Obama, the education president

Obama’s Education Record includes some success stories — and soft spots, write Mike Petrilli and Tyson Eberhardt in Education Next.

His Race to the Top (RttT) initiative catalyzed a chain reaction of legislative action at the state level, securing key reforms on issues ranging from charter schools to teacher evaluations to rigorous standards. His stimulus and “edujobs” bills seemed to maintain a critical level of investment in the public schools during a time of difficult budget cuts and financial strain. His administrative action to provide flexibility on No Child Left Behind’s most onerous provisions bypassed a paralyzed Congress and partially fulfilled his campaign promise to lift the law’s yoke off the backs of decent but maligned schools. . . .

. . . both the Common Core State Standards effort and the move toward rigorous teacher evaluations could lead to dramatic increases in student achievement, if implemented faithfully by states and school districts. Neither of these reforms would have been adopted so quickly, in so many places, were it not for the president’s leadership.

But the stimulus wasted a lot of money, they write. Race to the Top states have back-pedaled on reforms.

And Washington keeps tightening the screws on the states, while promising flexibility. Race to the Top required states to “develop plans that complied with federal guidelines set forth in excruciating detail.”  No Child Left Behind waivers required more hoop jumping. Now the Education Department has declared that “a disproportionate percentage of white students in Advanced Placement (AP) classes constitutes evidence of racial discrimination.”

“Obama and Duncan have been good on education reform” compared to their Democratic predecessors, write Petrilli and Eberhardt.  But “the administration deserves to be pressed on the cost-effectiveness of its education system bailouts, on the results of its Race to the Top initiative, and on the wisdom of its approach to federalism and separation of powers.”

 

Flexibility? Not so much

Despite promises of flexibility on No Child Left Behind, the Education Department is micromanaging waivers, writes Mike Petrilli on Flypaper.

He cites Education Department letters to the states reported by AP, which show federal nitpicking.  Even “Massachusetts —the first-place finisher in the Race to the Top, the state with the highest achievement in the land, the one that has seen dramatic gains across all subgroups of students, a strong supporter (for better or worse) of the Common Core standards” gets no respect from the feds.

Petrilli predicts most of the 11 waiver-seeking states will be approved.

Upon closer inspection, observers will notice that the amount of flexibility granted on accountability is tiny. Approved plans will amount to minor changes away from the AYP system we’ve got today.

The number of states planning to apply for waivers by February 21 will drop precipitously, as they realize that it’s just not worth the effort.

This will raise congressional enthusiasm for rewriting No Child Left Behind, but “nothing will come of it this year.”