Education policy: What will happen now
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.
Follow my blog every day by bookmarking washingtonpost.com/answersheet. And for admissions advice, college news and links to campus papers, please check out our Higher Education page at washingtonpost.com/higher-ed Bookmark it!
| 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
Save & Share: Previous: What Michelle Rhee did in D.C.: Point by point
Next: Why so many bright kids fail to launch in college
Posted by: phoss1 | November 3, 2010 7:21 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: celestun100 | November 3, 2010 9:10 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: buckbuck11 | November 3, 2010 9:34 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: spauldingr2 | November 3, 2010 10:13 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: ronreynolds | November 3, 2010 11:33 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: jhcesi | November 3, 2010 11:50 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: sullivana4 | November 3, 2010 7:19 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Linda/RetiredTeacher | November 3, 2010 8:44 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: realannie | November 4, 2010 12:07 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: postscreenname | November 6, 2010 10:29 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: postscreenname | November 6, 2010 10:31 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: postscreenname | November 6, 2010 10:34 PM | Report abuse
The comments to this entry are closed.