Hours after the November election talking heads began musing: why did the Democratic voters abandon the party? A large chunk of the Democratic voters are teachers, the heart and core of the party and living in each and every congressional district. The Duncan-Obama policies have angered and alienated teachers for years; however, a Democratic strategist told me, “Where are teachers going to go? Not the Republicans.” He was wrong, they had someplace else to go, they could stay home.
The progressive wing of the Democratic Party leads the education reform movement; Arne Duncan became the archangel, the spear carrier of the federal assault on public schools, parents and teachers. Annual high-stakes testing, punitive teacher evaluation and Duncan’s cheering the Vergara decision to strip teachers of tenure, all from the Obama administration playbook.
2014 was a Democratic disaster, record low turnouts and teachers staying home or voting for a third party.
Across the nation there is a cyber-revolution, blogs and tweets and Facebook pages reach millions of readers, teachers and public school parents. Long Island Opt Out (See Facebook page) has over 20,000 members, the Network for Public Education (NPE) has over two hundred bloggers who spin out post after post and tweet after tweet. What is so fascinating is this cyber-revolution was not organized by teacher unions; it is truly a grassroots movement, blog by blog, tweet by tweet.
Education moved from the back burner to become the darling of the progressives and the reaction, the pushback, has grown from an annoyance to a tsunami.
Millions of angry teachers and parents, locally organized on cyber platforms: where will they go in 2016?
Suddenly the long simmering reauthorization of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) has major political implications.
Should the Republicans pass a bill that the president can sign, or, craft a bill that he is likely to veto?
Should the Democrats support Republican bills or urge the president to veto a bill that erodes key sections of NCLB?
… eventually Republicans will have to decide whether they can come to an agreement with the White House.
Alternatively, they could pass a hardline conservative rewrite of NCLB and reap the political points as the 2016 elections move into full swing.
That’s the most likely outcome, the president vetoes a long-awaited rewrite of NCLB, “and Republicans have a bill that they could run on.”
A little history:
As criticism of NCLB continued to grow in September 2011 the Republicans rolled out a plan to reframe NCLB,
The accountability bill would instruct states to establish college-career standards, without telling them what that entails. It would continue to require annual assessments in reading and math in grades three through eight, and once in high school, as well as in science, and it would maintain disaggregation reporting requirements. States would be required to maintain a uniform system of accountability, which could incorporate growth rates or graduation rates or other measures, and to identify at least the lowest performing 5 percent of Title I schools. The law would require states to use one of six turnaround models for those schools (a modified version of the four current models, a rural model which offered leeway, and one that states could devise with an okay from ED)
The proposal consolidates based on fiscal year 2011 spending levels, collapsing 59 programs into two pots and give states and districts near-total leeway in spending those funds.
The Democrats for Education Reform (DFER), the leaders of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party and strong cheerleaders for Obama-Duncan policies lambasted the Republican proposals which died in the Senate without White House support.
The Obama victory in 2012 moved the parties further away from a bipartisan NCLB bill; a Democratic bill in the Senate, Republican bills in the House, and, the administration taking the waiver route, granting state-by-state waivers allowing Duncan to bypass Congress.
Monte Hall, the leader of Fairtest, bemoans the approaches of both parties,
Both houses of Congress are starting to take another crack at rewriting the flawed No Child Left Behind law through the long-overdue reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. However, the Democratic bill … and likely bills from House Republicans will be so different that chances of final passage approach zero.
With the 2014 midterms out of the way and the Republicans in firm control of both houses, the incoming chair of the Senate Education Committee Lamar Alexander is aggressively crafting a bill and hoping to gain the support of now ranking member, Democrat Patty Murray.
A week after the November midterms Alexander responded in an interview,
What’s your first priority?
