March 16, 2009
The Gift of Rhetorical Cover

I've been beating the drum and I'll say it again: the rhetoric coming from the Obama Administration on the topic of education reform is a gift to those willing to use it:

Education Secretary Arne Duncan says schools must make drastic changes to get money from a special $5 billion fund in the economic stimulus bill.

"We're going to reward those states and those districts that are willing to challenge the status quo and get dramatically better," Duncan said Monday at the White House.

Those who keep doing the same old thing, however, won't be eligible for the money, he said.


Specifically, states are supposed to:

- Improve teacher quality and get good teachers into high-poverty schools;

- Set up sophisticated data systems to track student learning;

- Boost the quality of academic standards and tests;

- Intervene to help struggling schools.

Yes, the gap between Obama's campaign rhetoric and actual policies has been striking at times. It might be no different on education when policies themselves are actually implemented. Either way, those interested in pursing real education reform have been provided rhetorical cover and validation from a source that was not entirely expected.

That means you, Olympia Republicans, have a great opportunity to craft plans for the more serious K-12 policy debates bound to come in the 2010 session - including the WASL, graduation requirements, and the like. Such plans would serve you well in session, substantially aid your candidates in the fall, and along the way might just help make some significantly improved public policy. Making the formulation of such plans a high priority in the interim between the 2009 and 2010 sessions would not be a bad thing.

Posted by Eric Earling at March 16, 2009 04:08 PM | Email This
1. I something incredible from Duncan the other day:

JOHN MERROW: Do we need national standards?

ARNE DUNCAN: I think we need to look at it. I think the idea of 50 states doing things, you know, their own way doesn't quite make sense.

Actually, it makes perfect sense, unless your goal is to put national interests above individual interests -- creating Perfect Citizens instead of Individuals -- or you don't trust local people to make their own choices. This is just astonishing to me. I like a lot fo what Duncan had to say, but how can local standards make no sense to him?

Indeed, we should not have 50 standards, we should have hundreds or thousands of standards. Arlington knows what is better for Arlington than Seattle or Olympia does.

Posted by: pudge on March 16, 2009 04:36 PM
2. Well gee, Arne, let's abolish the whole 50-state thing altogether. You could just tell everybody what to do and get rid of that silly states' rights thing, huh??

Posted by: Michele on March 16, 2009 05:39 PM
3. pudge -

I think your point is somewhat off-topic of what I was saying in the main post, but I get your beef.

That said, I will say that in my experience at the Department of Education, it was more common than not for individual states and individual districts to not take the idea of testing and standards seriously. Those states and districts that do are a regrettable minority within the education system.

While we as conservatives understandably fall back on local decision making, the sad truth is that when confronted with accountability for results, the education systems, run by locally elected school boards and locally selected superintendents, tend to do more to protect the status quo than embrace the sort of challenging standards and relevant changes to improve student learning in the modern era.

Yes, local control is very important for the administration of local schools. The hard reality, however, is that too many local schools (and too many states as well), aren't serious about education reform and if left to their own devices, are doing precious little to address that fact.

I would join you in opposing national standards, though I suspect we would disagree mightily on some other education reform issues. I think too many conservatives are living in the past when they believe a return to local control uber alles will much at all to improve our K-12 education system.

Posted by: Eric Earling on March 16, 2009 07:04 PM
4. It might be worth looking at what the Basic Education Task Force put together. Yes, it was done by a group of mostly Democrats, but there were Republicans on it like Skip Priest and Glen Anderson. There are parts I didn't agree with, but I supported the concept because it looked at school funding differently:

1. Model school. For 500 students, you need X number of teachers, y number of librarians, z number of administrators. Everyone can argue what the numbers should be, but at least the discussion is in terms everyone understands.
2. Core 24. In order to graduate, students should have passed 24 semester credits of English, History, Math, Science, Fine Arts, PE and vocational ed. If it is good enough for Bellevue, Issaquah and Lake Washington, shouldn't it be a standard for the state?
3. Teacher pay based on classroom results. Stop paying based on degrees and credentials. Start evaluating effectiveness in the classroom. I might disagree on some of the details here, but the concept is better than what we have now. This is the point that the WEA went on the warpath to "kill the bill".
4. Standardized accounting system for all districts, both for expense savings and for better transparency.

Republicans could do worse than getting behind this and running with it, with a conservative tilt. The effort is still there to get the basics into the current ed funding bill, with implementation to be started in 2011 and phased in over five years. That's more than enough time to make a difference in the conversation.

