time, there isn’t. Their insistence on running the public education system -- the country's proudest civic institution -- as if it were a for-profit business has only gained momentum under Obama.

Bush, in fact, could have not realized how much of a friend Obama would be to NCLB, so much so that many folks in the education world say Obama is acting like a Democrat for all of his policies except education, where he is right in line with Republican thinking.

That all brings us back to the new Republican-led House, and what we can expect for education policy.

Republicans have been nothing but obstructionist toward Obama's domestic agenda. But many Republicans and Obama Democrats meet in the middle on key education issues, so there is some thought, including in the White House, that enough common ground can be found to reauthorize No Child Left Behind at some point in the next two years. Obama may be willing to give up a lot to get a legislative success in his last two years.

Even if NCLB is not reauthorized, and even if, as is likely, no more money is approved for Race to the Top, Obama's key education initiative so far, there are key elements of the Obama education agenda that Republicans will surely find attractive.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan wants to create a new generation of standardized tests in more subjects than now exist -- which will mean more money for big education companies; what Republican is going to oppose that?

Obama's education reforms are aimed at treating schools as if they were businesses. Again, what Republican won't embrace that?

Some of the more extreme newly elected members of Congress will call for the Education Department to be dismantled. That's the view, for example, of Rand Paul, the newly elected senator from Kentucky, who, also, would like to abolish NCLB, as well as all federal funding for education. None of that will happen; education is too big an issue in the American dialogue today for that kind of retrenchment. But you can imagine some of the debates we will be hearing in Congress.

Rep. John Boehner (R-OH), who will become the next Speaker of the House, has been a big supporter of NCLB. Here’s what his website says:

"The No Child Left Behind Act is a blueprint for fundamental education reform, and it represents a huge step in the right direction for Americans who believe big government is not the solution to problems with our education system. We have already seen that more bureaucracy is not the answer.

"For more than 30 years, Washington has spent more than $300 billion on public education. Yet there is still a huge disparity in educational achievement between disadvantaged students and their more affluent peers. For the first time in years, with the implementation of No Child Left Behind, we are finally insisting on results.

"When I served as Chairman of the House Education & Workforce Committee, I worked to craft an education bill that reflected the principles of accountability, local control, funding for what works, and expanded parental options. Our efforts have paid off.

"No Child Left Behind gives control and flexibility to local and state governments over how they use federal education funds, instead of relying on Washington bureaucrats to make decisions about our childrens’ education. This is the first step toward closing the achievement gap between disadvantaged students and their peers.”

Every paragraph contains inaccuracies, but the most important thing to know is that Boehner likes NCLB even though even many Republicans admit that it was an abject failure that has harmed schools.

It may seem hard to believe, but rather than more of the same, the change in House leadership could serve to make things even worse than they already are with education reform today.


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By Valerie Strauss  | November 3, 2010; 5:00 AM ET
Categories:  Congress  | Tags:  boehner, boehner speaker of the house, congress, democrats, education department, education policy, gops takes house, john boehner, nclb, no child left behind, obama, obama democrats, president obama, rand paul, republican takeover, republicans, speaker of the house  
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One would have to believe NCLB is dead in the water while the economy, unemployment, bankruptcies, foreclosures, etc. continue to dominate the country's landscape.

There are simply greater priorities afloat than the what's (not) happening in the world of education reform. Politicians are already looking toward 2012 and how to get (re)elected. Public education is not on the radar of too many of these politicians. That's not to say it shouldn't be, that's simply reality.

Posted by: phoss1 | November 3, 2010 7:21 AM | Report abuse

I don't think education is on anyone's radar either. I wonder how many teachers voted against the Democrats due to the current teacher criticisms and general disrespect of teachers shown by the new "reform" crowd.

Posted by: celestun100 | November 3, 2010 9:10 AM | Report abuse

I'm afraid that you may be right about this. Obama will see education as the best issue on which he will be able to lure Republicans in the House into at least one cooperative accomplishment. For his part, Boehner will then be able to offer one counterexample of otherwise complete Republican obstructionism. The casualty of this political gamesmanship will be the welfare of public schooling for the next 10 years. I'm expecting the worst.

Posted by: buckbuck11 | November 3, 2010 9:34 AM | Report abuse

Although I do not believe that public education should be seen as a business, being able to see common ground between the Obama administration and the Republican party has to be a good thing. If they can come together and make public education the number one priority for this country, then I feel the economy will be better off in the long run. Whether this is re-establishing NCLB or dropping it I feel like something good comes when the two parties unite and stop bickering at one another. Public education is the source of how everything works in today's society and politicians need to come together on common ground.

Posted by: spauldingr2 | November 3, 2010 10:13 AM | Report abuse

Were the late Senator Edward Kennedy and Representative George Miller "acting like Republicans" when they flew to Ohio to stand at George W. Bush's side when the No Child Left Behind Act was signed into law? How quickly (and conveniently) some of us forget that NCLB was "championed" every bit as much by Congressional Democratic leadership, as by our former president.

Posted by: ronreynolds | November 3, 2010 11:33 AM | Report abuse

Everyone is entitled to an education - but in the proper environment. You can not combine special needs children, sociopathic children, and advanced students with the general population in the schools and expect anyone to come out with a good education. Teachers are not qualified to teach in this broad scope. Schools are not providing safe environments for the students or faculty.

