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Cross posted from Campaign for America's Future

So much for the "New Washington Consensus on Education".

Education policy, we were told by conservative leaders merely six months ago, was a " redeeming feature" of the Obama administration that would provide DC policy makers with a tranquil eddy amidst the whitewater of American politics.

The New Consensus was forged on the idea that federal policies governing the nation's schools could enforce “tight” restrictions on what we expect public schools to make students and teachers "do," as long as the governing policies remained "loose" about how we make them do it.

The last glimpse of this glorious, technocratic vision slipped out from an embargoed presser in the wee hours of Monday morning, when Secretary of Education Arne Duncan admitted that the once heralded goals of No Child Left Behind were unachievable and that states could blow them off as long as they could persuade a yet-to-be-announced group of peers that they were adhering to a yet-to-be-defined definition of "accountability."

The announcement was in every way a rendering unto the "tight, loose" edicts of the New Washington Consensus. Yet even this vague illusion of a policy -- an administrative excuse, really, for the complete and utter failure of NCLB -- was met with resounding disapproval from all sides in the once still-waters of edu-policy.

Republican education policy leaders had already expressed opposition to waivers with conditions. And Republicans from states with large populations of rural schools have already declared that the Obama "Blueprint"for education policy, which many speculate that Duncan's waiver requirements will draw from, is basically unworkable in their states.

Even education policy makers in the Democratic party have expressed skepticism about waiving NCLB "growth targets" for specific student populations. And Duncan's announcement generated only tepid expressions of "understanding" of "where Duncan is coming from." This hardly constitutes a strong base for strong-arming policy through a reluctant legislative body.

Secretary Duncan's once-reliable "reform" backers, true champions of the New Consensus, were mostly vehement in their criticism -- slamming it as a "back door" strategy, a grasp for "greater presidential authority," and a "gambit"pleasing no one. It seemed the best support that Duncan could get from the self-anointed reformers would be the incoherent declaration from loyal ally Michelle Rhee that waiving NCLB "accountability" is okay only if the government enforces "rigorous accountability." (Huh?)

And those who've long opposed NCLB were uniformly and unsurprisingly critical of the waiver plan.

So in the place of the New (now Old) Washington Consensus on Education, what we're left with is a truly ungovernable stalemate in which the rudderless ship of state founders on the shoals of entrenched political positions in DC while waves of budget cuts lash at the gunwales and privateers plunder the hold.

Teacher and edu-blogger Doug Noon correctly likens the situation that education policy finds itself in to the "Doom Loop" determining our nation's economic policy:

With a slight adjustment, Paul Krugman’s analysis of the S&P downgrade works for education reform as well.
"1. US debt is downgraded, sparking demands for more ill-advised fiscal austerity
2. Fears that austerity will depress the economy send stocks down
3. Politicians and pundits declare that worries about US solvency are the culprit, even though interest rates have actually plunged
4. This leads to calls for even more ill-advised austerity, which sends us back to #2"
Applied to education reform:
1. US schools are criticized, sparking demands for ill-advised standardized testing
2. Fears that testing is dominating the curriculum send confidence in schools down
3. Politicians and pundits declare that teacher effectiveness is the culprit, even though instruction is focused on tested material
4. This leads to calls for even more ill-advised testing, which sends us back to #2
And back to Krugman for the zinger, “Behold the power of a stupid narrative, which seems impervious to evidence.”
Really, how much of an appetite for this shit do we have?

Apparently, quite a lot. Already, plenty of states have lined up for the chance at a waiver even before the requirements have been spelled out. Short-term grasps at straws, it seems, are what our political leaders are willing to accept.

But there is a real consequence of this short-term gaming in place of long-term leadership to all of us down here on the ground. As my colleague Dave Johnson has so insightfully observed here on this blog, "government spending cuts don't cut, they shift costs." And as the first wave of school openings rolls out this week and next, the "shift" is going to hit the fan in our nation's school hallways and classrooms.

How this new reality for the nation's schools works is that parents get hit for costs they never had to pay in the past, children who are the most in need -- such as poor kids with no access to books and children with developmental issues -- get blocked out of early childhood programs, kindergarten programsare closed, and families who live in remote areas are told to take a hike if they care about getting their son or daughter to school.

The reformist joke of a solutionis to recommend that the nation adopt the education policies of the state with the highest percentage of failing schools.

But what we really don't need is another Michelle Rhee-typegrand plan for "innovation" that, "after replacing 50% of the teaching staff in the regular public schools, paying huge fees and salaries to self-described experts, and shipping over one-third of the student population to essentially unregulated charter schools," produces "basically, nothing." (hat tip: Tom Hoffman)

What we need instead is, first, for the broadcast media'sstaging of "back to school season" to shun the Michelle Rhee's and Bill Gates'es of the world and take a look at the real, hard truth of the nation's disinvestment in public education. Listen instead to this LA teacher who explains why she can't be "excellent" when school cuts and teacher lay-offs force her to deal with a class of "31 students, including two with learning disabilities, one who just moved here from Mexico, one with serious behavior problems, 10 who flunked this class last year and are repeating, seven who test below grade level, three who show up halfway through class every day, one who almost never comes, [and a] brainiac who's so bored she's reading 'Lolita' under her desk."