Our first priority is to fix No Child Left Behind. The Republican proposal to fix NCLB would give states the option — not mandate — to take federal dollars and let those dollars follow children to the schools they attend. We want to expand choice, but my view is that the federal government shouldn’t mandate it. … Republicans would [also] transfer back to states the responsibility for deciding whether schools are succeeding or failing. Tennessee, Texas or New York would decide what the academic standards would be, what the curriculum would be, what to do about failing schools and how to evaluate teachers.
Do you support the Common Core State Standards?
I support giving states the right to decide whether to [adopt] the Common Core or not.
Civil rights organizations are already campaigning against any changes in NCLB that will eliminate the disaggregation of scores and will rigorously oppose the rolling together of the almost sixty separate titles within NCLB; proposals that give states wide discretion for the expenditure of federal funds at the state and local level.
Part of the difficulty in rewriting the law is that the most hated parts of the bill are deeply intertwined with its heralded civil rights provisions: The testing requirements, for example, allowed the government for the first time to spotlight the achievement gaps between white students from higher-income families and their peers when those test results were broken down by race and socioeconomic status. NCLB put a public spotlight on schools and districts that were falling flat when it comes to helping disadvantaged students — and pressed them to improve when no one else would.
For the most vocal critics of NCLB the testing requirements and teacher evaluation based on student tests scores are the most toxic elements of the law.
[Alexander] and [House Ed Committee chair] Kline have said they’re open to scaling back annual testing, though some suspect they’re capitalizing on the chance to grab hold of an issue they can use as a bargaining chip down the line.
Anti-testing advocates say tests cut into instructional time, forcing teachers to teach only tested content and taking creativity out of learning for students. They see a number of solutions: Students could be tested every other year or a handful of times throughout their school careers, or a sample of students could be tested rather than an entire class.
Congress is back, and in the Senate the Education Committee will move quickly to craft a bill, perhaps as early as February.
The House is more complicated, while the Republicans hold an overwhelming majority, the largest since the post WW 2 majorities, the Republicans are divided. Two dozen Republican members voted against Speaker Boehner and will support bills that oppose the Common Core, oppose testing and support dramatic cuts in education funding, for some the only “acceptable” bill is one that dismantles the US Department of Education. A Tea Party influenced bill would mean enormous cuts to the poorest schools and school districts in the nation.
In spite of Republican majorities in both houses the bills coming out of the House and the Senate will differ, and, probably differ substantially. The conference committee will have to combine the bills, which leads us to the 2016 presidential strategizing.
Six years into his remaking of the education system across the nation Duncan will fight as hard as he can to fend off any attempts to erode his policies. Democratic campaign planners are mulling the options, allow the Republican bill to pass, and claim credit for stark changes in NCLB, or assuaging the civil right advocates, the minority voters and the progressive wing of the party and urge a presidential veto. Perhaps the Democratic game plan should be to remove the issue from the table and urge the president to sign the bill and move on.
Senator Lamar Alexander has been deeply involved in the education for decades and clearly sees the reauthorization of NCLB as capping his illustrious career.
Gary Herbert, the Utah Governor was a guest on C-SPAN this morning, the callers asked education question after education question. Herbert, a Republican is also Vice Chair of the National Governors Association. Herbert is not necessarily a supporter of the Common Core; he is a supporter of high standards that are developed at the state level; his answer to every education question centered on federalism, the “partnership” between Washington and the states and the expansion of federal powers at the expense of states.
I believe it is likely that the final bill will ease the annual testing requirements and push many of the accountability measures to the state level, as well as consolidating the many titles and grant states wider discretion in the expenditure of fed dollars. Unfortunately the bill will probably reduce fed funding and may change the allocation formula.
You may say, why is everything politics, why can’t the Congress do what is “best for children”? How do you define “what is best for children”? And, from the 1789 Congress to the current 214th Congress it is always about politics.
Parents and teachers will not go away, if the feds push greater authority to the states the blogs and tweets will simply concentrate on the local legislators. Politics has changed, and I believe, for the better.