Did Obama screw up Common Core?

Did Obama Screw Up Common Core? asks Fawn Johnson on National Journal.  That is, did the Obama administration turn the Core into a political hot potato by using Race to the Top money to push states to adopt the new standards?

Short answer: Yes.

Some Republican politicians are trying to persuade conservatives to support the Core, Johnson writes. But Democratic support is soft — or nonexistent, especially as Core-aligned tests kick in.

Core critics win big

Common Core’s critics were big winners on Tuesday, notes Reason.  Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Florida Gov. Rick Scott, both critical of the new standards, defeated Mary Burke and Charlie Crist, Common Core supporters.

The Senate is brimming with potential Republican presidential contenders who all oppose Common Core, including Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, and Marco Rubio. Some of them have signed on to a bill that would instruct the federal government to stop pushing states to stick with the standards. And Sen. Lamar Alexander, who will head the Senate Education Committee now that Republicans have the majority, supports that effort.

Arizona, Georgia and South Carolina elected state superintendents who ran on anti-Core platforms, reports the Daily Signal.

Republican gains in state legislatures also means more support for school choice, predicts the Daily Signal.

“In Illinois, school choice also was a major plank in the platform of Bruce Rauner, the Republican who upset Pat Quinn in the state’s gubernatorial race. Rauner is interested in establishing innovative education savings accounts.”

Winners are talking about expanding school choice, writes Matthew Ladner on Jay Greene’s blog.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker wants to offer school vouchers in more districts and provide choice to children with disabilities. Arizona Governor-elect Doug Ducey stated in his victory speech, “Schools and choices open to some parents should be open to all parents.”

Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s victory margin may have come from “parents of the near 100,000 children participating in Florida’s private choice programs,” writes Ladner.

Republicans control both chambers of the legislature and the governor’s office in 24 states compared to 6 for the Democrats, reports the Washington Post.

Are teachers conservative by nature?

If Republicans showed respect for teachers, they’d discover people with “conservative values” who might enter the “big tent” writes Colleen Hyland, a New York teacher, in The Weekly Standard.  by nature.

Conservative values go hand in hand with teaching. Teachers see the evidence every day that stable families produce well-adjusted kids who succeed in the classroom. Many teachers are people of faith. Most of us are proud Americans who say the pledge every day with our students and mean it. We teach kids how to show respect and use proper manners by modeling them ourselves. We stress personal accountability.

Teachers are receptive to the idea of limited government and local control, Hyland writes. “Layer upon layer of government bureaucracy” forces teachers to  “spend too much of their day with redundant paperwork, wrestling with standards that are overly complex and often contradictory.”

Get the Department of Education off our backs. . . . Speak about deregulating our classrooms and we are all ears.

Of course Republicans would have to “talk about teachers as if you actually like them,” Hyland writes. Treat them with respect.

Whether it’s coming from administrators or politicians, teachers resent -top-down demands that belittle their expertise and ignore their experience. Give teachers credit for what we do as professionals. We are facing a collapsing American culture that is at odds with education in general. It is that same collapsing culture that unites conservatives in support of traditional -values. Despite voting consistently for liberal candidates who actively court their votes, most teachers I know lead fairly traditional lives that respect faith, family, country, and community.

While some teachers are “entrenched liberals,” others feel “the only respect they receive comes from the Democratic party,” Hyland writes. “They would welcome an invitation into the big tent of the GOP.”

Does she have a point?


Dems, Republicans have switched on vouchers

“The Republicans’ talk about giving parents the right to choose is a politically expedient strategy,” writes Jack Jennings, founder of the Center on Education Policy,  in the Huffington Post. “Just beneath the surface of the education rhetoric are political motivations to thwart integration, weaken the Democratic coalition, and cripple the teachers’ unions.”

Know your history, responds Doug Tuthill on redefinED. Both Democrats and Republicans have switched on private school choice over the years.

