Why is Education is off the Table and Not Even in the Room?

During four debates and in billions of dollars in media ads the only time education was mentioned was at the end of the third presidential debate when both candidates blurted, “We love teachers.”

Why was education not only not on the table, it wasn’t even in the room?

The candidates differed on a range of policies, and seemed on a similar wave length on others and that may be the reason why education was pushed into a dark corner.

Romney posited a smaller role for the federal government: less funding (although he backed away in the 3rd debate), fewer federal programs, a much less intrusive federal role and fewer federal mandates. As a teacher less funding would be disastrous, less federal intrusion attractive.

Obama was charging ahead: washing away the state-federal barriers and linking federal dollars to a wide range of federal mandates: the Common Core, overbearing testing, teacher evaluation, charters and ESEA waivers, a mechanism to skirt the federal legislative process.

The Obama campaign left the differentiation between the candidates to the unions. Romney gave up on teachers and continued to pound away at teacher unions as evil incarnate. The AFT and the NEA, in spite of sharp differences with the Obama education strategies, vigorously campaigned for the president.

Teachers despise the emphasis on testing which pervades every classroom, every day. They are suspicious of the Common Core, see charter schools as undermining public schools and “creaming” more able students, fear value-added teacher evaluation plans, all programs strongly supported by Obama.

Were Romney’s education policies that different than the Obama policies?

The Obama strategists, realizing that it would be difficult to draw bright lines between educational policies probably chose to allow the unions to carry the ball among their members.

Early in the campaign it appeared that Romney would slash education funding, in the last debate, surprisingly, he backed away and took education cuts off the table, it was too late.

At the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). A panel of journalists and think tankers parsed the significance of the outcomes of the election.

Watch the podcast here  – the panelists are major commenters on education policy – worthwhile watching.

Interestingly Tony Bennett, the hard-charging education commissioner in Indiana, a red state, was defeated by a virtual unknown, and, Bennett outspent his rival many fold. In Indianapolis a very conservative pro-charter school, pro re(de)form group won control of the school board.

Why such widely divergent results in the same state?

A number of the panelists warned that a strange coalition is forming: tea partiers, public school parents and teachers, who for vastly different reasons fear/oppose the Common Core. The tea partiers saw Bennett as jumping on board too many of the Obama policies, parents objected to the  emphasis on high stakes testing and teachers see the Common Core as an overbearing intrusion into their classrooms. The panel agreed that additional federal dollars to drive the Common Core consortia will not be forthcoming and pointed to a few states dropping out.

Kristen Soltis Anderson from the Winston Group expressed the most prescient view: if you can convince teachers to buy-in to the Common Core and other initiatives parents and other skeptics will also accept the policies.

Arne Duncan at his October 2nd appearance at the National Press Club reached out to teachers and unions,

Teachers should not “be forced to teach to a test,” Duncan said. “Young people should not complete their education saddled with debt. But this is the reality in America today. To change these realities, we have to rise above the partisan politics — we have to set aside the tired debates pitting reformers against unions. We have to discard the ugly and divisive rhetoric of blame.”

On the ground, across the nation state departments of education are charging down the path to embed the Common Core by “measuring” student achievement, i.e., an enormously accelerated program of testing. Teachers generally agree with many of the new standards, for example, “ability to write argumentative, persuasive evidence based essays,” however they fume at the PARCC consortia plan to test kids.

  • Two summative,      required assessment components designed to:
    • Measure the       full range of standards and full performance continuum, and
    • Provide data       for accountability uses, including measures of growth.
  • Two      non-summative, optional assessment components designed to:
    • Generate timely       information for informing instruction, interventions, and professional       development during the school year.
  • A third      non-summative component in English language arts/literacy will assess      students’ speaking and listening skills

PARCC will also use technology throughout the design and implementation of the assessment system. The overall assessment system design will include a mix of constructed response items, performance-based tasks, and computer-enhanced, computer-scored items. The PARCC assessments will be administered via computer, and a combination of automated scoring and human scoring will be employed.

Parents and teachers and state legislators are increasingly disillusioned with federal policies that are both expensive mandates and imposed from the far away corridors of Washington.

That sound you hear may be Washington insiders slowly and quietly beginning to saw off the state limbs.

As Commissioner King takes the lead in carrying the Duncan banner he may find himself without dollars and without support.


One response to “Why is Education is off the Table and Not Even in the Room?

  1. Hmmm! Why do I get the impression that big,big bucks are behind all this?! Someone’s raking it in, while the kids are still not getting the better education they deserve. As they say, “Follow the money.”


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