Bruno: Policy-Level Agreements On NCLB? So What.
This is a guest commentary from middle school science teacher Paul Bruno, who tweets at @MrPABruno:
Michael Petrilli waxed optimistic about the chances for ESEA/NCLB reauthorization in the near future. He emphasized the considerable bipartisan consensus that exists around issues like testing and school sanctions and concluded by saying that "with a little presidential leadership and goodwill from both parties, a deal could be hammered out quickly."
My sense, however, is that taking a step back and looking at the current political environment makes the case for reauthorization pessimism look much stronger. I agree that there's broad bipartisan consensus on ESEA in Washington at the moment, but it's easy to overestimate the importance of this kind of substantive policy agreement.
The debt ceiling showdown last year should serve as a reminder that broad bipartisan consensus doesn't guarantee that the wheels of government will turn smoothly or quickly. Yes, a debt ceiling deal was eventually reached, but the costs on inaction were much higher than they are in the current ESEA debate, and much more powerful political interests were pushing for a resolution.
At the end of the day the two parties need incentives to cooperate, but our political system doesn't provide many. Petrilli suggests that obstructionism and partisanship may be punished at the ballot box in November, but in general American government incentivizes minority party obstructionism and Republican leaders have been pretty explicit about not wanting to hand Obama anything that might look like a political victory. That's probably going to be doubly true in an election year.
At the same time, Obama is almost certainly worried about re-exciting his base after what have been, for progressives, three often-unsatisfying years. In particular, the progressive educators who should partially constitute his base are already very unhappy with Obama's Race to the Top and NCLB waiver policies and pushing the administration's stated ESEA agenda isn't going to assuage their concerns.
So as nice as it might be to see the our two parties come together in a constructive way on something - anything! - I'm going to go on the record as predicting that we'll have to wait until at least after the election before we see ESEA reauthorization. I'd love to hear an alternative story about who can make it happen, though, and why they'd want to. - PB (@MrPABruno)