I can’t decide what to think about the Obama administration on education policy. This administration has said some of the best things about education reform I have heard out of any administration, but they have also said some of the worst things.
Take for example the plans for reauthorizing (or replacing) NCLB that came out over the weekend. Obama/Duncan have the good idea of getting rid of the unrealistic goal of universal proficiency in basic skills by all groups by 2014. But they have the bad idea of setting an even more unrealistic goal of universal college-readiness by 2020. (Mental note — be sure to set deadline for unrealistic goals several years after end of one’s possible era of responsibility. That way you are never responsible for failure. : ) )
They favor the good idea of focusing on growth in student achievement rather than percent proficient, but they endorse the bad idea of making the measures of achievement so mushy as to be useless, like including “learning environment” (whatever that is) in the measure and by wanting portfolio assessments.
They say they want to end micro-managing of schools from DC (not that this is really happening), but then they want national standards that would ultimately lead to a national curriculum, national testing, and national micro-managing.
They want to identify the worst schools and reorganize those schools, including firing bad teachers. They also want to use test data to identify and reward the best teachers and schools. This is all great! But they don’t spell out any details in their proposals and want to leave drafting of legislation to Congress where these good things will almost certainly be removed or made impotent.
They deplore racial disparities in educational outcomes, but rather than empower low income minority families with vouchers, they want to empower them to sue their schools. This sounds like No Lawyer Left Behind. Giving disadvantaged groups legal power rather than market power hasn’t worked well for special ed and it won’t work well for low income minorities.
So, which one is it? Is this the best education administration or the worst? Or is it somehow both? I can’t completely make up my mind, but one thing I do know — the good stuff they want is much less likely to happen than the bad stuff. In that case, I guess I’d rather have a federal government that did as little as possible with education.
[UPDATED] I left out the great idea in the new O’Duncan proposal that we get rid of ”highly qualified” teacher requirements, which are understood as credentialing requirements and replace it with teacher quality assessments based on growth in test scores. Of course, this was one of the ideas that has made the unions come out strongly against the proposal.