As an author, I recently published a book, Because, It's Just Good Manners! and with that publication I challenged students to practice good manners for one week. I also urged parents, businesses and the media to "bully" schools into participating in the challenge - for one week. My book is offered as a free download as an incentive.

Are schools qualified or capable of teaching good manners to students in today's schools?

People need to realize there is a direct correlation between the decrease in good manners and common courtesies and the increase in violence, abuse, and bullying, across the nation. What happened to the concept of enforcing civil rights in the schools?

Why do we need local, state and federal laws against bullying in schools when we already have the civil rights acts which are not being enforced? Why not let the law enforcement types, step into the schools and educate the faculty and students on what their rights are - and then be prepared to enforce those laws?

We have managed to turn our schools into ineffective environments by making them into multi-service facilities. Can we learn from this mistake?

When you look at the numbers, the number of students, versus the number of teachers, do you honestly believe the priority today is teachers wages versus providing a safe learning environment to children - an environment in which they can and will learn. These are the adults of the future. Teachers do want more money and partly because of the demands that are now placed on them to teach in multi-service, unsafe environments. The multi-service environments are wrong. The unsafe environments are wrong.

Learning good manners and common courtesies is not about pointing fingers as to who is or is not teaching or setting the good examples. It is simply about accepting the responsibility and living the lifestyle.

Our under age - student - population continues to grow and the real problems are out of control. They are fixable but the administrators need to think outside the box and go back to basics.

As my book says on the back cover, "It may be the most difficult decision you ever make." Do you or don't you teach good manners? Do you or don't you live by good manners?

Janet Horton
Columbia County PC Incorporated
PO Box 3473
265 NE Jacksonville Loop
Lake City, FL 32056

Posted by: jhcesi | November 3, 2010 11:50 AM | Report abuse

As a future teacher, graduating in 2012, I am very concerned with what is going to happen in education. Articles I read and news reports make me worried about the future of my career and the future of our students. The movement towards high-stakes standardized testing due to NCLB has not helped children in the long-run. It has only forced teachers to fill students up with a lot of information to be memorized and regurgitated on tests. I’m also frustrated with the notion of using students’ test scores to evaluate and pay teachers. That isn’t an accurate method of evaluating whether a teacher is effective or not. I can only hope that Republicans and Democrats will establish a common ground on what needs to be done to help education. The focus needs to be put back on developing students as individuals, academically and socially, so they can reach their fullest potential.

Posted by: sullivana4 | November 3, 2010 7:19 PM | Report abuse


The emphasis on tests is not that evident at affluent schools, where the children get high scores regardless of any school factors. At my grandchildren's school in a high income district in California, the children seem relaxed with no test-prep in sight. The school even has a "developmental kindergarten" for four and five-year-olds who are "not ready" for formal education. From what I've seen, elite private schools aren't test-prep factories either.

Although I enjoyed teaching low-income children for almost forty years, I would not recommend these schools to anyone at this time. If enough people refuse to teach at these schools, that will force changes that will benefit the students in the long run.

When it's time to apply for positions, be really careful about the type of school, especially if the situation is unchanged by the time you graduate. Best wishes for a successful career.

Posted by: Linda/RetiredTeacher | November 3, 2010 8:44 PM | Report abuse

(Other than your omission of the bi-political origins of NCLB,) you are correct that with the harm NCLB and RTTT have already caused, and how this situation will continue to accelerate in our next political/business arena, there is no doubt that irreversable damage befalls another generation of students, another generation of teachers.

Time that passes can be measured in hundreds of thousands of opportunities lost. Of childhod opportunities lost. Of great teachers inspirations and ambitions lost. All forever lost. This is the tragedy.

Unless thinking people figure out how to come together to stop this horror, unless teachers come out of their classrooms, parents come out of their denial, students and student teachers stand up for themselves, it will continue to snowball.

There is a lot of money driving this edu-industry, which is why it will be a most difficult battle.

The "party" supporting the NCLB attack on education is the business party. The participants are multi-political but devoutly greedy and ambitious.

The reporter's angle: "follow the money" would lead to the undeniable basis for these so called "reforms." Testing is a huge industry with an enormous support umbrella. Canned curriculum comes with lots of resources; this is mega money.

I am encouraged by your thoughts. I hope everyone is paying attention.

Posted by: realannie | November 4, 2010 12:07 AM | Report abuse

Remember, the word "reform" means "privatization" in Right-speak.
"Vouchers are a pernicious, steal-from-the-poor-and-give-to-the-rich scheme. They take money from our public school students, give it instead to private schools, and abandon many of our children in the process" - NAACP executive director Kweisi Mfume
"The privatization of schooling would produce a new, highly active and profitable industry." - Milton Friedman
"Let's cut right to the chase. The point of this bill is to begin the destruction of public education. In 5 years, there will be legislators standing on this floor saying that we cannot recruit enough new teachers and so we must move money into private schools. This, members, is nothing more than a ploy for cronyism by letting private contractors get their hands on the largest pot of public money in the state budget that hasn't been privatized yet." Rep. Scott Randolph about Florida Senate Bill 6

Posted by: postscreenname | November 6, 2010 10:29 PM | Report abuse


Posted by: postscreenname | November 6, 2010 10:31 PM | Report abuse

Republicans are acting like they care about you and your kids by throwing out nice buzzwords like "choice," when really, all they care about is making a profit!

Posted by: postscreenname | November 6, 2010 10:34 PM | Report abuse

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