Instead of running more puff pieces on "wonderful" charter schoolsthat the edu-philanthropists shower with money, follow edu-blogger Nancy Flanagan as she gives an eyewitness account of the decay we've allowed our traditional public schools to fall into:

And then there was the building itself, which reeked, literally, of neglect--from broken, filthy blinds (essential for shutting out the hot glare of the sun) to gummy floors to mismatched windows with security mesh embedded. The kindergarten "playground"--a crumbling concrete square--looked like a prison yard, and the auditorium floor was littered with broken glass. Boxes of unused teaching materials, ordered decades ago, were stacked everywhere. The principal told me that 90% of her workday since she was hired, in June, has been taken up with a frustrating quest to get some action on urgent and critical facility needs.
Teachers were hauling years' worth of dusty trash into the hallways, armed with disinfecting wipes, spray cleaner and contact paper. Interactive white boards had been used as bulletin boards; teachers were exchanging tips on removing tape residue and whose husband had the power drill to put up shower board from Home Depot over old, cracked chalkboards.

And what we need is real leadership -- real leadership like what we just saw from North Carolina's gutsy governor Bev Perdue who announced yesterday that she will defy the state Tea Party inspired budget that blocks at-risk children from early childhood programs. It's sad but true that standing up for the welfare of children in the face of rapacious greed from the most powerful people has now become the hardest thing for leaders to do in our society. But there you have it.

Only that combination -- confronting truth and real leadership -- can get us out of this Doom Loop we find ourselves in. Waivers won't help.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Earlier, (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Van Buren, blueoasis

    a diarist posted the 2008 Democratic platform, noting the disconnect between its progressive message and the reality of how the Democratcs have governed. While not prefect, it is amazing to see the difference.

    Here's a taste from the education section:

    The Democratic Party firmly believes that graduation from a quality public school and the opportunity to succeed in college must be the birthright of every child–not the privilege of the few.We must prepare all our students with the 21st century skills they need to succeed by progressing to a new era of mutual responsibility in education. We must set high standards for our children, but we must also hold ourselves accountable–our schools, our teachers, our parents, business leaders, our community and our elected leaders.And we must come together, form partnerships, and commit to providing the resources and reforms necessary to help every child reach their full potential.

    Hopefully we'll find ways int he future to close the gap between campaigning and governing.

    Politics is the art of the possible, but that means you have to think about changing what is possible, not that you have to accept it in perpetuity.

    by David Kaib on Thu Aug 11, 2011 at 06:02:02 PM PDT

  •  Bullseye! (0+ / 0-)

    Excellent comment to an excellent diary.

    It is not all books that are as dull as their readers. Thoreau

    by blueoasis on Thu Aug 11, 2011 at 06:23:06 PM PDT

  •  No one is honest enough to fix this (0+ / 0-)

    I'll say it.  The Democratic plan is a bunch of feel-good crap.

    If you want intellectualism, you have to reward it.

    The promise of good jobs that probably aren't going to be there isn't enough to compete with the drug money that is there right now.  Why would any kid set themselves up for the abuse anti-intellectual America dishes out, when they can be a glamourous thug and get the pussy?  And respect on the street?  

    That life isn't always dangerous - from what I've seen the cops will actually go out of their way to protect a drug dealer.  White drug dealers, but even a black drug dealer, in a white town.  Even after he kidnaps an old ladies little dog, in the plain site of several witnesses, and ("allegedly") uses it to train his pit bulls for dog fighting (BTW, a REPUBLICAN sheriff finally arrested that guy, here's egg on our side's face).  

    What are you offering?  Be serious, talk street sense.  Maybe a good job, after 22, 24, if you can compete in a market the rich guy is gaming with H1B visa abuse?  If you can even compete with guys for whom learning is easy?  Or the hordes of unemployed?  What are you offering?

    Personally I doubt the jobs to support middle class America will EVER be there again.  It's not just outsourcing and shipping factories to China.  It's automation, it's the reliability of new forms of technology.  Solar cells and electric cars are just not as complicated and prone to breakage as oil refineries and gas cars.  Robots are getting better, artificial intelligence is getting better.  IBM is working on replacing call center and fast food workers with their Watson A.I.  Imagine the unemployment situation when the fast food jobs and the call center jobs are gone too!

    What do you have to offer that is better than drugs?

    I'm going to be brutal - I don't think the Dems have anything to offer.  They'll be lucky if they barely manage to keep the conservatives from destroying everything.  We'll be lucky if we stay where we are right now - and that's really bad!  You can't go to kids with this deal.  You can't convince them to be a dweeb when they're facing a hard street life.  They'll get killed, and they know it.  

    How can a politician ever deal with this problem?  They've got to say the right things.  They can't go near the truth.

    Here's another hard truth - looking at the school I came from, I don't believe firing 50% of the teachers would be enough.  I'm seeing some unbelievable stuff - kids I grew up with, who were real low level, D learners; who had to go to community college to get ready for regular college, are getting hired as teachers.  And some of the ones I'm thinking of, the worst examples, they didn't become teachers because they wanted to teach an academic subject.  They became teachers for FOOTBALL.

    They became teachers so they could keep playing with that damn ball.  

    As if this weren't enough, they get paid more than a real teacher, and if that weren't enough, they get way more respect and authority in the school than the real teachers do.

    Even that's just the tip of the iceberg.  You've got nepotism, protected pedophiles - you can't change it without firing all the locals and forcing outside teachers in.  There's not the slightest beginning of the will necessary to do what has to be done.

    And of course, if you could, you can't force kids to learn when they only see the genuine harm that comes from being a nerd, and no benefit.

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