Why my fellow blogger Jay Mathews is wrong
Jay, Jay, Jay. You know I don’t like arguing with you because you know more than I do about a great many things. But in this case, not so much.
To review: I wrote a blog post last week titled “D.C. vouchers and the arrogance of Congress” (you can see where I’m going with this) that blasted two senators -- Joe Lieberman and Susan Collins -- for threatening District officials with cutting funding for the city’s public schools if a federal voucher program is not revived in the city.
I made the point that the issue was not whether one supported vouchers but, rather, that policy-making by threat was no way to run a country. I further noted that this was another example of the rather slipshod way education policy is made in this country (by legislators who most often don’t bother to include educators in the discussion).
A shortened version of that post was published in The Post on Monday’s weekly Education Page (it was shortened because I don’t get as much space as you do, which makes sense, as you are the czar of education reporters).
That is the piece to which you refer in the post on your Class Struggle blog, which takes me to task for supposedly ignoring charter schools and their success in the District. It also says:
“Threatening to cut D.C. school funds in order to get the voucher program back up to speed does seem impolite and disrespectful of local prerogatives. I have favored ending funding for the voucher program. I think it is well-intentioned, and good for the families that participate, but it is also an educational dead-end because there are never going to be enough available private school places to help many kids. I think it is better to use that money to make sure more good charters are born.
“Thankfully, I don’t make the rules. People elected to office do. Strauss complains of "the thoughtless, piece-meal way that this country makes school funding decisions. School budgets go up and down annually based on politics with no thought to the damage done to educational programs." That’s democracy for you. If anyone has a better way of making educational decisions, let me know. Strauss was not that happy with the result of taking D.C. schools away from the school board and turning them over to the mayor, allowing him to ignore many of the democratic pressures she is complaining about.”
First, there was no reason for me to address charters in my post, which wasn’t about vouchers or charters. It was about congressional threats. Congress obviously has the power to hold back money it has promised if it doesn’t get what it wants from the District on a specific program. But such behavior is best left to children.
My bigger issue with Jay’s post is the suggestion that bad education policy-making is a necessary result of the democratic process. That’s nonsense.
As Jay notes, I have repeatedly made the case that more people -- educators, in fact -- need to be brought into the policy-making process rather than kept out. Not a single teacher was part of the team that wrote the No Child Left Behind law. Educators didn’t have a big hand in the Obama administration’s “Race to the Top” competition either.
The problem isn’t the democratic process; it is that legislators and business folks who don’t know much about education make decisions without sufficient educator, parent and student input that affects everybody -- often not for the better. Politicians like solutions with quick results, which is anathema to real school reform.
Today we learned that Michigan education officials have ordered half of the city’s public schools closed to balance the district’s books, and as a result, high school classes will have something like 60 kids in each. Obviously, Michigan state officials don’t have the right to do this.
Not even you, Jay, can argue that this can be brushed aside as just another example of policy-making in a democratic society. This is lousy education and fiscal policy.
Just today, a nationwide alliance of major education, civil rights, religious, disability, parent, labor and civic groups issued a statement with specific areas that Congress and the Obama administration should address if/when the No Child Left Behind law is rewritten.
The statement from the Forum on Educational Accountability says that Congress should:
-- address funding disparities and equity in education;
-- support students with diverse learning needs, both in and out of school;
-- take additional steps to ensure all children have access to highly effective teachers, leaders and other school personnel;
-- provide increased access to opportunity through high quality preschool;
-- work with states to ensure adequate school facilities, programs and services; and
-- promote school policies, including discipline, that ensure a climate conducive to learning.
If policymakers really looked at this range of issues, and not just standardized test scores, I’m betting many of our schools wouldn’t be in the mess that they are in.
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| February 22, 2011; 2:44 PM ET
Categories: Congress, School turnarounds/reform, Vouchers | Tags: charter schools, class struggle, d.c. vouchers, detroit schools, jay mathews, joe lieberman, no child left behind, race to the top, school reform, susan collins, voucher program, vouchers
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