If GOP wins, ed reform could lose

What happens to education reform, if the Republicans win control of one or both houses of Congress? The House GOP’s Pledge to America doesn’t even mention education, observe Checker Finn and Mike Petrilli on Flypaper and Gadfly. To the extent there is a national Republican policy, it favors local control and state’s rights.

In an Education Week interview, Rep. John Kline of Minnesota, who’d likely chair the education committee in a Republican House, opposed extending Race to the Top because the states don’t get to decide their own policy. Kline also said he’s watching the Common Core State Standards “very closely,” warning that if the feds get involved in “putting in a de facto national curriculum,” his “caucus will rebel.”

If the Republicans “reflexively revert to weary old themes” of state’s rights, local control and parental choice, the opportunity to reform education will be lost, Petrilli writes.

States’ rights in education today mean weak standards, shaky accountability, ed school monopolies in preparing teachers and principals, limited (and resource-starved) school choices, meaningless certification and regulation requirements, and scant freedom for those running schools to ensure that they’ll be effective.

Sure, some states are honorable (partial) exceptions to this glum litany but—honestly—not many. Without cajoling, bribing, nudging, and scolding from Washington, we suspect there would be fewer, not more. The fact is that state legislatures are where the traditional public-school establishment wields the most power and is best able — often working behind the scenes — to keep anything much from changing. (In Colorado, most of the Democratic members of the state House education committee are former teachers—and current union members.)

“The old GOP education agenda isn’t what 21st America needs,” Petrilli writes.  Fordham backs “reform realism,”  which means “tight” controls on the results we want our schools to achieve but “loose” controls on how schools, districts, and states get there.

The Obama Administration’s blueprint for ESEA reauthorization isn’t a bad summation of “reform realism” in action, and Republicans should seize much of it. Trashing “adequate yearly progress,” devolving authority back to the states when it comes to “accountability,” and killing the “highly qualified teacher” provision are all in line with Kline and company’s instincts around state and local control—and well worth doing.

But the GOP should also embrace some of its reform aspects, too, like turning more formula grants into competitive ones and promoting tenure reform.

It’s possible victorious Republicans would team up with the administration on realistic reforms, Petrilli writes. But it’s just as likely the GOP will give up on education reform in the name of local control.

Update: On Cato @ Liberty, Neal McCluskey urges Republicans to “tell Uncle Sam to butt out” of education and give control to parents.

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  1. Reverting to the Constitution is not a tired old theme. It merely restores the “laboratory of democracy”, where each state is free to experiment with the reforms that will work given its population, situation, etc.

  2. Richard Nieporent says:

    Yes because Democrats, by slavishly supporting the Teacher Unions, have done so much for education reform.

  3. “it favors local control and state’s rights.”

    And this is bad in what way? I don’t see a problem with that.

  4. The Federal government does not need control over State-level or disttrict-level policy to improve the US K-PhD school system. The Federal government already exercises legitimate control over four K-12 school systems (the Washington, D.C. schools, the DOD schools, the BIA schools and the US Embassy schools), over four service academies, and a post-graduate institution. All the Federal government has to do to spur local reform is to require that these schools accept credit-by-exam, for a grade, for all courses required for graduation, to authorize private institutions like the Kumon Institute and the University of Phoenix to proctor exams for a fee, and to mandate that the Federal government accept certificates earned through this process in all hiring and promotion decisions.

    Let competition between the Kumon Institute and the University of Phoenix drive the cost of a high school diploma or a college degree down to the cost of books and grading exams.

  5. “And this is bad in what way? I don’t see a problem with that.”
    It’s bad if you’re a control freak like the people at Fordham.

  6. “The House GOP’s Pledge to America doesn’t even mention education”


  7. Bill Leonard says:

    The GOP’s position is “bad” only if you’re one of those leftist Democrats who believes a benevolent (hah!) federal government must micro-manage every aspect of the lives of its citizens.

  8. What educational reform has given us is uniform mediocrity (or worse). We need to return control to the local level. Yes, some schools will be worse than others. But we won’t have the same grinding, lockstep failure that is the characteristic of our public schools today.

    I’d say the GOP plan is a hopeful sign.

  9. Educational reform has given us is uniform mediocrity? Sorry, mediocrity’s built into the system and is only overcome locally and temporarily by sufficiently forceful and lucky individuals.

    I don’t think Malcolm’s prescription would work much of a systemic change even if it is a good idea. The public education system’s a distributed system and so it’s inherently resilient. That doesn’t mean it’s invulnerable just that a systemic change is needed.

    That systemic change is in the process of happening and it would happen faster if the Republican’s woke up with a start and discovered a new, national issue. But I fear they won’t.

    Still. there’s the prospect of some entertainment on the other side of the aisle as the Democrats start to tear themselves apart over the education issue. Maybe then the Repubs will notice but I doubt it.

  10. Wow, that’s the best news I’ve heard in a while. How about letting NCLB lapse?

  11. Bill Leonard is speaking of mythical creatures again.

  12. Allen,
    “The system” is an employment program for publioc sector workers. Credit-by-exam destroys that racket. Credit-by-exam is a universal acid to all forms of credentialism.

    If it is fraud for a mechanic to charge for the repair of a functional motor and if it is fraud for a physician to charge for the treatment of a healthy patient then it is fraud for a teacher, school, or school district to charge for the instruction of a student who does not need our help.

  13. I’m truly curious. Has federal involvement made education throughout the nation appreciably better? If so, how has it done so? Has the money that has been spent on the Department of Education since it was founded been worth what it has paid for, as far as improving student performance goes? Which countries that have adopted national standards have seen notable improvements in student performance throughout their nation? I’m a skeptic in these matters, and see most involvment in education by the federal government as something not mandated by the Constitution, but I’d like to see the arguments and evidence that would make me less so.

  14. Malcolm, while you’re theoretically correct you’ve also just shifted the problem of the essentially political nature of the public education system to the federal level. You really think that credit-by-exam scheme won’t become a political football if it undercuts the state-based public education system?

    That’s the beef with federal education standards and a strong enough case can be made for their inevitable politicization that some formerly strong proponents are starting to back off on support for federal standards.

    As long as the constituency that depends on the current state of affairs in public education, primarily the unions, maintain their political power they’ll seek to undercut any reforms that threaten that status quo. Your scheme is such a threat and those threatened by it have both the power and the inclination to blunt the threat or make sure it never sees the light of day.


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