Wednesday, August 06, 2014

The Coming Presidential Election: Public Education and the GOP

It is becoming very clear that both Democrats and Republicans are going to have public education as a major talking point in the 2016 Presidential election.  This is good and bad.  Good because those voters who are paying attention will be able to clearly see who values what and, hopefully, why.

It's bad because it may fracture one or both parties. It may make or break candidates (see Chris Christie who is his own worst enemy).  

Both parties embrace "ed reform," just not in the same ways.  Interestingly, they both embrace new pre-school efforts, both at the federal and state levels.  

First up, the Republicans. 

Republicans seemingly don't know what to do with themselves.  There is furious backpedaling all over the place (see Governor Fallin in Oklahoma who was for but now against Common Core).  The conservatives have two major problems.

1) the Tea Party.  Like that mosquito in the night that just buzzes in your ear, the Tea Party is able to be loud and proud AND get attention.  (They don't seem to be able to win elections, though.)  But as we all know, the Internet allows a broader conversation even if you don't like all that is being said.

The Tea Party does not like Common Core for a variety of reasons.  That puts them plunk up against the mighty Jeb Bush who is something of a warhorse for education reform.  (Note: the next Bush in the White House - if there is one - will not be Jeb. It will be his son - wait for it - George the III.  Good-looking, part Hispanic, bilingual and smart.  You heard it here first.)

2) Common Core got rushed.  So there's a two-fold problem.  One, many conservative legislatures - heck, many legislatures took someone else's word for Common Core and stamped it, "approved."  Too late, they realized that it felt like federalism, that it was going to cost big bucks (and where are those coming from) and that the student data privacy issues would be huge (more government in their lives).

Many Republican candidates who were for Common Core suddenly got the news from Fox that no, Common Core is the big bad federal government coming into your state and telling YOU what your children will learn.

So many prominent Republicans, your Mark Rubio or Ted Cruz, listened to The Clash's "Should I Stay or Should I Go?" and voted with their feet.  Go it is.

Then, you have the mighty spenders of the Republican party who are people like the uber-Libertarian Koch brothers.  They are probably the most dangerous group in the mix so whoever they invest it as a candidate, that person would worry me.

Over at Education Next ( a conservative education site), Andy Smarick is embarking on a quest to figure out how ed reform works for conservatives.

But try as I might to blame others, I knew I was questioning myself, too. How could I be disposed to preserve venerable institutions and yet favor dramatic K–12 change? Why was I so supportive of rigorous standards and yet so uncomfortable with how Common Core came to pass?

After months of frustration, I finally put my finger on the essence of the problem: there is no conservatism in today’s education reform.

At its heart, conservatism is about humility. It holds that there is great value in the traditional. Old things have stood the test of time. They’ve proven their worth and grown robust by changing gradually, adapting to new conditions, and adopting new lessons.

As a consequence, such things have deep roots; they help stabilize, and they are intertwined. Fool with one, and the ripples are felt throughout. Tinkering has sprawling unintended consequences.

What's interesting is how his piece very neatly cross-references with his more liberal piece, "Can bad schools be good for neighborhoods?" from 2013  about why we might reconsider closing near-failing schools especially in urban areas. 

Might there be compelling civic or social reasons for keeping open persistently failing or unsafe inner-city schools? (To which I would add, "And wouldn't it make sense to talk to parents/community about why, if their school is performing so poorly, they would want to keep it open?)

Indeed, I’ve argued in many places that the closure of excellent inner-city Catholic schools is terrible for such communities. I’ve made the case that high-performing, high-poverty schools can provide safety, stability, and hope to at-risk kids and their families and that these features have immeasurable value in distressed neighborhoods beset by myriad challenges.

Maybe all urban public schools—perhaps even all schools—deserve a greater degree of deference because of characteristics associated with their “local-ness.”
  • For example, the school could be the major employer of adults in the area.
  • Even if educationally dysfunctional, the school likely has its share of caring, educated adults who serve as role models and mentors for needy children.
  • The school may serve as the community hub for social services or civic activities.
  • Maybe its athletic teams still serve as a source of community pride.
To be sure, there are enormous differences between these examples and thoughtful, surgical school-closure strategies. Unlike quiet wetlands, failing, dangerous schools do real harm and, if their students move into higher-performing and safer schools, their replacements bear no resemblance to Cabrini-Green.

My point is merely that those pursuing school-closure strategies should be mindful that every school, even the lowest-performing, is woven into the fabric of its neighborhood—and tugging on that thread affects the entire cloth.

Mr. Smarick, along with another conservative education writer, Rick Hess, does seem to be a lone voice, calling into the wind.  Mr. Hess has this to say:

I’ve been struck of late by how would-be reformers have been reacting when things go awry. After all, even some of those bullish on Race to the Top have privately conceded that maybe it didn’t turn out quite like they’d hoped. Champions of teacher evaluation are busy explaining, “Well, that’s not what we meant!” when hit with complaints, lawsuits, and concerns about the reliability and validity of some ill-conceived systems. Common Core advocates are busy explaining that the goofy homework questions and worksheets don’t accurately reflect their handiwork.

