Democrats get tough on education

No longer captive to the teachers’ unions, Democrats are trying to reform education, writes Rishawn Biddle in American Spectator.

As with their colleagues in conservative and (occasionally) libertarian circles, the Democrat reformers prefer the prescription of standardized tests, stronger curriculum standards, consequences for academic underachievement and school choice options that the NEA and AFT generally oppose. They are often even more fervent in challenging the work rules and traditional seniority- and degree-based compensation systems that have made teaching the one profession most-insulated from performance management. (Michelle) Rhee, in particular, told Time magazine, “If the children don’t know how to read, I don’t care how creative you are. You’re not doing your job.”

It helps to have billionaire backers: Bill Gates and Eli Broad.

Obama’s pick for education secretary “signals an intent to maintain a rigorous system of standardized tests in public schools, while experimenting with reforms disliked by unions, such as teacher merit pay,” writes the Wall Street Journal.

In announcing the appointment Tuesday at a Chicago news conference, President-elect Barack Obama said he and Mr. Duncan share a “deep pragmatism” and a willingness to tap ideas often associated with conservatives. “Let’s not be clouded by ideology when it comes to figuring out what helps our kids,” Mr. Obama said.

John Easton of the Consortium of Chicago School Research praised Duncan’s “openness to ideas and a real interest in data and how things are working.”

Sounds good. Let’s hope it’s true.

Duncan is a safe, boring, reform at the margins choice, writes Greg Forster on PJ Media.

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  1. Just sounds like a continuation of the program written by Sen. Kennedy
    and promoted by the Bush Administration and Congress for the past few years.

  2. tim-10-ber says:

    My question is where did education get off track? Wasn’t it decent before forced schooling? What in the world happened and why?

  3. Public education’s had an element of irresponsible looniness in it for a long time.

    Turns out that many of the edu-fads that afflict public education have been around for a long time. Whole language reading instruction’s been around since at least the 1930’s and I’m sure that with some vigorous spelunking various other edu-fads that have long since crashed and burned could be uncovered.

    The reason is that since there’s nothing about public education that mandates the meeting of an independent, external standard of performance all standards of performance are locally defined and changeable. That means that one school district’s kids learn to read because that’s the standard that applies and in the district right next door the kids graduate illiterate but full of certainty of their knowledge.

    That lack of an independent, external standard means that education is whatever the local school board says it is. Illiterate graduates aren’t a failing and the construction of a shiny, new, over-priced school building from which they graduate is a success. Mandating of edu-fads that allow school board members and administrators to present themselves as forward-thinking and cutting-edge is success and the resulting mis-education isn’t a failure.

    The Democrats’ problem is that they’re faced with the decision of maintaining a long, successful political alliance with those who benefit from the extant public education system or facing squarely the shortcomings of that system and embracing a newly-emerging constituency – the black voter.

    I know, I know, the black voter isn’t exactly a new constituency. The Democrats have enjoyed their favor for several decades by buying their vote. Trouble is, now two worrisomely powerful constituencies are coming into conflict and it’s not all that clear the rift can be healed. If the newly-emerging black/education voter is to win then the current system has to change fundamentally and there are folks who think things are fine just the way they are. There may be no way to bring them together and the Democratic party can’t exist in it’s current form with the allegiance of on or the other.

  4. Dick Eagleson says:

    The “opposing perspective” was – predictably – a fact-free festival of hackery, stoogery and ad hominem insult.

  5. Dick Eagleson’s dismissal of Dan Callahan’ “opposing perspective” elicited a bit of negativity in me, so I thought I would click on the link and actually read it. I can’t say that I read it all – it’s rather long – and I can’t say whether I agree with much of it or not. But it did remind me of so much about education that I either do not know or do not understand.

    Is being an admiral a good qualification for running a big city school system? I have no idea. Does having a doctorate in education prepare one for being a superintendent of any school system? I don’t know that either. I have long been a critic of schools of education. I think they have little knowledge of actual teaching and learning. Rather they have an ideology – call it progressivism for want of a more definitive term – and I think that ideology has done little good and much harm. But it has also been pointed out, and makes a lot of sense to me, that running a school system is not an educational job. It is a political job. An administrator, perhaps with a few exceptions, is not an educational leader, should not be expected to be, should not pretend to be, and is not prepared to be. Running a school system, big or little, is political job in that it requires dealing with power, with working out trade offs among competing interests. It also, I presume, is a management job because there are lots of logistics to manage. So why not an admiral?

    Perhaps in the ed school curriculum for school administrators, among the educational fluff, there is also some real training in the nitty gritty of school management. I don’t know. Is real training in the nitty gritty of related management in the admiral’s background? I would think probably so. But apparently it wasn’t sufficient. He failed.

    A school administrator certainly is a “community organizer” to at least some extent. But where does that lead?

    Is social promotion a good thing or a bad thing? I’m not sure. I would certainly think it would be bad, very bad, if adopted as mandatory policy on a school level. But I suspect it can be a good thing in some individual situations. Are politicians routinely given social promotion, meaning given advancement for which they are not qualified? Of course. Well, in the opposition party, that gang of rascals that ought to be thrown out, they are. In your own party, the party of enlightenment and all good things, advancement always comes by merit. Everyone knows that.

    Is it true that the Democrats are getting tough on education? I don’t know. If so, is it a good thing? I don’t know. Do Democrats have a coherent and sensible plan for education? I don’t know but I’m skeptical. Do Republicans? Probably not, but that just might beat whatever the Democrats have in mind.

    Is American education broken, and in need of fixing? I don’t know, but I don’t think so. I don’t think the “broken” perspective serves us well. When a machine is broken we expect to find a definitive cause of the malfunction and a definitive cure. I can’t see that as applying to education at all. Education can certainly be made better, as anything can be made better. But where will this improvement come from? I do not think the answer to that is obvious.


  1. […] more data on the Secretary of Education-Designate and finds him lacking. As always. Joanne Jacobs hopes Duncan will actually live up to expectations from the school reform […]