Mitt Romney’s selection of one-time think-tanker Paul Ryan as his running mate has unleashed a torrent of “wonky mud-slinging,” says the press. It’s about time. The nation faces huge demographic and fiscal challenges—trends that will put ever-growing pressure on the public fisc in general, including the education budget. Yet rather than demonstrate the creative problem-solving skills that educators claim to be imparting to their students, their lobbyists are playing short-term politics with America’s long-term future.
You can either “ration” health care or you can “ration” education (and all other social spending). Take your pick.
The basic challenge—this is hardly news—is that America is aging and, as a result, is spending a lot of money on healthcare and retirement expenses. These expenses will go up and up in coming decades; they’re built into our demography. Unless economic growth can outpace the cost increase, however, that means less money for everything else—education included.
So let’s say you want to protect the education budget and other investments in the young—in the future. The first thing you need to do is constrain public outlays for the old—which mostly means holding the line on healthcare spending. And the second thing you need to do is encourage maximum economic growth. Get both of these things right and you avoid Armageddon.
Now hold on, you say, there are other options. You can go after the defense budget. You can raise taxes on the rich. That’s true, and these might help
The testing-and-accountability movement can be proud of its accomplishments under No Child Left Behind, but the strategy has run out of steam. What we need now are breakthrough ideas on holding schools accountable—approaches that will encourage instructional excellence instead of curricular narrowing, cheating, and gaming.
NCLB waivers preclude much state innovation in measuring student achievement.
The Obama administration’s waivers to NCLB have freed schools from the infamous “Adequate Yearly Progress” metric that unfairly labeled too many as “failing.” But the waivers don’t go nearly far enough. They preclude much state innovation in measuring student achievement.
States may not, for example, use a race-neutral approach to identifying schools that are leaving disadvantaged students behind, as Florida would have liked. (In the Sunshine State’s own system, schools are docked if their lowest-performing students—whatever their race—don’t make significant gains in the course of the school year.) They can’t evaluate high schools by outcomes—like how many students go on to graduate from college—instead of by test scores. They can’t even use computer-adaptive tests, like those uses for graduate school admissions, because low-performing students would get assessed on content that is “below grade level.” (Of course, that’s the point of computer-adaptive technology—it can pinpoint exactly where students are, even if they are far ahead or behind most children their age.)
Some innovations will be better than others, but nobody has this figured out yet. That’s an argument for humility in Washington, and innovation in the states. Presidential candidates:
Yesterday, Fordham hosted a fascinating conversation between two of the GOP’s leading ed-policy experts: Senator Lamar Alexander and Margaret Spellings. The pair of former U.S. education secretaries delved into the role of the feds in education, NCLB’s legacy and future, ESEA reauthorization, the Obama administration’s waiver program, and much more.
One highlight not to be missed came when Senator Alexander objected to the idea that the federal government must force states and districts into action and Ms. Spellings argued that depictions of Washington’s mandates are often overblown.
Ed Week’s invaluable Politics K-12 blog had a thorough wrap-up and you can watch the entire conversation below:
What a difference a decade makes. For all the debate around vouchers and student loans, perhaps the most striking element of Mitt Romney’s education agenda is how much it differs from the approach of No Child Left Behind, the defining policy of the George W. Bush years. That does not mean, however, that other Republicans necessarily agree with it. The GOP stance on education, and particularly federal education policy, is clearly shifting. But in any clear direction? And for the better?
To examine those questions, Fordham is bringing together two former GOP education secretaries for "Ten Years After NCLB: Is the GOP Moving Forward, Backward, or Sideways on Education?" There’s still time to register to join the conversation with Senator Lamar Alexander and Margaret Spellings at 9 a.m. EDT on July 26. See you there!
About the Editor
Michael J. Petrilli
Executive Vice President
Mike Petrilli is one of the nation's foremost education analysts. As executive vice president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, he oversees the organization's research projects and publications and contributes to the Flypaper blog and weekly Education Gadfly newsletter.
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