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Congress-Watching: 5 Lessons From Friday's Embarrassing "Surprise" ESEA Reauthorization Meltdown

The AP called it a "political embarrassment" for Republicans in charge of Congress, but it might just as well have been called an embarrassment for pundits and journalists covering the process.  

On Friday afternoon, the House scuttled debate on the reauthorization of ESEA, the federal education law currently known as No Child Left Behind. -- and it seems like nobody other than Dropout Nation's Rishawn Biddle seems to have anticipated that such a thing might happen. 

That's right. Not Politico.  Not Politics K-12.  Not AP.  Not the Washington Post. Not Petrilli, Hess, Smarick, or any of those Fordham/AEI folks, either. (Not anyone on the D. side, either, that I know of.)

Looking back, it seems obvious that this was a possibility.  The House and Senate were dealing with a tough political issue with much greater urgency. Conservative Republicans hated the Committee-passed version of the bill. This has happened before.  In 2013, a Republican ESEA reauthorization got pulled.  

And to be fair, political reporters and pundits were surprised about the DHS funding failure, too. Even Boehner said he didn't know what was going to happen on DHS. Education issues don't get on the floor that often, and annual spending amendments are a thing of the past, so things like this are a bit of a wildcard for everyone.

Still, what happened, and how could we get better advance notice in the future? Check out my 5 Lessons below - and add or correct them here or at @alexanderrusso.

1 -- Pay better attention to more conservative think tanks and organizations like Heritage rather than merely Republican think tanks like AEI and Fordham. Heritage and Cato may or may not be in charge, but they're giving good indicators what conservatives are thinking.

2 -- Pay attention to larger political dynamics, rather than education reporters getting siloed. Education is political, but many education reporters and pundits aren't really political-minded, which is a problem at times like this. 

3 -- There was a lot of groupthink going on. The sense that ESEA reauthorization "was going to happen" might have been as much a result of wishful thinking as realism. Just because everyone's saying it's so doesn't always mean it's so. 

4-- Remember just how low down the totem pole most education issues rank for lawmakers (and, frankly, the public).  Or as Chad Aldeman quipped, it was "A good reminder for ed folks about where ESEA ranks among congressional priorities (Hint: it doesn't make the list):"

5 -- Pay more attention to what folks with actual Hill experience sense is going to happen,vs folks out there pontificating. They're not that hard to find. Former Hill staffers like Amy Schultz and Gina Mahoney seemed to have a clear grasp of what happened and they (and many others) might have been able to have given a smart preview ahead of time if anyone had asked.

Some other folks with Hill experience who might be willing to fill you in or sharpen your analysis: @LALHunsicker @CarmelatCAP @PennHillGroup @HopeStreetGroup @HeidiBlack314 @jrpeller @ChadAMiller8 @Trehus.

Oh, and also -- this is obvious -- don't miss Dropout Nation. Nobody seems to know what to do with RiShawn's prolific, highly-detailed blog posts and commentary, but in this case at least it seems like he was the only one who got - and called - what happened before everyone else did.


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Most education issues may rank low for policymakers, but they are hearing complaints about standardized testing. Any attempt to fix NCLB needs to address this issue.

Matt's right. Standardized testing is generating a lot more opposition now than it was when the last Congress passed an earlier, nearly identical version of the Student Success Act through the House of Representatives. House leaders, if they are paying attention, might note the changed climate and withdraw the federal testing mandate, since the only way No Child Left Behind is going to get replaced in this Congress is a bipartisan, rather than strict party-line, bill, which requires attracting Democrats; and the only idea in play that should appeal to both conservative Republicans and some Democrats is cancelling the federal government's annual testing mandate, which is popular with teachers' unions, which should still have some ability to influence some congressional Democrats.

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