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 the anti-testing crowd won’t like that none of the testing requirements would be repealed, civil rights groups may not like a lesser focus on important sub-groups of students in schools deemed OK overall, and the teachers unions may not like the new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.

Education reform after the election

If Republicans gain control of the House and/or the Senate, what will it mean for education policy? Support for education reform doesn’t break on party lines, argue several education experts on National Journal. Obama might do better with Republicans than with Democrats — on this issue.

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.