Democrats George McGovern and Hubert Humphrey both ran for president on platforms supporting tuition tax credits for private schools, and Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, D-N.Y., was the U.S. Senate’s leading advocate for giving parents public funding to attend private schools. The Democratic Party reversed its support of public funding for private school choice in the late 1970s – as a political payback to the National Education Association for giving Jimmy Carter its first ever presidential endorsement.

Via Greg Forster.

This is’t a right-left issue: Black Democrats in big cities often support vouchers, while suburban Republicans do not.

Teacher assigns ‘oppo’ research for Obama

Eighth graders at a Virginia public school were told to research the weaknesses of Republican presidential candidates, write a paper on how to exploit the weaknesses and identify who to send the paper to in the Obama campaign.

“This assignment was just creepy beyond belief — like something out of East Germany during the Cold War,” one frustrated father, who asked for his family to remain anonymous, told The Daily Caller.

Michael Denman divided his honors civics class into four groups, all assigned to do “oppo” research on Republicans. After parents complained, the principal told the teacher he should have let students research a candidate from either party, a Fairfax County Public Schools spokesman said.


Allegedly, the teacher never told students to send their research to the Obama campaign, but why assign two students in each group to figure out the name of the right “oppo” person?


2011 is ‘year of school choice’

Republican electoral gains have made 2011 The Year of School Choice, writes the Wall Street Journal.

No fewer than 13 states have enacted school choice legislation in 2011, and 28 states have legislation pending. Last month alone, Louisiana enhanced its state income tax break for private school tuition; Ohio tripled the number of students eligible for school vouchers; and North Carolina passed a law letting parents of students with special needs claim a tax credit for expenses related to private school tuition and other educational services.

Wisconsin removed the cap of 22,500 on the number of kids who can participate in Milwaukee’s Parental Choice Program, the nation’s oldest voucher program, and expanded school choice in Racine County.

Even more significant, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels signed legislation that removes the charter cap, allows all universities to be charter authorizers, and creates a voucher program that enables about half the state’s students to attend public or private schools.

Florida, Georgia and Oklahoma have created or expanded tuition tax credit programs. North Carolina and Tennessee eliminated caps on the number of charter schools. Maine passed its first charter law. Colorado created a voucher program in Douglas County that will provide scholarships for private schools. In Utah, lawmakers passed the Statewide Online Education Program, which allows high school students to access course work on the Internet from public or private schools anywhere in the state.

Pushed by House Speaker John Boehner, Congress revived the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, a voucher program for low-income students.

Choice doesn’t guarantee excellent schools, the Journal concedes. But it drives reform by eroding “the union-dominated monopoly that assigns children to schools based on where they live.”

I’ll be very interested to see what happens in Indiana.

Obama: 4% more for K-12 education

The Obama administration is proposing to spend 4 percent more on education, excluding Pell Grants, in fiscal 2012, reports Ed Week. That includes small boosts to Title I grants for disadvantaged students, special education funding and School Improvement (to be renamed School Turnaround) Grants.

And, as part of its proposal for revising the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (aka the No Child Left Behind Act), the administration is asking for $300 million for a program called Title I rewards, to help give a pat on the back to schools that are making progress in boosting student achievement.

Race to the Top will be directed at districts, not states. And Obama proposes to create an education R&D institute like the Defense Department’s DARPA.

Counting Pell Grants, which go to low-income college students, K-12 and higher education spending would go up by 22 percent.

It’s about the 2012 election, not the kids, grumps Mike Petrilli.

House Republicans want to cut education spending, reports Politics K-12.

The measure, which would continue federal funding for rest of the fiscal year, takes aim at some programs that were previously considered untouchable, including special education spending and Pell Grants to help low-and-moderate income students pay for college. Overall it would cut $4.9 billion from the U.S. Department of Education’s fiscal year 2010 budget of $63.7 billion.

Curriculum Matters lists the Republicans’ proposed cuts in adolescent literacy, math and science education, teaching U.S. history and more.

