The conservative wave sweeping toward the 2010 midterm elections could put in power a group of congressional Republicans who are largely disenchanted with a recent expansion of the federal role in K-12 policy and leery of offering incentives for states in areas such as adoption of common standards and assessments.
Lawmakers on both sides of the political divide also say the current version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the No Child Left Behind Act, needs a major shakeup. But it might be harder to reauthorize the nearly 9-year-old law if the GOP takes over one or both chambers, say longtime Capitol Hill aides from both parties.
“I’d say, expect more gridlock in the short term,” said Vic Klatt, a former top aide to Republicans on the House education committee. “If the Democrats with their huge majorities [in both houses] couldn’t move [reauthorization], it’s hard to picture it being any different if Republicans control the House or the House and the Senate.”
If Republicans do land a majority in the House, Rep. John Kline of Minnesota—who served as a U.S. Marine Corps colonel and helicopter pilot and was not in Congress in 2001 when the NCLB law was passed—would likely become the chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee.
Over the summer, Rep. Kline talked to superintendents and administrators in his congressional district to get their views on the Obama administration’s blueprint for renewing the ESEA, released in March. The proposal seeks to give states more flexibility in intervening in most schools, while pushing states to adopt standards to help ensure students are college- and-career-ready. But so far, Rep. Kline hasn’t heard a groundswell of support from school leaders back in his southern Minnesota district.
“They’re frankly not real thrilled with the blueprint,” Rep. Kline said in an interview this week. Although educators in his district want to see a fix for the NCLB law, he said, there are “objections to anything ... that comes in and tells them how to do their job. ... One of the things that we’ve been insisting on is that we have to make [the law] simpler, easier to comply with, and more flexible, therefore putting some meaning back into local control.”
Rep. Kline declined to discuss what his priorities would be should he become education chairman, saying such questions were premature. But his take on some of the administration’s major policy initiatives gives an indication of where he—and many in the House Republican caucus—are leaning.
For instance, Rep. Kline casts a wary eye on the federal role in championing the Common Core State Standards Initiative. That effort, which resulted in the creation of reading and mathematics standards that so far have been adopted by nearly 40 states, was state-led, through the Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors Association.
Rep. Kline has no problem with, for instance, Minnesota and Wisconsin getting together and coming up with their own set of more-rigorous academic standards. But the federal incentives for adopting the common-core standards make him—and many of his fellow House Republicans—uneasy, he said.
“We’re watching this very closely,” Rep. Kline said of the standards push. “If we are, in fact, putting in a de facto national curriculum, my caucus will rebel. I’m very leery when [the action] shifts over to the U.S. Department of Education providing either rewards or punishment” for adopting certain standards. “That’s dangerous,” he said.
Rep. Kline also has qualms about the administration’s $350 million program aimed at helping states develop common, richer students assessments, funded with Race to the Top money. He wants to ensure that it doesn’t lead to Education Department involvement in creating the tests.
The Obama administration also asked for $1.35 billion in the fiscal 2011 budget to continue the Race to the Top program for an additional year and extend grant eligibility from states to school districts; Rep. Kline said he wouldn’t support that plan. He thinks the program was too rigid and imposed federal policy preferences on states.
“This is the U.S. Department of Education putting [out its] view of what needs to be done. ... It’s not the states deciding. It’s not local control,” he said.
I know it's dangerous to suppose Repubs would actually follow through on what Kline has outlined above, and I know they are very friendly to charters and very hostile to unions (indeed, he says the one piece of common ground he has with Obama is the need to end teacher tenure.)
But what the hell, Obama is very friendly to charters and very hostile to unions and tenure AND he wants to impose national standards, a national curriculum, and a government that ONLY rewards states that pass Gates Foundation-approved reforms.
Oh, and he also wants assess those new national standards with lots of new standardized tests and to fire teachers and close schools based on those tests.
So how much worse would a GOP-led Congress that doesn't want to go along with the Obama/Duncan national standards agenda (including the new battery of assessments they're pushing that will eventually be used to fire teachers)?
What say you out there in the ed blogosphere?
Should we start hoping for a GOP takeover of the Congress as the fly in Obama's ed deform ointment?
Or is that like cutting our nose off to spite our face?
(Sorry for the cliches...really, really tired...)