Those championing teacher evaluation, School Improvement Grants, or Common Core frequently sound as if they think no one could have anticipated or planned for the challenges that have emerged. To my ear, the disgruntlement tends to sound like that of a kid who leaves his new bike out unlocked, and then gets furious when it’s stolen. Of course, it’s unfair. But, you know what? He really should’ve known better. Advocates tend to blame their frustrations on other folks (bike thieves, Tea Party members, textbook publishers, principals, data analysts, et al.) getting in the way or screwing up. They rarely, if ever, acknowledge that their vision of how this would go down was perhaps colored by rose-tinted glasses or that their miscalculations may have aggravated the problems.

Reformers would do well to spend less time insisting “we’ve got this,” or that things will be okay if we embrace “good policy” or “smart implementation,” and more asking how to craft measures that are less susceptible to implementation problems. They’d do even better to ask whether some well-meaning ideas are best not pursued, at least in certain ways or at certain times, because the problems are likely to be so severe.

Booya!


Possible ed topics for GOP candidates:

- Teachers unions - They all hate them.  ( I don't use that word "hate" lightly; they truly hate unions.) They are the cause of most of the issues in public education.  The Vegera decision in California to get rid of teacher "tenure" (use of seniority) will only empower them to seek this everywhere.

- Teachers.  Love 'em ... except for the "bad" ones.  Rand Paul has a novel idea: pay the good ones like professional athletes.  With what money in what alternative universe.  Also, if they would clean their own classrooms (with the help of some F/RL kids - another great conservative idea), that would great.

- Charters.  Love 'em.  Yes, yes, we must have "accountability" but there's money for our friends to make, it weakens public school districts, and hey no unions.  What's not to love?  Jeb Bush is all over this one.

- Vouchers.  Call them vouchers or call them "scholarships," the push is on to get this into every state.  Again, weaken the public school system, allow parents "choice" (and the ability to make a bad choice like much of online education) and again, there's money to be made.  The new twist is to offer "scholarships" for specific needs like Special Ed and then later, expand the program for all students.  (I see varying numbers but it looks like there are 21 voucher programs in the U.S.)

- TFA.  I'm sure an ending supply of fresh-faced college grads as teachers to underprivileged urban students is just a neverending dream to conservatives.  Why pay for experience?  It's overrated.  (Plus you can hire them as "education experts" for your D.C. office after they finish their two years teaching.)

-Testing.  The real way to prove how our public education system is working.  Jeb Bush, while governor in Florida, led the way on pushing more standardized testing.  However, the group, FairTest, has near daily stories about parents/states saying no to more testing. The Washington Post, at The Answer Sheet, documents this pushback with a lengthy list of stories.  The problem for conservatives is without tests, how do we figure out who is an effective teacher?  (And Pearson needs the money so test on.)  From FairTest:

Anyone who still believes that the resistance to testing misuse and overuse is confined to a few big cities and “liberal” activists, should click through this week’s news clips. In fact, testing protests are spreading across “deep red” states” such as Alaska, Tennessee, Texas and Utah. And “conservative” commentators are speaking out against standardized exam overkill.

- School districts.  Well, only if the mayors of the major cities get to run them.  Jeb Bush said this, "Our governance model includes over 13,000 government-run monopolies run by unions."  Those "government-run monopolies?"  That's his term for school districts.

- Digital schools/online learning.  Love 'em.  Cheap and money to be made (and folks, that's the next big education scandal - the failure of these schools to teach and the money being made off of them).  Plus, didn't you ever hear of the Khan Academy?  They're all just like that.  Jeb Bush had this to say, "We can’t just outsource public education to bureaucracies and public education unions and hope for the best."  But he has no problem with "outsourcing" to online schools or charter schools.  He also compared school choice with the choices for milk in the supermarket.  Oh.

- Common Core.  The great divide.  I didn't know it but I found a website - Conservative Teachers of America - and they are not-so-high on Common Core and standardized testing.  I think nearly every Republican candidate out there has turned against Common Core but Jeb Bush.

On a (much) lighter note, I honestly think the Republican primaries, with their accompanying debates, are going to be a cause to invite your friends to watch the fun.  Because if you haven't seen Marco Rubio sweating, Jeb Bush being arrogant, Chris Christie being testy/arrogant, or Rick Perry in his "hey, don't these glasses make me look smarter" glasses, you've missed something.

Don't worry - there's just as much to say about the Democrats.

3 comments:

Charlie Mas said...

Voters like slogans that fit on a bumper-sticker. They don't like nuanced ideas.

Voters like to get services without paying for them.

Voters like simple, comic-book style narratives with good guys and villains.

Education Reform provides all of these. Real efforts to improve education provide none of them. Moreover, Education Reform makes money and can therefore spend money to further its goals, while real efforts to improve education cost money.

Until politicians are more interested in governing than they are in winning elections they will continue to align themselves with Education Reform instead of improving education. In addition, Education Reform pays the politicians to align.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Except that Common Core is failing in its efforts on both sides.

The "standards are good" is just not cutting it for both sides.

Anonymous said...

Cory Booker and one of the CO politicians - Polis, perhaps? - were drooling over charters recently. How wonderful, how many opportunities they opened up for kids, etc. It was disgusting.

CT