Let the infighting begin

Democrats don’t agree on school reform, writes RiShawn Biddle in his analysis of the mid-term elections. Republican infighting has just begun.

The fact that so many Democrats lost despite the $24 million spent by both unions on their behalf in the last week (and $40 million by the NEA alone this year) is one more sign that the NEA and AFT are no longer useful to the party. That President Obama’s school reform agenda remains the only popular aspect of an overall agenda that has been largely rejected by voters this year — along with the fact that reform-oriented candidates such as Joe Manchin and Chris Coons have won their respective races — also means that the two unions will have fewer supporters inside the party ranks.

Centrist and progressive Democrat school reformers see education as a civil rights issue, which makes improving teacher quality a civil rights issue. “But the NEA and the AFT are the biggest obstacles to the much-needed overhauls in teacher recruitment, training and compensation that are critical to the school reform agenda,” Biddle writes.

Republicans are split too. Rep. John Kline, the likely chair of the House Education and Labor Committee, opposes No Child Left Behind’s accountability provisions. In a statement, he called for local control.

Expect a clash within the congressional Republican camp as reform-minded conservatives of the standards-and-accountability bent (including soon-to-be speaker John Boehner, who helped usher in No Child when he was education committee chairman) battle over policy with the Kline camp (who represent suburban districts that have long-opposed reform efforts) and movement conservatives with small government leanings and a desire to dial back federal policy in all areas.

Boehner is a politically savvy education reformer, writes Andrew Rotherham in Time. But he won’t rule by fiat.

. . . many of Tuesday’s winners are coming to Washington set on cutting federal spending, which means that unlike in the past, big infusions of cash will not be available to help grease the wheels for political deals around education reform.

Don’t expect any big education bills, Rotherham writes. The Education Department doesn’t know how to work with Congress and the two parties are divided internally on education policy.

Guest-blogging on Rick Hess Straight Up, Andrew Kelly, an American Enterprise Institute research fellow, analyzes the state results. Ohio and Florida, recent Race to the Top winners, elected governors who could revamp state education policies and end union “buy-in,” Kelly writes.

In Oklahoma, 81 percent of voters rejected a proposition that would have required the state to maintain per-pupil funding levels comparable to the five neighboring states. Republican Janet Barresi, founder of two successful charter schools, was elected state superintendent. She promises to expand parental choice, including homeschooling.


What now for education?

Obama’s education plans fit the new Congress, which will take a more humble approach to federal policy, predicts Chad Aldeman on The Quick and the Ed.

Obama’s Blueprint for ESEA Reauthorization admits the federal government can’t make states fix all the schools — one in three — that haven’t made  Adequate Yearly Progress under No Child Left Behind, Aldeman writes.

Instead, the Obama Blueprint asks states to really focus on repairing a smaller, more manageable number of persistently low-performing schools identified by the states themselves.

The Obama Blueprint asks for greater transparency around teacher and principal effectiveness, requires states to measure the effectiveness of teacher preparation programs, and would compel states to publicly report data on college enrollment and remediation rates by high school. None of these new data elements are paired with any stronger accountability than a “plan” to address any inequities that are revealed.

States can join the Common Core Standards Initiative or “upgrade their existing standards, working with their 4-year public university system to certify that mastery of the standards ensures that a student will not need to take remedial coursework upon admission to a postsecondary institution in the system.”

. . . the anti-testing crowd won’t like that none of the testing requirements would be repealed, civil rights groups may not like a lesser focus on important sub-groups of students in schools deemed OK overall, and the teachers unions may not like the new teacher effectiveness or public transparency elements – but all in all it holds up remarkably well for the changing political landscape.

If the Republicans were telling the truth with that Pledge to America, there will be less discretionary spending and therefore less money to buy reforms.

The National Education Association, which put $40 million into the elections, saw some allies defeated, notes Politics K-12.

. . . the NEA and other education groups, including the American Association of School Administrators and the National School Boards Association, are hoping the Department of Education provides regulatory relief from what they see as the most onerous parts of the NCLB law, possibly including the “all-or-nothing consequences” of not meeting achievement targets, which don’t differentiate between whether a school misses the mark for one subgroup of students (such as English-language learners) or all its students.

The red tide carried many GOP governors and state superintendents into office, State EdWatch reports. But not in California — now a national refuge for Democrats — where the union-backed candidate, Tom Torlakson, beat Larry Aceves, a retired superintendent.

For more on education and the elections, see National Journal.