Or Republicans can sit on the sidelines and advocate for home schooling and charter schools. Great, how will you measure their effectiveness? We need to either participate or admit we are just not involved in the process, and drop out.

Posted by: janet s on March 16, 2009 09:07 PM
5. Randy Dorn has been making a convincing case for national standards lately, based on the idea that states with higher standards are doing right by expecting more of their kids, but are similarly having more kids and more schools identified as "failing." The Fordham Foundation just did a great study to that effect:

Posted by: Ryan on March 16, 2009 09:37 PM
6. janet @ 4 -

I agree, well said.

Posted by: Eric Earling on March 16, 2009 09:45 PM
7. Da Komrade KKK.

Posted by: Crusader on March 16, 2009 09:59 PM
8. Lying sack of liberal shit..comrade Obama just alloctaed 535 million to Detroits failed school system with a 35% graduation rate and a 5 % go on to college rate with a 56 million so called missing funds...screw these buracrats...almost pichfork time

Posted by: hellpig on March 16, 2009 10:44 PM
9. #8: Go figure. These pols shrill-ly criticize super-succesful companies. But then throw millions of tax dollars at stupid-behaving ones, plus really badly-run public school systems. 35% grad rates, and 5% college-bound in Detroit?? Absolutely pitiful. And we know conservatives sure as heck aren't running that district.

Posted by: Michele on March 17, 2009 02:07 AM
10. Yet another Obama program that once people have a look at it, will say - "NO THANKS!" to the money.
Good luck getting the liberal agenda past the PTA Barry.

Posted by: Scott on March 17, 2009 07:24 AM
11. From today's Rasmussen Poll (the #1 poll in accuracy vs. the #21 Poll MSNBC which the KLOWNS quote):

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

"The Rasmussen Reports daily Presidential Tracking Poll for Tuesday shows that 37% of the nation's voters now Strongly Approve of the way that Barack Obama is performing his role as President. Thirty-two percent (32%) now Strongly Disapprove giving Obama a Presidential Approval Index rating of +5"

From +32 to +5 in less than 2 months.
Accomplished by SELF-INFLICTED WOUNDS just like the P-I!!
How predictably ironic.

Posted by: Mr. Cynical on March 17, 2009 08:26 AM
12. In regards to Comments 1 & 2:

I wholeheartedly agree to the "states rights" issues, but I think I agree with Eric that education standards may be an exception to (what should be) the rule. The reasons for this are that the disparity in common standards across the country cause 1) difficulty for children to transition from one school system to another when families move to new school districts; 2) the inability for a student graduating from a low-standard district to compete nationally for a job (in today's global economy, a graduate is not just competing with his/her classmates, but competing with graduates across the country), and 3) extending point #2 to the ability for US students to compete with international students for college entries and/or jobs. How the local districts accomplish the standards should be up to the local schoolboards, but I can see where a national standard would address the large disparity in quality of education. It would bring significance back to a high school diploma and that significance would be recognized by all colleges and employers.
Regarding comment #10 - I can see that as a distinct possibility, but if that's the choice made, they better not turn around and try to pass a school levy after making the choice to not accept additional funding.

Posted by: LMK on March 17, 2009 12:11 PM
13. Thanks, Eric.

Like I said, we need to either argue policy, and talk to our legislators, or we need to admit that Republicans aren't part of the process.

As far as national standards go, what do you think Advanced Placement is? Or SAT's and ACT's? Colleges are already trying to figure out what students actually know, versus what the transcript says. A 5 on the AP Calculus test says a student has mastered the curriculum that is available for everyone to see. An A in a high school calculus class says nothing.

The good thing about the College Board, who runs these tests, is that it is private. If it is to stay relevant, and make money, it has to listen to its customers, college admittance offices. The curriculum is being set by colleges, not by the Education Department in Washington DC.

It would be nice if something similar emerged at the high school level. The WASL needs to go away, but it needs to be replaced by something better that measures a mastery in a way that is understandable by everyone who sees the results. I have no idea what it is the WASL is measuring, I just know my children passed it. That really is not much of an endorsement.

Posted by: janet s on March 17, 2009 05:45 PM
14. janet -

You're spot on re: AP tests. Moreover, they're perhaps the most cost effective and efficient way to extend rigor in the high school experience. It's an easily scalable program that can grow with appropriate resources. That's why there has been such a focus via government (Dept of Ed funding) and non-government (National Math & Science Initiative, funded in large part by Exxon Mobil) means to incentivize their expanded use, both in funding for states/districts that do so and expanded financial aid for students who do well in AP courses & tests.

Posted by: Eric Earling on March 17, 2009 08:10 PM
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