President Obama has been steadily moving to set high education standards from Washington and let states and localities figure out how to meet them, with much support from Republicans. But now the Tea Party is pushing Republicans to abolish the Department of Education and resist any federal "intrusions" into education, writes Jonathan Alter at Bloomsberg BusinessWeek.
Interestingly, the Tea Party standpoint echoes that of the National Education Association, who are also arguing against federal accountability standards.
Alter writes that about 90 percent of local school districts that receive Title I aid have figured out how to game the system to continue getting funding from Washington while doing virtually nothing to improve their worst schools, and 17 states have actually lowered standards in recent years to make student test scores look better.
So now the pending education bill that would overhaul President George W. Bush's No Child Left Behind Act contains no requirement that states implement rigorous teacher and principal evaluation systems, which Alter believes is a must for improving schools.
"And it would attach almost no other strings to federal aid beyond the nebulous standard of "continuous improvement." Where else but in the American education system could moving from an F to a D on a self-graded exam be seen as success?"
The bill looks as if it's struggling, as today's congressional dysfunction suggests. If it fails, then it means that Education Secretary Arne Duncan can move forward with his announced plan to provide waivers to states that want to get out from under unrealistic NCLB requirements.
These waivers are expected to go mostly to states that have already proved they're at the forefront of accountability as part of Obama's Race to the Top program.
Duncan told state education officials:
"This is an opportunity to take reform to the next level — not just to check the boxes. We're going to say, âHere's where you're hitting the mark, here's where you're missing and here's where you can improve.' We have no choice but to withhold the waivers if they fail."
Obama and Duncan need to prove that they have the fortitude to follow up their strong work in education by sailing directly into a stiff anti-mandate headwind, writes Alter.
"Their legacy — and American competitiveness — will depend on it."