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NCLB: The Case Against Reauthorization

image from www.tire-information-world.com Ever notice that it's always Arne Duncan or the pointy-headed wonks talking about how bipartisan education is and how the conditions are (always) ripe for a speedy reauthorization -- but rarely the White House or the education groups or the savvy political operators who actually know what they're talking about?  Truth is, there's no real consensus that now is a good time for a big push to redo the law and in fact it might be a particularly bad time that could lead to the dilution and erosion of the law's best elements.  Ask the most experienced Washington insider you know if now's the time for a NCLB revamp and see what she or he says.  (Then ask if they've worked on the Hill or ever done a major reauthorization.) Meantime, here are some of the best reasons to wait that I can think of:

image from www.tire-information-world.com Really bad timing. There's no really good time to do a reauthorization except perhaps during the first year of a new administration when the White House and Congress are controlled by the same party. Two good weeks of work during the lame duck don't change the midterm.

image from www.tire-information-world.com There's no real need.  Other than tweaking the 2014 deadline for 100 percent proficiency requirement, there's not much real-world need for an immediate revamp to the law.  An AYP fix could be done in technical amendments, and a handful of other issues could be picked from the groups' regulatory relief wish list (more about that later).

image from www.tire-information-world.com It will attract the crazies (and Republicans).  Once they realize that they can't repeal Obamacare and aren't willing to cap the debt ceiling, newly elected Republicans and longstanding RNC operatives will be looking for other sources of amusement and mischief.  Remember:  Remember that Republicans control the House, the Senate is a legislative free for all, and the 2012 campaign has already begun.

image from www.tire-information-world.com Obama and Duncan have already passed signature legislation.  They created the $100 billion carve-out for education in the stimulus, and Race to the Top fund, along with i3 and SIG and edujobs and funded the Common Core initiative.   Let's see value-added and removing charter caps and the common core work their magic before scaling them up or slapping a second round of reforms on top of the first one.

image from www.tire-information-world.com Missing out on the new money.  The big funding increases that came along with the creation of NCLB in 2002 would not appear if Congress revamped the law in 2011.  There's no money.  The focus in Congress is on cutting spending not increasing it.  

image from www.tire-information-world.com Fanning anger on the left.  In case you hadn't noticed it, there's a fierce debate going on within the Democratic party about who's to blame for the current education system and how to address it best.  The left is particularly angry right now and would be quick to attack Democrats who wanted to mend but not end NCLB (and add value added to HQT or eliminate charter caps nationally or...).

It makes complete sense that Duncan and his allies would want a reauthorization now.  It would give them a chance to codify RTTT and SIG before we find out what they will and won't actually accomplish.  It would keep Duncan in Obama's view like he was during the first two years.  It would give them something to do with themselves between now and 2013.  And there's always the chance that awful things could happen to NCLB even without a reauthorization, via regulation or through an amendment to a spending bill.  But Duncan wanting it to be so, and making the case, isn't the same as it being a good idea or one that others agree with.  The worst case scenario is that some of the strongest elements of the law -- making schools report disaggregated data, for example -- could get gutted.  At the very least there should be some clear and honest discussion about whether a reauthorization is desirable.  Let's everyone put his or her best arguments on the table and see where we stand. Then, maybe, a reauthorization push. 


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I'm a moderate liberal in a far-left city -- I'd be considered a flaming commie-symp anywhere else, but that's another story -- and I discuss education policy and politics often. Based on that extensive experience, I vigorously disagree that there's a left-right split over "education reform" notions.

Of course the right tends to favor privatization and be hostile to funding and supporting public services, including education. But beyond that, the split is actually *uninformed vs. informed,* except for those who have a financial dog in the fight. To restate: In the absence of financial interest and philosophical support of privatization, the more you know, the more resistant you are to the simple story told by the the reformistas.

Far-lefties who are poorly informed about education issues are highly susceptible to the notions promoted by Davis Guggenheim: Teachers and public schools are oppressors of the poor; free-thinking and innovative charter schools are the miracle salvation.

On our school board, our longest-serving and best-informed member (Jill Wynns) is a firm political moderate by SF standards and is also our strongest charter/reformista skeptic; while board members from SF's Green/left/"progressive" camp have tended to be much more supportive of charters. Wynns has hit the national radar for being a strong critic of now-fizzled, for-profit Edison Schools back when Edison was the miracle-fad-of-the-day (the Wall Street Journal singled her out by name in a 2001 editorial blasting SF for trying to exercise oversight on an Edison school here), and also for being a supporter of JROTC when our board was moving to kick JROTC out of San Francisco high schools -- so you see?

Yes, the big argument for reauthorization is that it "would keep Duncan in Obama's view like he was during the first two years."

Yes, we should keep disagreggation. Remove the sanctions for not meeting AYP, and NCLB would no longer be damaging. And since there is no money to meet utopian goals, and more than enough work to be done meeting turnaround and RttT goals, schools won't lack for real-world challenges. We don't need more psuedo-targets to distract.

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