Back to local control?

As the party of local control, Republicans should reject the federalization of education policy, writes Diane Ravitch in the Wall Street Journal. An education historian, Ravitch now opposes Race to the Top and No Child Left Behind.

Ravitch is half right, responds Checker Finn on Education Gadfly.

She pinpoints genuine shortcomings in NCLB and failings in a number of other federal education programs, and correctly observes that many of the school-reform efforts and innovations of recent years have not yielded the desired achievement gains.

But local control isn’t the solution, argues Finn.

The weak and generally stagnant academic performance of most American school kids, our scandalous achievement gaps, the country’s sagging performance vis-à-vis other countries, the skimpy preparation of many teachers and principals, the shoddy curricula, the fat and junky textbooks, the innovation-shackling union contracts, the large expenditures with meager returns — these are not the result of an overweening federal government. They are, in fact, almost entirely the product of state and local control of public education — as it has traditionally been defined and structured in the United States. They are the product of failed governance, bureaucratic mismanagement, and the capture of the K-12 system by powerful organizations of adults who assign lower priority to kids’ needs than to their own interests. They are maladies caused by, and worsened under, the aegis of the very system that Diane trusts to cure them.

Finn wants to vest control in individual schools that “control their own personnel, budgets, schedules, and curricula,” and in parents “free to choose among — and fully-informed about—a wide array of quality schools (and other education delivery systems, including virtual education).”

In his vision:

Washington supplies additional funds to underwrite the education of disadvantaged and special-needs kids, it pays for innovation through competitive-grant programs, it conducts research and supplies a wealth of assessment and other data, and it safeguards individuals from violations of their civil rights. That’s about it.

Every school an independently run charter? I’m not sure that’s doable.

By the way, in an earlier post, a commenter alleged that Ravitch changed sides in the education debate out of pique because her “life partner” had been denied a job by Joel Klein, when he was chancellor of New York City schools.  I think this is untrue and unfair. People who disagree with Ravitch’s current views don’t question her integrity or sincerity, nor do they gossip — at least not when I’m around — about her personal life.

Local control: Is there a deal?

Republican John Kline, the likely chair of the House Education and Labor Committee, wants to restore “local control” of education. Education Secretary Arne Duncan wants to push reform through Race to the Top grants. But both Republicans and Democrats want to modify No Child Left Behind, officially the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). In its current version, 100 percent of students must reach “proficiency”  by 2014 or their schools will be considered failures. National Journal asks: Is there room for a deal?

Conservatives have tough decisions to make, write Sandy Kress.

Are we for local control so much that we support encrusted, top-heavy, expensive local bureaucracy? Are we for local control so much that we support union and bureaucracy-based decisions that prevent meaningful parental choice? Are we for local control so much that we support decisions in many districts that foster waste and ineffective spending?

Really the only “intrusion” from NCLB is to say that for all the federal dollars schools and districts receive they must be held accountable (by the locals!) for closing the achievement gap for poor kids and kids of color. The sad part of this “intrusion” is that it permits this accountability to be so much on local terms it can be to low standards.

So, is taking away even that pressure what is meant by “relief” and allowing the locals “to make their own decisions?”

Secretary Duncan’s reforms don’t have a proven record of helping vulnerable students, writes Kevin Welner, a University of Colorado education professor.  “So it just looks like Washington arbitrarily telling local communities how to run their schools.”

Expect a NCLB patch in 2011 — not a full-scale reauthorization — to avoid labeling most schools as failures, predicts Rick Hess. His long-term bet: “A bipartisan measure which renders NCLB toothless — either by making its remedy provisions voluntary or otherwise declawing AYP — will pass sometime in 2012.”

School groups are pushing for “regulatory relief,” reports Ed Week. But some think regulatory fixes “could slow the momentum for a comprehensive, bipartisan reauthorization of the ESEA.”

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.